Owners of at least 72 leaky homes in Tauranga could have the option of recovering a quarter of their repair costs from ratepayers, following a narrow 6-5 vote by the council yesterday.
Faced with tough economic times, Tauranga City Council balked at committing itself to the Government's Financial Assistance Package.
The package proposes to give homeowners the option to bypass expensive and uncertain legal litigation by offering them the guarantee of the Government paying 25 per cent of repair costs, participating councils 25 per cent. The rest would be met by homeowners.
Yesterday's first key debate of the new council saw it recommend participating in the scheme and putting $250,000 into next year's budget. The proposal goes out for public consultation early next year.
Ratepayers' liability will be limited to house builders who used council building certifiers.
Independent certifiers inspected about 50 per cent of new homes built in Tauranga during 1999 to 2004 when building codes changed and leaking problems emerged.
Given that half of the owners of leaky homes would have no comeback on the council because they employed independent certifiers, ratepayers' exposure under the Government's scheme could be about $3.8 million.
A council survey of homes built around this period concluded 144 were actual or potential claimants, leaving the council liable for 72. However the survey did not include houses that were altered. An assessment of ratepayers' liability using Department of Building and Housing's figures was about 300 homes.
City Directions acting manager Jeremy Boase said the council did not know how many leaky homes there were in Tauranga.
The council has paid out $500,000 in the past two years to claimants in cases taken to mediation under the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service. Most settlements involved the council paying out about 20 to 25 per cent of claims, plus legal costs.
There were currently 79 unsettled Tauranga claims filed with the Weathertight service of which 17 may impact on council.
Councillors opposed to opting in to the Government's leaky homes package were Crs Larry Baldock, Bill Faulkner, Murray Guy, Wayne Moultrie and Catherine Stewart.
Supporting were Mayor Stuart Crosby and Crs Tony Christiansen, Rick Curach, Bill Grainger, Terry Molloy and David Stewart.
Cr Moultrie said being part of the package did not mean homeowners would use it. An industry had sprung up where lawyers were giving advice to owners of leaky homes to take civil action through the courts.
Cr David Stewart said a lot of people he knew had put their life savings into a retirement home. The discovery their home was leaking had turned their lives upside down.
Cr Guy argued the risk to the council could not be quantified and that the council had not made the rules that led to leaky homes - it had just enforced them. Responsibility should be sheeted home to the Government.