Councils exorbitant insulation fees a 'rip off', angry homeowners say

Eric Dunkley and one of the heat pumps he has to have running 24/7 at a cost of $300 a month.
BENN BATHGATE/STUFF

Eric Dunkley and one of the heat pumps he has to have running 24/7 at a cost of $300 a month.

High inspection consent charges set by councils across New Zealand have angered home owners who say they can't afford it.

Eric Dunkley, 62, who suffers from chronic asthma, decided to get his walls insulated after he became sick of paying $300 a month to heat his home.

However, warm thoughts turned to cold fury when Dunkley found out the installation cost would include a charge of $377 for Rotorua Lakes Council to inspect the work.

"I'm fuming beyond belief that they [council] can charge me for insulation in my house.

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"What really irks me is the Government wants people to insulate their homes. It [building consent] might be compulsory, but why are the charges so high?" Dunkley said.

Government Building Act regulations require all retro-fitted wall insulation work to have a building consent, but the charge for the consent – and the inspection – is set by individual councils.

A council spokesperson said that when required, council charges $385 for a single inspection consent.

"The $385 charge includes, in part, council's building management rate of $185 per hour and business support rates of $135 per hour."

But a Stuff investigation found huge variations in the charges set by councils, ranging from $110 to $540.

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Building trade insiders, who requested anonymity due to their dealings with various councils, have also revealed some councils can charge as much as $800.

The Bay of Plenty and Waikato operations manager of insulation firm Insulmax, Barrie Mullins, confirmed the wide disparity between council charges.

"They can vary markedly between councils; there's no rhyme and reason why some can be $800 or some $300," he said.

"Councils can in some cases charge more than the job. It's an impediment. If the job is worth $300 or $400, then suddenly you're up to $800. It makes us look like we're trying to rip people off."

Mullins also revealed an extra level of complication – councils can grant exemptions to the inspection "at their discretion".

The Rotorua Lakes Council spokesperson confirmed the exemptions existed.

"Council has worked with two retro-fitting insulation providers to pre-approve the products they use. Home owners who use these pre-approved providers and products must still apply for consent, but council has discretion to not require one. The cost of these discretionary approvals is $130 (per property)," the spokesperson said.

Mullins said the charge in effect penalises people for trying to warm their homes.

Hamilton grandmother Vivien Hughes, 64, shares Dunkley's frustration and described the Hamilton City Council charge as "greedy and grasping". 

Hughes wanted to get the two rooms her grandchildren use when they visit insulated, until she realised she'd have to stump up $390 to the council.

"It's shameful for young families and elderly people. They're the ones stuck in these cold houses."

She was less than impressed with the response to her email to Hamilton Mayor Andrew King.

The reply, from mayoral assistant Jason Howarth, cited the Building Act (2004).

"This is Parliamentary legislation, not council bylaws. The council building unit just administers the building code and consent process, they have no control on when it should be applied or the ability to waive the need for the consent," he said.

However, a contradictory picture emerged when Stuff raised the issue with Housing Minister Nick Smith.

Smith's office passed on the query to the office of Local Government Minister Anne Tolley.

"This issue is a matter for councils, not central government," said her press secretary, who declined to comment further. 

A spokesman from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's building group, Britton Broun, confirmed that the Building Act did not prescribe fees for either building consents or inspections.

"Councils set their own fees, which are required to be reasonable for the work involved. If anyone is concerned about fees, they should enquire directly with the specific council, and have a complaint option through to the office of the Ombudsman."

 - Sunday Star Times

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