Annoyed owner faces $1.1m action

BROOKE GARDINER
Last updated 05:00 21/06/2012

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A retired Te Anau man who claims to be up to $200,000 out of pocket after a lengthy fight to have his house built is now facing a $1.1 million defamation suit brought by nationwide home-building heavyweights Lockwood Homes.

Barry Small signed up for a Lockwood home in 2007 with local Lockwood Homes franchise holder Odin Construction, expecting it to be completed later that year. But he is still waiting.

"I'm tired of waiting for something I have overpaid for. This was supposed to be my dream home but it's been nothing but a nightmare. It's the house from hell," Mr Small said.

The house, which was also agreed to be leased as a Lockwood show home, eventually opened to the public in May 2008 but the arrangement was short-lived.

In June, Mr Small decided to close the home after he was unable to reach an agreement with Lockwood over several issues identified by one of the company's managers who had inspected the house.

A Southland District Council building inspector then visited and issued a Notice To Fix citing 48 breaches of the building code.

Mr Small's relationship with Odin director Ken Andreassen turned sour and he successfully sought redress through arbitration after forming a three-way agreement with Odin and Lockwood Homes. Odin was told to pay him $70,000, complete the house and fix any defects. Once the demands were met, it was agreed Mr Small would make a final payment of $42,000.

However, shortly after the arbitrator's ruling Odin ceased trading and was eventually placed into liquidation after Mr Andreassen declared bankruptcy. The liquidation of Odin was completed in March this year.

It was the second time a company directed by Mr Andreassen had been placed in liquidation. Andreassen Construction Ltd was put into liquidation in December 1991 after five years' trading.

"I most certainly would not have entered into any contract with him, had I known his history," Mr Small said.

He then went to national franchise holders Lockwood Homes where he was told the organisation did not guarantee the work of its franchisees and his problems were nothing to do with them.

"I did have an expectation that Lockwood would help tidy the mess up. I'm just gobsmacked that they [Odin] were even allowed in the door.

"It was raining one day and the water was flowing into the house over the tiles and running on to the carpet."

In frustration, he threatened to go public with his concerns about Lockwood Homes who then brought a $1.1m defamation suit against him and filed an interim injunction preventing him from speaking ill of the company.

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The defamation case and injunction are still before the courts and high-profile QC Colin Withnall is representing him. However, he is still prevented from speaking out about Lockwood Homes.

"I will openly say Lockwood has a damn good product but I was extremely disappointed in the management of their franchisee."

Yesterday Lockwood director Joe La Grouw said Mr Small's house was completed and after arbitration Lockwood made Mr Small a "goodwill" offer of settling the issue for the full amount ruled by the arbitrator which Mr Small refused.

However, Mr Small said Lockwood's offer was only for the full amount of repairs and not the $28,000 he had overpaid. He could simply not accept it.

Mr La Grouw said the onus was on the client to ensure their home met compliance, not the builder.

Asked whether Lockwood was aware of Mr Andreassen's past business failure when they awarded Odin a Lockwood franchise, Mr La Grouw said he "didn't know anything about that".

Mr Small, who was one of 26 people to survive the 1997 Korean Air disaster on Guam which killed 228 people, is tired of fighting for his home and said he had already forked out more than $75,000 in legal fees to fight three court cases and fund an arbitrator.

"I just feel absolutely violated."

Former Odin Construction contracted Te Anau Plumbers' owners Kathleen Christie and husband Fraser were left $13,000 out of pocket after the collapse of Odin Construction and were "absolutely disgusted" with Lockwood's response.

"They would not take ownership or responsibility, Mrs Christie said. "This whole thing has been swept under the rug. No one knows anything about it. Lockwood carries on. How can that be? I don't think that is fair at all."

It was a kick in the teeth to see Lockwood continue building homes in the area using out-of-town contractors, she said.

Mr Withnall described the case as "unusual" and said it was not something that usually happened after such a dispute.

- The Southland Times

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