Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Savanna Group Director Recently Elected to the …

Savanna Group Director Recently Elected to the Executive of the New Zealand Institute of Building Surveyors

Savanna Group is pleased to announce that it’s Director and Principal Building Surveyor Lindsay Williams has been elected to the Executive of the New Zealand Institute of Building Surveyors.   The Institute is the pre-eminent and officially recognised authority with respect to Building Surveying and Weathertightness Surveying in New Zealand.  Its members frequently consult to the leading building and weathertightness litigation Lawyers and to Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment.

Friday, May 17th, 2013

Code Compliance Not Complete Story

This month’s newsletter contains two interesting articles.  One article highlights what we at Savanna are only too well aware of, that a Code Compliance Certificate is of little value in determining if a  property has been properly built or not.  Indeed in almost every leaky building case that we are involved a Code Compliance Certificate has been issued even though there are significant and obvious deficiencies that have led to water ingress and serious damage.  The second article concerns a young couple who purchased a house and during their house warming it was found that despite having had a pre-purchase inspection, the connection of the deck to the house was seriously inadequate.  This demonstrates the need to engage people who are properly qualified and experienced for your pre-purchase inspection.



Monday 8 April 2013 The Otago Daily Times

The case of an Auckland couple who took the Auckland Council to the High Court over a  “leaky home” has been reported in the media recently.

The case stands out among the multitude of leaky building cases because the damages awarded to the couple were substantially reduced on the basis that the couple were “the authors of their own misfortune”.   It serves as a reminder of the need to take reasonable care when entering into property transactions, especially when purchasing at a mortgagee sale.

In 2009, Mr and Mrs Johnson bought a property at Takapuna for $3,910,000.  The property was being sold by the mortgagee and the purchase price had significantly reduced from the asking price that applied when the property had been marketed a few years earlier.  The agreement for sale and purchase was on the standard form which is used in most property transactions. However, the usual vendor warranty that they had obtained all building consents and code compliance certificates for work they had carried out on the property was deleted. This is common practice in a mortgagee sale situation as the bank wants to limit its liability as much as possible.

Between 1998 and 2002 alterations were carried out on the property. A building consent had been issued to carry out work described as “add extra rooms upstairs and underground basement’.

In 2004, a council inspector carried out a physical inspection of the work and a code compliance certificate was issued “in respect of all the building work under the above building consent. The council is satisfied on reasonable grounds that work complies with the building consent on the basis of the council’s inspection of records”.  It was accepted that the work on the property was more extensive than the work described in the building consent, and that the alterations were defective and meant that the house was not weathertight.

The house had been entirely reclad without a building consent. The council admitted that it was negligent in issuing a code compliance certificate in respect of the alteration works.  Mr and Mrs Johnson claimed that the council should pay them $1,925,000 for the costs of repairs and other sums for consequential losses.  They argued that the public should be entitled to rely on code compliance certificates.  There was considerable  debate and conflicting evidence as to what advice Mr and Mrs Johnson had received on the purchase and what discussions they had had with various people at open homes, but the judge concluded that Mr and Mrs Johnson had concerns about the weathertightness of the property before they signed the agreement for sale and purchase.

The council successfully argued that this amounted to contributory negligence because Mr and Mrs Johnson had failed to make inquiries that a reasonably prudent person would have taken.  The judge noted that the code compliance certificate related only to a small part of the alterations that had been carried out, and therefore the code compliance certificate could not be relied on to provide the assurances as to quality of construction as they had in other leaky building cases.

The judge described Mr and Mrs Johnson’s purchase as a “calculated risk” and noted that “financial security led to a willingness to take a significant risk, together with a degree of relative indifference to, or at least casualness in respect of, risk”.

Where a defendant (the council) successfully argues that the plaintiff (Mr and Mrs Johnson) has been contributory negligent, this does not defeat a claim against the defendant for negligence but the damages recoverable will be reduced to such an extent as the court thinks just and equitable having regard to the plaintiff’s share in the responsibility for the damage.

In Mr and Mrs Johnson’s case the damages they were able to recover from the council were reduced by70%.

This case reinforces that purchasers need to enter into agreements with their eyes open to potential issues, particularly when buying at a mortgagee sale. In these situations purchasers must take extra care because they do not have the protection of the usual vendor warranties and where a reasonable person could be expected to identity issues affecting the quality of the property it could be unreasonable to place total reliance on a code compliance certificate.



Monday 29 April 2013 The New Zealand Herald

The owners of a house where a deck collapsed, sending about 20 people and a hot barbecue plummeting to the ground, say it was lucky no one was killed.  Emergency services were called to a Glen Eden house just after 10pm on Saturday after the wooden deck gave way during a house-warming party.  Party-goer Jason Robinson, 24, broke his ankle and was last night awaiting surgery to insert a pin into his foot. Another woman also broke her ankle.

The house is owned by a young builder and his partner, who moved in just a couple of weeks ago.  “I was on the deck … We were pretty much just having a barbecue and the deck just gave way,” said the builder, who did not want his name published. “Everyone just fell. There was only one way for them to go.”  His partner said there was no warning before the deck came away from the side of the house, but a huge bang as it collapsed.  “Luckily we had a few friends here who were paramedics, firemen and police – so they were able to take charge and keep people pretty calm,” she said.

The couple had a building inspection done before buying the house.  “So we didn’t feel like we should have to check our own home. It’s pretty obvious looking at it today though that it [the deck] has been built pretty horribly … pretty shoddily. I don’t know how it’s been signed off really,” the builder said.

He said it appeared the deck had simply been nailed into the side of the house, rather than fixed to a supporting structure to reinforce it and make it stable. “I don’t even know how it’s been connected at all. It’s just floating there.”

An Auckland Council spokeswoman said it was likely the matter would be looked into this week – including searching through building consents and applications relating to the deck.

Auckland Council plans to check building consents and applications relating to the deck of the Glen Eden house. Photo / Greg Bowker






The friendly and knowledgeable team at Savanna Technical can help you avoid the problems experienced by the people in these articles.  Don’t hesitate to call us anytime for a free no obligation chat.


Monday, March 4th, 2013

Leaky Home Family Win $180,000 in Damages

A Wellington family who bought a leaky home after a building inspector told them it was weathertight have won $180,000 in damages

Win for Wellington leaky home owners Sharon Hepburn with daughter Caitlin Hepburn, 3, outside their rebuilt home which was originally leaky.

A Wellington family who bought a leaky home after a building inspector told them it was weathertight have won $180,000 in damages. – Mike and Sharon Hepburn said their lives had been wrecked since they bought a house in Khandallah with Sharon’s sister, Tracey MacKinnon, for $653,000 in 2007.

Before buying the house they paid $280 for a “quick check” from building inspector Trevor Cunningham, who told them it was sound. It was later found to be leaky and required more than $300,000 of repairs, prompting them to sue Mr Cunningham.

In a judgment from the High Court last month, Justice Williams said Mr Cunningham had failed to properly inform the Hepburns about the inherent risks of the property.  The judge said Mr Cunningham’s report was misleading and he had failed to assess the building competently.  The faults would have been obvious to an “experienced and competent pre-purchase inspector undertaking a basic visual pre-purchase inspection of the building”, Justice Williams said.  He ordered Mr Cunningham to pay $180,000, or 50 per cent of the total cost of repairs. He ruled the Hepburns were liable for half the cost as they did not do all the work Mr Cunningham suggested after his inspection.  Mr Cunningham now faces losing his own family home to pay the damages. He said he accepted the decision of the court but felt it was unfair.  He was hired to do an inspection of the house before the Hepburns bought it in 2007.  His report gave Mr Hepburn the impression, Justice Williams said, that the building was basically in good condition and needed only minor work, such as recoating the exterior cladding.  But the house had several design flaws which the Hepburns now knew to be leak risk factors, such as external cladding, a deck, multiple storeys and a complicated roof structure, Mr Hepburn said. “The reality was he just didn’t see [the problems],” he said.  “He didn’t point out any of the risks, the sort of things we relied on a building inspector to point out to us.”

While they were living in the house, the Hepburns had no idea it was leaky. “We had no internal signs of leaks . . . the house was rotting from within.”  When they put it back on the market in 2010, a potential buyer had an inspection done by another company.  That inspection found significant weathertightness problems with the exterior cladding, garage door, deck and window joinery.  The prospective buyers pulled out and the Hepburns had to pick up the repair bill of $346,000.  The house needed complete recladding, extensive joinery and framing replacement.  “We were living in one room for six months,” Mrs Hepburn said. “The four of us, with two children . . . they rebuilt the house around us.”  Mr Hepburn said the couple felt they had been lucky we are not the only ones.  “So many people are worse off than us, sitting in leaky homes and can’t afford to fix them.”  Mr Cunningham said: “I feel as though my report was lacking and I’m at fault for that.  “I was depending on the fact [Mr Hepburn] would get a specialist to tell him more about the things that needed to be done.”


The Savanna Group is pleased to announce that its subsidiary Savanna Technical has been awarded a major consulting contract to investigate a 16 Unit apartment complex in Wellington for weathertightness deficiencies.  Originally constructed around10 years ago the complex is clad in a combination of profiled metal, plywood, and EIFS (plastered polystyrene sheet).  The investigation is part way through and has already established that there is extensive rot in the structural framing which will require substantial rebuilding of the complex.  Of particular interest is that visual observation of the cladding revealed no discernible defects however a number of weathertight deficiencies were identified.  The findings in this particular investigation highlight the importance of using suitably qualified and insured consultants to advise on the weathertightness of buildings.


Savanna Technical has been instructed by a major Insurance Company to assist with respect to two major leaky building claims.  In these particular instances the insured parties have been named as defendants and Savanna Technical has been engaged to determine the role that the defendants played in the failure and the insured parties extent of liability that may be faced by the insured parties.  Both claims are before the Weathertight Homes Tribunal.

Thursday, November 29th, 2012


What is an earthquake prone building? An “Earthquake-Prone Building” is a structure that is less than one-third of the current New Building Standard (NBS) for earthquake strength design. The Building and Housing Department of the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment is currently reviewing practice and policy around earthquake prone buildings. Being “earthquake-prone” doesn’t necessarily mean that your building should not be occupied – but it does mean that you should get a professional engineering assessment as soon as possible, and work out a plan to fix the problems over a reasonable time period.

 Another incentive are assurances being sought from landlords by tenants about the seismic design status of their buildings. Landlords cannot afford to procrastinate and must act decisively to verify the true nature and condition of their buildings with respect to seismic resistance capability in order to secure lease renewals thus retaining value and future revenue.

 Three steps for concerned owners:

1.     Prioritise building assessment

  • you will need to engage professional engineering advice earlier if the building is used frequently by large numbers of people and is a higher-risk type (e.g. unreinforced masonry).

2.      Find out everything you need to know to assess risk

         Get professional engineering advice on:

  • the structural strength of the building – identify any features, critical structural weaknesses or defects that may be risky
  • any strengthening work already done
  • possible short-term actions that may decrease risk
  • other longer-term strengthening measures, consistent with council policy and your circumstances and plans.

3.      Decide what action to take

  • choose the option that provides the best “fix,” is practical and cost effective, meets council needs, and provides least disruption to tenants, users, neighbours and the community
  • talk to your tenants about how best to do any strengthening work needed, within a reasonable timeframe
  • in some cases, it may be necessary to close parts or all of the building pending repair.

The situation in the greater Christchurch area is different. Over the next three years the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) will be asking owners of commercial and multiunit residential buildings in the greater Christchurch area, to have a detailed engineering evaluation (DEE) prepared for their buildings. Building owners will be required to provide a copy of the DEE to CERA. Savanna predicts this will become an increasingly more expensive process as the structural engineering consultants available to assess and provide the DEE’s will be in short supply.

 This is not a time for procrastination, be decisive and act early