Is the word, “leaky home” still relevant in 2024? 

In the early 2000s, New Zealand’s building industry faced a significant crisis: the proliferation of what was called a “leaky home”. This epidemic challenged construction standards and raised concerns over housing quality and consumer protection. Central to understanding this crisis is the Hunn Report of 2002, a comprehensive investigation that shed light on the causes and potential remedies for this widespread issue.

Background of the Crisis

The leaky building crisis predominantly affected homes and buildings constructed between 1994 and 2004. The problems were primarily due to poor design, substandard materials, and inadequate building practices, leading to moisture ingress and significant damage in thousands of properties nationwide. The New Zealand government commissioned David Hunn, a former Chief Executive of the Ministry of Works and Development, to investigate the issue in response to the escalating situation. The Hunn Report, officially titled “Report on Weathertightness of Buildings to the Building Industry Authority,” was released in 2002.

Key Findings

The Hunn Report shed light on various factors that contributed to the leaky building crisis: 

Design Flaws:

Many buildings were designed with complex roof lines, inadequate eaves, and monolithic cladding systems that needed to be improved for proper drainage and ventilation.

Material Failures:

The use of untreated or inadequately treated timber framing, which became susceptible to rot when exposed to moisture, was a significant issue.

Building Practice Issues:

The report highlighted poor workmanship and a need for more skill among builders and tradespeople. There was also a failure to supervise and inspect construction work adequately. 

Regulatory Shortcomings:

Changes in building codes and standards during the 1990s, aimed at promoting innovation and reducing costs, inadvertently compromised building quality. The Building Act 1991, in particular, was criticised for its role in the crisis. 

Climatic Factors:

New Zealand’s diverse and often harsh weather conditions exacerbated the problems, making buildings more susceptible to moisture damage.

The implications of the Hunn Report were far-reaching. It called for immediate action to address the systemic failures in the building industry.

Implications and Recommendations

The Hunn Report of 2002 marked a pivotal moment in New Zealand’s construction industry. Released in response to the widespread leaky building crisis, this report diagnosed the root causes of the problem and catalyzed significant reforms across the construction sector. These changes aimed to rebuild trust, enhance building quality, and prevent future incidences of building failures.

Revision of Building Codes and Standards:

One of the most immediate impacts of the Hunn Report was the overhaul of the New Zealand Building Code. The revised code placed greater emphasis on weathertightness, specifying more rigorous standards for design, materials, and construction methods, particularly in moisture management.

Building Act Amendments:

The Building Act 1991, which was heavily criticized in the report for its lax standards, underwent significant amendments. These changes aimed to strengthen regulatory oversight, improve the quality of building work, and ensure that buildings are designed and constructed to be safe, healthy, and durable.

Introduction of Licensed Building Practitioners (LBPs):

In response to the report’s critique of workmanship and skill levels in the industry, the government introduced a licensing regime for building practitioners. This initiative sought to raise professional standards by ensuring that key-building work is done only by competent and accountable practitioners.

Link to LBP Scheme NZ

Stricter Material Testing and Certification:

The Hunn Report highlighted issues with building materials, particularly untreated timber, leading to stricter controls. New standards were set for material testing and certification, ensuring that only high-quality, appropriate materials are used in construction.

Enhanced Inspection and Compliance Measures:

There was a notable increase in the rigour of building inspections and compliance checks. Local councils were tasked with more stringent monitoring and enforcement of building standards, aiming to catch potential issues early in construction.

Weathertight Homes Resolution Services Act 2006:

This Act was introduced as a direct response to the leaky homes crisis. It established a claims resolution process for homeowners affected by weather-tightness issues, providing a pathway for remediation and compensation. This Act was removed in December 2021; read further down for more information on this Act.

Increased Consumer Protection:

The reforms introduced greater protection for homeowners, ensuring they have recourse if their homes are not built to the required standards. At the time, this shift was crucial in restoring public confidence in the construction industry. But now, in 2024, the game has changed, and those protection mechanisms are weaker than before 2021.

Education and Awareness:

The Hunn Report 2002 was a watershed moment for New Zealand’s building industry and catalysed transformative change in New Zealand’s construction industry. The report has had a lasting impact on New Zealand’s construction industry.

The Hunn Report’s findings led to increased educational efforts within the industry. Builders, architects, and designers received better training and resources on weathertight construction techniques and the importance of high-quality building standards.

The industry has seen improved building quality and reduced the incidence of weathertightness issues. The reforms also fostered a culture of accountability and excellence, ensuring that New Zealand’s buildings are safer, healthier, and more durable.  This is because the report identified the root causes of the leaky building crisis and set the stage for significant regulatory reforms and industry improvements.

The reforms the report instigated have reshaped the landscape of building practices, regulations, and standards, setting a new benchmark for quality and reliability in the construction sector. While the legacy of the crisis remains, the lessons learned continue to shape building standards and practices, ensuring better quality and more durable homes for New Zealanders.

Why don’t we talk about the Hunn Report anymore?

While the Hunn Report was pivotal at the time of its release in 2002, the report has gradually faded from contemporary construction discourse for several reasons:

Implementation of Recommendations:

Many of the recommendations of the Hunn Report have been thoroughly implemented and integrated into New Zealand’s construction practices and regulations. This successful integration means that the specific issues highlighted by the report have been largely addressed, reducing the need for ongoing discussion about the report itself.

Evolving Industry Challenges:

The construction industry is dynamic, with new challenges and technological advancements constantly arising. While the Hunn Report was crucial in resolving the issues of its time, industry focus has naturally shifted to current and future challenges, such as sustainability, new building technologies, and adapting to climate change.

Regulatory and Industry Changes:

Substantial changes in building codes, regulations, and industry practices since the Hunn Report have transformed how buildings are constructed in New Zealand. With these new systems in place, industry conversations are more likely to revolve around these current standards rather than past reports.

Generational Shift in the Industry:

As newer generations of professionals enter the construction industry, their focus is more on current educational content, technologies, and best practices. These individuals may have less direct connection to the issues and context of the Hunn Report, which was published over two decades ago.

Resolution of the Leaky Homes Crisis:

The primary focus of the Hunn Report was the leaky homes crisis. With this issue largely resolved through legislative and industry changes, the urgency and relevance of the report have diminished over time. However, there are still homes today that were built in the period in question.

Natural Course of Industry Evolution:

In any industry, seminal reports and studies tend to receive a lot of attention immediately after their publication but gradually fade into the background as their recommendations become standard practice or new issues arise. New Zealand’s current construction industry issues include the cost to build, finding skilled tradespeople, energy efficiency, and long-term sustainability factors. 

Continuous Improvement Culture:

The construction industry in New Zealand, like many others, is continually evolving. While historical documents like the Hunn Report are important, the focus tends to be on current and forward-looking strategies for continuous improvement.

Therefore, while the Hunn Report played a critical role in reforming New Zealand’s construction industry at the time, the natural progression of industry practices, evolving challenges, and the successful implementation of its recommendations have made it less frequently discussed in contemporary industry circles.

What happened to the Weathertight Homes Resolution Services Act 2006?

The Weathertight Homes Resolution Services Act 2006 was a significant legislative response to the leaky homes crisis in New Zealand, providing a framework for homeowners to seek resolution and remediation for homes affected by weather-tightness issues. However, the Act specified an application deadline, which was set for 31 December 2021. This deadline was set for several reasons:

Statutory Limitation Period

10-Year Limitation: The Act allowed homeowners to bring claims for homes constructed or altered within the previous 10 years. This limitation was designed to ensure claims were made while evidence was still relatively fresh and actionable.

Final Cut-Off Date: Setting a final deadline of 31 December 2021, was a way to draw a line under the issue, ensuring that all claims related to the leaky homes crisis were lodged within a reasonable time frame after the problem was first identified

Encouraging Timely Resolution

Prompt Action: The deadline incentivized homeowners to act promptly rather than delaying the identification and resolution of weathertightness issues.

Administrative Efficiency: A fixed end date allowed the government and the tribunal to manage resources and plan for an eventual wind-down of the specific resolution services related to leaky homes.

Evolution of Building Standards and Practices

Improved Building Standards: As previously stated, since the leaky homes crisis, New Zealand’s building standards and practices have significantly evolved. The deadline acknowledged that homes built under newer regulations are less likely to suffer from the same weather-tightness issues.

Shifting Focus: Setting a deadline helped shift the focus of the construction industry and regulatory bodies from remediation of past issues to the prevention of future problems.

Legal and Policy Considerations

Certainty and Closure: From a legal perspective, having a definitive end date provided certainty for homeowners, builders, and the government. It allowed for a degree of closure for all parties involved.

Policy Shift: The government may also have seen the need to move resources and attention to other emerging issues in the housing and construction sector, reflecting a shift in policy focus.

Economic and Insurance Implications

Insurance and Financial Planning: Insurers and homeowners also benefitted from having a clear deadline, as it allowed for more precise financial planning and risk assessment concerning weather-tightness claims.

The 31 December 2021 deadline for filing claims under the Weathertight Homes Resolution Services Act 2006 represented what some described as a logical step in managing the legacy of the leaky homes crisis in New Zealand. The closure date provided a balance between allowing ample time for homeowners to identify and report issues and acknowledging the improvements in building standards and the need for administrative and legal finality. This deadline helped to bring a structured conclusion to a challenging chapter in New Zealand’s construction history, allowing for a focus on current and future building challenges.

Leaky home | Rommel NZ

Are there still leaky homes in 2024?

We should remember that some homeowners still suffer through usually no fault of their own. Dealing with homes designated as “leaky buildings” no longer has a Government-led process with the dissolution of the Weathertight Homes Resolution Services Act 2006. However, there are still steps that can be taken to work towards a resolution of the issues faced.

Important: Consult Your Legal Advisor First

Before taking any action, it’s crucial to seek legal advice. The issuance of the Code Compliance Certificate (CCC) by the Council, even years after your building’s completion, could imply potential liability on their part. Also, your sale and purchase agreement might have warranty provisions that offer legal recourse. Be wary of any possible misrepresentation of the property’s condition by the vendor or agent.

After Legal Considerations:

Comprehensive Property Assessment:

Rommel recommends arranging for a detailed report on your property’s current condition. This will empower you to make informed decisions about your next steps, whether that means maintaining the status quo, selling ‘as is,’ opting for recladding or considering demolition and reconstruction now or in the future.

Can leaky homes be repaired?

Repair Process

Choosing Contractors: Homeowners select contractors who specialise in repairing leaky buildings. It’s crucial to choose contractors with relevant experience and credentials.

Repair Work: The repair process can be extensive, often involving recladding, fixing structural damage, and addressing mould or moisture issues.

Council Inspections and Code Compliance: Local councils inspect the repair work to ensure it meets the current Building Code requirements. A Code Compliance Certificate (CCC) is issued once the work is satisfactorily completed.

Recladding Considerations:

Recladding can be a cost-effective solution, but it requires thorough preliminary investigations. It’s important to ensure that the project remains within your budget and stays manageable once it begins.

Avoiding Shortcuts:

Initial cost-cutting or rushing the process often leads to subpar results. Remember that all building projects carry inherent risks, increasing with the number of unknowns.

Risk Assessment:

For those who are risk-averse or working with limited budgets, selling the property ‘as is’ might be the more prudent option. It’s important to weigh the potential risks against your personal and financial circumstances before deciding.

Ongoing Maintenance

After repairs, ongoing maintenance is crucial to prevent future weather-tightness issues. Homeowners are advised to regularly inspect and maintain their homes, particularly areas susceptible to water ingress.

Recovery and Moving Forward

Property Value Consideration: Once repaired, the property value may be restored, though some stigma may remain around previously leaky homes.

Learning and Awareness: Homeowners often become more vigilant about building maintenance and weather-tightness in future property purchases.

The process for addressing leaky buildings in New Zealand will likely be long, involving assessment, legal and financial planning, resolution, repair, and ongoing maintenance. Remember, each step in this process, from legal consultation to evaluating your building’s future, is critical in navigating your property’s issues effectively and responsibly.

If you need Rommel Building Enclosure Services, we can help with onsite testing to identify water ingress issues.