An elderly couple whose retirement plans are in tatters and a first home buyer whose dream home was pulled apart before her eyes are the human stories at the centre of a $220 million class action lawsuit against building giant James Hardie.
Today, their stories opening the second week of hearings in the civil case underway in the High Court at Auckland.
Roughly a thousand homeowners are collectively seeking damages from the international company over weather-tightness issues in their properties.
They are claiming the James Hardie cladding system used in their properties, the majority of which was Harditex, was defective; exposing their properties to leaks, serious water damage, and subsequent mould and rot.
Noel and Norma Hayman of Christchurch say the damage has cost them a healthy nest egg for their retirement.
In the High Court at Auckland today, Mr Hayman spoke of an “ordeal” that has destroyed their dreams of being financially secure in their retirement years.
“My wife and I were farmers originally,” he said. “But we gave up farming and purchased the property as an investment to provide income for our retirement.”
They had the motel at 239 Palmerston Street in Westport, built in 1999. But when they came to sell some 13 years later they found significant weather-tightness issues so severe it needed to be repaired. The cost of doing so was in excess of $640,000.
“We [eventually] managed to sell for $1.1 million, but that was well below the cost of purchase and repairs,” he says. “We are now in our eighties, rather than helping our retirement, it has left us far worse off.”
For first-home buyer Megan Barnes the damage to her home cost her in excess of $250,000 and put her through what she describes as “two years of hell”.
She had purchased her first home in Wellington in 2011 after saving for many years. “The property ticked all the right boxes for me,” she told the court. “I really liked how light and bright the house was.”
Pre-purchase inspections and official reports found no evidence of any weather-tightness issues.
But after moving in Barnes began to notice cracks above her shower - the first sign that not all was right with the property. And after further investigations it was established there were serious water damage issues.
Rather than face ongoing repairs she decided to go for a full re-clad.
“I could not afford to move out during the reclad, I found the whole experience stressful and frankly hellish,” Ms Barnes says.
It was made worse as the initial estimate for the job of $173,000 began to grow by the day.
“Builders would rip out a wall, and find more damage,” she says. “Everyday, it seemed builders would find more and more damage which would cost more to fix.”
She’s spent her savings and borrowed money from her parents, which she is still paying back to the cost of $10,000 a year.
James Hardie has previously told the court it stands by its systems ... and that the issues at the heart of the properties involved in the lawsuit, lay with the builders.