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.