Helping clients navigate the leaky building minefield

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Discovering a home has leaky building problems is one of the worst pieces of news a home owner can receive.
As a quantity surveyor (QS) who specialises in remediation for leaky buildings, I’m familiar with the anguish that surfaces when home owners are suddenly thrust into a rescue mission for what is, for most of us, our biggest asset.

Most home owners are overwhelmed by the sense of helplessness and uncertainty as to the first steps to make things right. So if you, as a builder, or one of your clients finds themselves staring in the face of a leaky building, here are some tips that will help.

Engage the right professionals

One of the best pieces of advice is to engage the right professionals early on to provide guidance for where you’re heading with remediation and where responsibilities lie.
QS professionals are becoming more involved in this process, with specialised consultants providing remedial cost estimation, retrospective and back costing analysis, and expert quantum evidence during a dispute resolution process.

A QS that specialises in this type of work will work alongside the building surveyor to develop a comprehensive cost estimate that details the items identified in the repair recommendations.

This includes a breakdown of all labour and material costs, and ongoing financial management of costs during the repair process, to ensure payment claims are fair and reasonable.
It’s also extremely worthwhile having the right sort of people working with you who can help make the process as stress-free as possible. I tell my clients to select those who have their best interests at heart and are sensitive to the emotional rollercoaster and show empathy along the way, rather than simply sending through an invoice each month.

It’s worth bearing this in mind when dealing with home owners navigating a leaky building repair.
Do your own research and have a good idea of the process and costs involved.
I recommend a visit to the Department of Building and Housing web site www.dbh.govt.nz for helpful, independent information about all issues related to leaky buildings, weathertightness and avenues of redress.

Get good advice from people with experience in this area of the industry
In most instances, it’s good to get legal advice up front to establish if you do have a case for proceeding with a claim. Builders and building surveyors are often approached to help home owners work out whether there are grounds for a claim.

My recommendation is to encourage your client, or prospective client, to seek legal advice. Whether you use a private lawyer or are recommended a lawyer by someone that has been through a leaky building issue, make sure your chosen lawyer has experience in the leaky building industry.

The next step is to engage a building surveyor to assess the state of the dwelling/building. It’s important this process is done thoroughly, and that evidence is gained appropriately and accurately.
Lawyers and building surveyors work alongside the owner or body corporate during the assessment process to gather evidence to help build a case against those parties who are responsible for the defects.

Calculate the costs versus benefits of any decisions
Once your clients have established that, yes, there is a problem and you have a recommendation to repair the damage, a QS can come on board to provide a cost estimate for repairs.

The nature of the work, and the number of unknowns you are dealing with, mean that it’s a particularly specialised area of the profession, with specialist knowledge required to deal with mould, fungi and different types of timber, and to collect evidence and data necessary to move forward to some sort of dispute resolution process.
Usually the biggest unknown is how much timber damage and decay there’s going to be. Often, a closer look reveals other examples of poor workmanship around structure, drainage or fire ratings, which can be a surprise.

Builders, building surveyors and the QS can work together during this stage to quantify the extent of the damage.
When it comes to considering whether or not to take legal action, it can be hard to determine the likelihood for success based on the advice of lawyers alone. Because it’s such a big financial commitment to go through a dispute resolution process such as adjudication, the home owner needs to weigh up the costs of the process against where it will leave them financially at the end of the day.
An alternative is to sell the building as it is, and disclose the issues to the market. A QS will help provide sound cost-benefit analysis to help your client make this decision.

Don’t short cut the process

If your client decides to pay the price to repair their home, they will expect the work to be carried out thoroughly by people who will repair it to the best possible standard, which is where the standards set by the Registered Master Builders Federation come into play.

Leaky buildings present many opportunities for builders and QSs to work together. Rather than an “us and them” situation, we believe closer alliances should be promoted, particularly in the case of leaky buildings where completion of the physical project often heralds the start of the legal process. 

James White is the director of quantity surveying firm Kwanto, which specialises in providing relevant remedial cost estimates and financial management throughout the remediation process. Mr White has extensive experience gained in residential and commercial projects — locally and internationally — during his 15 years as a quantity surveyor.

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