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A leaky building presents a difficult situation for anyone, but for a retirement village operator there are many layers of complexity. JUDE BARBACK gets a whiff of the industry’s weather-tight woes.

I nearly bought a leaky home once. Undeterred by the plaster cladding and the Mediterranean-inspired architecture, we got as far as having a survey completed before we were made aware of its damp little secret. Now, whenever I see a home of that era swathed in tell-tale scaffolding, I feel relief that we dodged a leaky bullet.

Of course, it’s not just homes – many schools, corporate buildings and retirement villages built in the decade of dodgy construction – 1994-2005 – suffered the same fate.
New Zealand’s leaky little problem
The Building Act introduced in the early 1990s made building controls less prescriptive and more self-regulated. Additionally, the apprentice training system for builders went out the window, and as a result, short cuts were taken and mistakes were made. But it doesn’t fall solely on burly builder shoulders – some local councils were found to have issued dodgy building consents and code completion certificates, as well as failing to carry out inspection during construction.
The problem was further compounded by a trend towards Mediterranean-style houses with plastered exterior walls and no eaves. Cladding that relied on a paint finish as the primary defence against water ingress was generally unsatisfactory and often poorly installed.
As if all that wasn’t enough, a change to the New Zealand Standard for Timber Treatment in 1995 allowed untreated timber to be used for wall framing.
Poor old New Zealand buildings – they didn’t really stand a chance. Sure enough, a huge number of timber framed buildings suffered from weather tightness problems; the timber began to decay, making the building structurally unsound and unhealthy to live in, due to mould and spores.

Confronting the issue

One of these buildings was Ocean Shores Retirement Village in Mount Maunganui, which was built in 1996, just as the leaky building movement was getting started. Eighteen years later, it is fully restored and watertight, but it has been a roller coast ride for the village.
Alarm bells first started ringing for the village operator Lend Lease when the main apartment complex began to show signs of water impingement. The decision was made during the refurbishment of an apartment to remove some of the gib board to investigate the extent of the problem. The investigation confirmed their suspicions, and the poor results of subsequent air sample testing made it clear that something had to be done.
A complete sanitisation of the apartments was undertaken while the building underwent more investigation. By July 2012, it was apparent Ocean Shores had, as manager Sandy Quigley put it, “a big problem”.
The decision was made to redevelop the main apartment complex. Australian-based Lend Lease specialises in construction, so although New Zealand construction firms were used, the Lend Lease asset team were able to provide the necessary resources.
The pre-fabrication was all done off-site by Matamata-based Stanley Construction, an innovative approach to minimise the build time, which took around 10 months.

Who pays?

I attended the opening of the newly redeveloped Ocean Shores and marvelled at the turnaround. Minister of Health Tony Ryall was there to cut the ribbon, and the big bosses of Lend Lease had flown in for the occasion. But most significantly, there were the smiling residents who had endured – and rather relished, I discovered upon talking to some – the moving around and all the change.
It must have come at considerable expense to Lend Lease, especially as the operator had no recourses through the Weathertight Homes Tribunal for a number of reasons, the main one being the age of the building from reconstruction.
The Weathertight Homes Resolution Services Act 2006 specifies a number of criteria to be eligible to claim through the system, including that the building must be built before 1 January 2012 and within 10 years prior to the day the claim was made.
Claiming through the Weathertight Homes Tribunal is not always straightforward for retirement villages, particularly those that occupy the middle ground between rest home and village, as many tend to do.
Ryman Healthcare’s Grace Joel Retirement Village was one that caused some confusion in this area. After suffering watertightness issues, Ryman filed a claim with the tribunal.
A decision was initially made by the Building and Housing Group of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment that the claim was ineligible as Grace Joel fell under the category of ‘rest home’ and was thereby excluded from the act.
However, the tribunal overturned this decision, ruling that Grace Joel comprised apartments, flats, or units occupied as private residences, which qualified as ‘dwelling houses’ under the definition of the Weathertight Homes Resolution Services Act.
Grace Joel retirement village was up for maintenance anyway, so Ryman decided to upgrade the cladding at the same time. The exterior walls were changed to a cavity system so they now have the now-regulatory double-wall system to stop moisture from entering.
Ryman says it was a multi-million dollar project, but they do not have a final cost, as the work is continuing. Corporate affairs manager David King says that while Ryman has fully funded the work themselves to date, the company is not commenting on where the tribunal claim is at this point.
In answering the ‘who pays’ question, it seems that it is not typically the residents. In signing a licence to occupy (LTO) agreement, a resident will generally have no liability for large-scale building maintenance. With unit title agreements, it may not be as straightforward, but generally, and certainly in the case of Grace Joel retirement village, residents are not expected to fork out to repair the buildings.
John Collyns, executive director of the Retirement Villages Association, says that it is worth observing that residents typically pay a regular maintenance fee, which is likely to go some way in helping a village to fund its general maintenance and repairs.

Business as usual

One of the key challenges when it comes to major repair work is how to achieve ‘business as usual’. Schools have school holidays, businesses can usually be fleet of foot when it comes to moving premises for a short time, but when it comes to a retirement village, the challenge is to work around the place of abode of many people. And not just any people, but the elderly and vulnerable.
Ryman said it aimed for “minimal disruption” to residents during the work on Grace Joel, which was undertaken as part of an ongoing maintenance programme. No-one had to move out of the village during the process, although people were moved to other parts of the village if necessary.
Ocean Shores manager Sandy Quigley’s biggest concern was also the residents, and she led a great deal of consultation with residents and their families as a way of getting a true sense of their concerns, and for reassuring them that their care would not be compromised and they would not be affected financially.
The more vulnerable residents were moved to another wing within the village, while others were moved to the Anchorage apartments on Pilot Bay.
This move in itself took a huge amount of organisation. The health and safety aspects of the apartments had to be brought up to scratch to comply with the retirement village standards.
Residents’ belongings had to be stored and insured. Telephone and internet providers for each resident needed to be informed of the change. Staffing had to be increased to provide 24/7 care provision, and Anchorage staff even had to undergo some induction training on residents’ rights. A daily bus service shuttled them back and forth to Ocean Shores, where their main meal was provided at the village for free.
Next door to Ocean Shores is Metlifecare’s Bayswater village, which was also undergoing repairs, although these were not due to the typical weathertightness issues characteristic of classic leaky buildings. Rather, the problems with the Bayswater apartment complexes, which are concrete constructions, stemmed from the waterproofing of the balconies, with water getting into some of the junctions between the balconies and the building.
Even so, Metlifecare strived to minimise disruption to residents by buying back an apartment within the village to enable residents to move for a short time while repairs were carried out. They also undertook air sampling and kept residents informed on the process.

Leaky buildings, whether they take the shape of a home, school or business, are a nightmare for anyone to deal with; however, when it is a retirement village there are layers of complexity to consider. There is the murky legal side to determine eligibility for state support, and if ineligible, the vast costs to confront. Most importantly, there is the challenge to keep residents happy, healthy, informed and unaffected financially – a challenge most operators faced with weathertightness issues appear to have met admirably.

I nearly bought a leaky home once. Undeterred by the plaster cladding and the Mediterranean-inspired architecture, we got as far as having a survey completed before we were made aware of its damp little secret. Now, whenever I see a home of that era swathed in tell-tale scaffolding, I feel relief that we dodged a leaky bullet.

Of course, it’s not just homes – many schools, corporate buildings and retirement villages built in the decade of dodgy construction – 1994-2005 – suffered the same fate.

New Zealand’s leaky little problem

The Building Act introduced in the early 1990s made building controls less prescriptive and more self-regulated. Additionally, the apprentice training system for builders went out the window, and as a result, short cuts were taken and mistakes were made. But it doesn’t fall solely on burly builder shoulders – some local councils were found to have issued dodgy building consents and code completion certificates, as well as failing to carry out inspection during construction.

The problem was further compounded by a trend towards Mediterranean-style houses with plastered exterior walls and no eaves. Cladding that relied on a paint finish as the primary defence against water ingress was generally unsatisfactory and often poorly installed.

As if all that wasn’t enough, a change to the New Zealand Standard for Timber Treatment in 1995 allowed untreated timber to be used for wall framing.

Poor old New Zealand buildings – they didn’t really stand a chance. Sure enough, a huge number of timber framed buildings suffered from weather tightness problems; the timber began to decay, making the building structurally unsound and unhealthy to live in, due to mould and spores.

Confronting the issue

One of these buildings was Ocean Shores Retirement Village in Mount Maunganui, which was built in 1996, just as the leaky building movement was getting started. Eighteen years later, it is fully restored and watertight, but it has been a roller coast ride for the village.

Alarm bells first started ringing for the village operator Lend Lease when the main apartment complex began to show signs of water impingement. The decision was made during the refurbishment of an apartment to remove some of the gib board to investigate the extent of the problem. The investigation confirmed their suspicions, and the poor results of subsequent air sample testing made it clear that something had to be done.

A complete sanitisation of the apartments was undertaken while the building underwent more investigation. By July 2012, it was apparent Ocean Shores had, as manager Sandy Quigley put it, “a big problem”.

The decision was made to redevelop the main apartment complex. Australian-based Lend Lease specialises in construction, so although New Zealand construction firms were used, the Lend Lease asset team were able to provide the necessary resources.

The pre-fabrication was all done off-site by Matamata-based Stanley Construction, an innovative approach to minimise the build time, which took around 10 months.

Who pays?

I attended the opening of the newly redeveloped Ocean Shores and marvelled at the turnaround. Minister of Health Tony Ryall was there to cut the ribbon, and the big bosses of Lend Lease had flown in for the occasion. But most significantly, there were the smiling residents who had endured – and rather relished, I discovered upon talking to some – the moving around and all the change.

It must have come at considerable expense to Lend Lease, especially as the operator had no recourses through the Weathertight Homes Tribunal for a number of reasons, the main one being the age of the building from reconstruction.

The Weathertight Homes Resolution Services Act 2006 specifies a number of criteria to be eligible to claim through the system, including that the building must be built before 1 January 2012 and within 10 years prior to the day the claim was made.

Claiming through the Weathertight Homes Tribunal is not always straightforward for retirement villages, particularly those that occupy the middle ground between rest home and village, as many tend to do.

Ryman Healthcare’s Grace Joel Retirement Village was one that caused some confusion in this area. After suffering watertightness issues, Ryman filed a claim with the tribunal.

A decision was initially made by the Building and Housing Group of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment that the claim was ineligible as Grace Joel fell under the category of ‘rest home’ and was thereby excluded from the act.

However, the tribunal overturned this decision, ruling that Grace Joel comprised apartments, flats, or units occupied as private residences, which qualified as ‘dwelling houses’ under the definition of the Weathertight Homes Resolution Services Act.

Grace Joel retirement village was up for maintenance anyway, so Ryman decided to upgrade the cladding at the same time. The exterior walls were changed to a cavity system so they now have the now-regulatory double-wall system to stop moisture from entering.

Ryman says it was a multi-million dollar project, but they do not have a final cost, as the work is continuing. Corporate affairs manager David King says that while Ryman has fully funded the work themselves to date, the company is not commenting on where the tribunal claim is at this point.

In answering the ‘who pays’ question, it seems that it is not typically the residents. In signing a licence to occupy (LTO) agreement, a resident will generally have no liability for large-scale building maintenance. With unit title agreements, it may not be as straightforward, but generally, and certainly in the case of Grace Joel retirement village, residents are not expected to fork out to repair the buildings.

John Collyns, executive director of the Retirement Villages Association, says that it is worth observing that residents typically pay a regular maintenance fee, which is likely to go some way in helping a village to fund its general maintenance and repairs.

Business as usual

One of the key challenges when it comes to major repair work is how to achieve ‘business as usual’. Schools have school holidays, businesses can usually be fleet of foot when it comes to moving premises for a short time, but when it comes to a retirement village, the challenge is to work around the place of abode of many people. And not just any people, but the elderly and vulnerable.

Ryman said it aimed for “minimal disruption” to residents during the work on Grace Joel, which was undertaken as part of an ongoing maintenance programme. No-one had to move out of the village during the process, although people were moved to other parts of the village if necessary.

Ocean Shores manager Sandy Quigley’s biggest concern was also the residents, and she led a great deal of consultation with residents and their families as a way of getting a true sense of their concerns, and for reassuring them that their care would not be compromised and they would not be affected financially.

The more vulnerable residents were moved to another wing within the village, while others were moved to the Anchorage apartments on Pilot Bay.

This move in itself took a huge amount of organisation. The health and safety aspects of the apartments had to be brought up to scratch to comply with the retirement village standards. Residents’ belongings had to be stored and insured. Telephone and internet providers for each resident needed to be informed of the change. Staffing had to be increased to provide 24/7 care provision, and Anchorage staff even had to undergo some induction training on residents’ rights. A daily bus service shuttled them back and forth to Ocean Shores, where their main meal was provided at the village for free.

Next door to Ocean Shores is Metlifecare’s Bayswater village, which was also undergoing repairs, although these were not due to the typical weathertightness issues characteristic of classic leaky buildings. Rather, the problems with the Bayswater apartment complexes, which are concrete constructions, stemmed from the waterproofing of the balconies, with water getting into some of the junctions between the balconies and the building.

Even so, Metlifecare strived to minimise disruption to residents by buying back an apartment within the village to enable residents to move for a short time while repairs were carried out. They also undertook air sampling and kept residents informed on the process.

Leaky buildings, whether they take the shape of a home, school or business, are a nightmare for anyone to deal with; however, when it is a retirement village there are layers of complexity to consider. There is the murky legal side to determine eligibility for state support, and if ineligible, the vast costs to confront. Most importantly, there is the challenge to keep residents happy, healthy, informed and unaffected financially – a challenge most operators faced with weathertightness issues appear to have met admirably.

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