Grimshaw & Co Partner Warns New Zealand About The Next Wave Of Building Issues

Grimshaw & Co partner Paul Grimshaw has warned the building industry and councils that despite years of poor publicity and costly scandals surrounding New Zealand construction, the issues still run deep.

Although Paul hoped that he would have seen the number of homeowners unhappy at their building’s construction “taper off” after the leaky building scandal surrounding buildings put up between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s he said there were still three major areas of concern

  • Protection from fire

  • Structural issues – especially surrounding the Christchurch rebuild

  • The quality of remedial work

“When I started this firm at least a decade ago, the main problem in Auckland was very poorly constructed single houses and multi-type homes that used specific claddings which have now been taken off the market so, in that respect, you’d think that construction practices have improved,” Paul says.

“But we’re still seeing a lot of cases where the construction is failing for different reasons, which is the sad thing. You’d have thought that since we’ve been suing the councils for about a decade they would have picked up on these things – but they haven’t and they’re still passing buildings which are just not up to the code that their supposed to.”

“It’s changed from the timber frame construction cases in which wood was rotting and the cladding was rubbish to the high buildings over three storeys where the concrete structure and the steel within that structure is rusting or falling to pieces.

“And on top of that there’s all these other cases about the repairs themselves which fail… so it’s still a bit of a mess after 10 years.”

Paul says Grimshaw & Co is so worried about the prevalence of new buildings not reaching safety standards for fire protect that the company has taken steps to warn bodies corporate of the issues.

“Most of the buildings we’re encountering at the moment with 200, 300 or 400 units have fire issues such that they are health and safety issues,” he says. “If you have a row of apartments and the fire issues have not been correctly dealt with, the fire could easily spread from one unit to another and that’s a health and safety issue because the whole building could burn down.”

Paul says he wants the public to be more aware of this “next wave of issues” because of the concern that it may be more universal… potentially affecting “most new buildings”.

“It’s going to put councils right in the gun because, during the construction process, a council inspector should be there inspecting for fire-specific provisions in building code. And if it doesn’t comply and fire can spread from one unit to another then that is a very serious problem. In the cases we’re looking at, a council inspector should have picked up on these fire defects during their inspection process.

“When we’re going into buildings to look at the usual defects we’re finding all these new ones which we haven’t been looking for before. In numerous buildings where there’s 200 units and each unit requires additional fire work then the fire defects can add $5m to the repair bill – and that’s something we’ll claim against the council. You don’t have to show any damage – there’s no rotting timber or other damage – you just show that it’s a health and safety issue.”

Paul blames councils for not tightening their policies to clamp down on builders, questions whether they value the roles of inspectors and argues there should be more rigorous rules surrounding building consent.

“There should be a more rigorous application of rules by council before you get building consent – the reason we’re in this problem is that it has been so easy.”

Paul Grimshaw has significant expertise in construction disputes which require careful analysis of the Building Act, the Building Code and Environmental & Resource Management and specialises in Leaky Building cases.