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Are basic home renovations now unaffordable?

By Paul Lochore FREINZ

Ask any developer, builder or architect what they think of Auckland Council’s competence in processing resource consents and you’ll get a massive eye roll in response.

Both major political parties are talking up what they’ll do about housing affordability and the homelessness and rentals crisis. But what’s contributing to the hold-ups is not just a shortage of tradies and construction materials, it’s the disgraceful length of time it takes for the council to process consents – and the exorbitant cost. It’s my view that Auckland Council doesn’t have sufficient capability or expertise to service the demand.

If Labour thinks the council will suddenly change its ways, they’re being naïve. The consent process should be removed from council and privatised – as it was in Christchurch.

Council amalgamation has been a disaster for Auckland. We now live in New Zealand’s most unliveable city. Our rates have doubled. Our frustration has quadrupled. We’re stagnating. Rodney Hyde has a lot to answer for!

Renovating a house has become unaffordable for many people – and it now carries the risk of a major cost blow-out too terrifying to contemplate. The cost of complying with council regulations when embarking on even a minor renovation job on an existing home is astronomical.

The stressful and costly experience of an associate of mine perfectly illustrates my point. Andrew’s home was completed in 2000. Although council signed off on work throughout the build, the final Code of Compliance had not yet been applied for. To obtain this, a small number of plaster panels needed to be reclad and a cavity included. He hired a building consultant and an architect to help in his negotiations with council. Dealing with the council for consent just to start the plaster reclad turned out to be a lengthy and bureaucratic nightmare. Excessive requests for detailed and revised architectural plans by an inexperienced council staff member added to the expense and to the frustration felt by Andrew, his architect and his building consultant. The difficulties of obtaining consent seemed at times insurmountable.

Two years and $30,000 later, Andrew finally received council permission to start building. What should have been a simple, straightforward process had become needlessly complicated.

‘Different council inspectors had different opinions,’ says Andrew. ‘Extra work required by the council extended to other areas of my home – even to my roof, which had caused no problems or leaks since the property had been constructed. Two council staff stated that the waterproofing product on the roof met code requirements, but a third staff member didn’t agree – so I had to pay for new roofing waterproofing and replace gutters and the repairs resulting from damage caused by this inside the house. Some windows had to be reduced in height to comply with the required upstand from the roof to meet the latest council requirements – regardless of the fact there had been no leaks or issues since the house was built 17 years ago!

‘It’s hard to have confidence in the process when your architect is telling you that the council’s requests are at times ridiculous, and that it’s best to suck it up and move on rather than incur more costly delays,’ says Andrew.

‘I think the council needs to treat existing home renovations differently when owners seek to meet updated compliance requirements. If the building is performing and is not leaking, would it not be reasonable for this to be taken into consideration? This was not a new build, but we were still required to meet the same Building Code as a new build. With my existing home, requested changes had a knock-on effect – that’s what made the building repairs so expensive.’

Andrew says: ‘Yes, I understand that the council is trying to look after our interests, but why fix something that’s not broken? Stringently applying the new code makes far more impact on an existing home. I think that council staff were making decisions about my house driven by the fear of litigation (a legacy of the leaky home saga), rather than applying their commonsense.

‘You can sell your house without a Code of Compliance certificate, but it will force the price down considerably. Banks can refuse a loan to potential buyers for a home without a Code of Compliance – so they have you over a barrel.

‘The financial and emotional stress has been way beyond what I could ever have predicted. It was a very invasive process. I’m just lucky my builder and architect stuck with me through the process. The repairs and processing the council insisted on took longer than the actual building of the house,’ says Andrew.

Unfortunately many of the homes in Auckland are 30+ years old. They are basically good, sound properties, but many of them need upgrading and repairing. For the average owner, the cost of bringing their homes up to respectable condition is just too expensive, because of council requirements and incompetence. The high cost and the length of time it takes the council to process consents is completely unacceptable.

Why isn’t commonsense being applied to solve this issue? It’s a huge problem that won’t go away unless the council radically changes its approach. Council staff attitudes and ineptitude are the main reasons Auckland’s existing housing stock is not being brought up to a better standard.

It’s obvious the council is out of its depth. Until this problem is addressed, Auckland will continue to have a deteriorating quality of houses – whether they’re new or established homes.

It’s time for politicians to stand up and be counted instead of playing party politics, and to look after the needs of Auckland residents.

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