Two recent articles in the New Zealand media have publicised instances where builders have somehow managed to build a brand-new dwelling in a brand-new subdivision in the incorrect position. And in both cases, it is no-one’s fault.
Both homeowners are now locked in legal stalemates as the relevant Councils, builders, and home designers try to establish who has the liability for the incorrect siting and who needs to cover the costs to rectify this error. This has had major financial implications on the homeowners, not to mention the emotional stress and time delays for all parties involved.
'Council say don't blame us for house built over neighbour's boundary'
The first instance happened in Lincoln’s Rosemerryn subdivision, where Gail McDonald had purchased a house and land package with Golden Homes. When the Golden Homes team went to begin construction, they found the neighbouring house had been mistakenly built over the boundary and they couldn’t start the build.
Selwyn District Council was advised of the siting error but said by the time the mistake was picked up, the neighbouring build was too far through the construction process to stop. As a result, if McDonald went ahead with her build, her property would be too close to the neighbouring dwelling, and Council would have to withhold her property’s code compliance certificate until the issue was resolved. While McDonald could live in her home without the compliance certificate, it would make the house much harder to insure or sell.
The Council says it does not have liability as the submitted plans were fully compliant, and the siting error happened during construction. They have provided advice to the building contractor and suggested a boundary adjustment as a potential solution. Negotiations continue between McDonald’s lawyers, Golden Homes, and the lawyers for the builder who incorrectly sited the house next door. Golden Homes have kindly offered to refund McDonald’s deposit if the issue can’t be resolved, but in the meantime, McDonald is left without a house, paying rent to live elsewhere, and unable to build on her ideal section.
'Auckland man facing $315,000 bill after house built in wrong place'
Meanwhile in Auckland, Deepak Lal is facing a $315,000 bill to move his house after a building consent error meant his property was built one metre too close to the neighbouring boundary.
Lal had contracted an architectural designer to complete his house plans, and had the plans approved by Auckland Council before beginning his build. In mid-2020, when the home was almost complete, the construction company discovered the boundary error and stopped construction. Since then, Lal has been in limbo and the developers that own the neighbouring land have taken legal action against him.
The surveyor who certified the location of the home says they had marked the house in the right place according to the building consent, and the architectural designer who filed the plans says they asked Auckland Council to cross-check against the resource consent. (At the time of the article Auckland Council had not provided a comment.) So while nobody’s sure where the error happened, Lal has now been asked to move his house - at a cost of around $150,000 - or pay $315,000 in damages to the neighbouring developer.
In both situations, all the parties involved feel for the homeowners’ situation, but that doesn’t change the fact that the these errors still need to be resolved before McDonald or Lal can live stress-free in their new homes.
Don't let this happen to you...
When we work with clients we stress the importance of getting all the correct information right from the start.
No matter what you are going to build, it is critical to begin with accurate site levels in terms of an accepted Council or LINZ datum, (not just the kerb or top of a peg) because you will find that a lot of the relevant certifications will be required to relate to the same datum. We undertake these levels every day and leave a site benchmark for you to reference throughout the process for cross-checking purposes.
Next, get the building set out under the technical eye of a surveyor. We don’t use a tape measure & stringline to work out these positions, but rather calculate them with our 12d software, and although we might leave nails in profiles, you can be assured that these nails are bang on, and you have been given the correct location for your foundations or grid lines. Guaranteed.
We’ve also been advised that Councils are more frequently requesting Building Location Certificates (pre-pour certifications from a surveyor, advising how your formwork relates to the approved plans). If you skipped the first two steps, this is where things can go wrong; if there’s an error in the approved plans (which can happen), your formwork may be in the wrong place or at the wrong level.
So, don’t think you are saving money when you miss a few steps, as things can turn around and bite you when you aren’t expecting them. Play it safe, do it the right way right from the beginning and engage with Survus to set you on the right path.