Burrett & Associates | A Rotten Shame

By: Burrett & Associates  05-Apr-2012

July 2011 - HOBANZ

It's been called one of New Zealand's biggest disasters - affecting up to 89 thousand homes throughout New Zealand with an estimated repair bill of more than 23 billion dollars. It may have been pushed out of the news recently by other local disasters but the leaky home catastrophe is not going to go away. And what's more, leaky homes and buildings are still being built today.
So how did it come about and what can we do to fix it?

The TV ONE investigative documentary A Rotten Shame looks into the history of the problem and the measures that should be taken now to fix it.

The hour long documentary is presented by John Gray who went through his own nightmare when he discovered his new Auckland townhouse leaked. After taking his claim to court and winning, he was besieged by other home owners in a similar predicament. He eventually formed an organization HOBANZ (Home Owners and Buyers Association of NZ) dedicated to helping other people get fair compensation for their leaky homes as well as raising standards in the building industry and protecting consumers. Now John is a recognized expert on leaky homes and has become the "go to guy" for media and politicians.

But John is not a lawyer or a builder. He is an airline pilot. Helping other leaky home owners and fighting for consumer protection takes up all his spare time. He does it because he can't turn his back on those in need and the need to ensure the system is fixed. He looks at the airline industry safety model and he is appalled by the lax standards in the building industry. He has strong ideas about how we need to fix the leaky and defective home problem - and how we should do it sooner rather than later.

A Rotten Shame is John Gray's journey of discovery. Using cases from the HOBANZ files, John takes us to houses in Tauranga and Christchurch as well as Auckland to show there are houses rotting all over the country. He charts the path of this national disaster from the legislative changes in 1991 through to today, confronting many of the parties involved, from politicians to builders and developers, demanding answers.

He uncovers shocking facts in the building industry: builders with no qualifications, council inspectors with no building background, flaws in inspections, shoddy building methods, bad decisions appraising new products and what a Master Builders guarantee really means.

This documentary is a wake up call for all home owners. Our home is our biggest investment and this documentary will arm home owners with much information they need to make wise decisions.

And just as the issue of leaky homes is a fraught subject, this documentary was an extraordinarily slow and complicated process, eventually taking two and a half years to complete.

It had its genesis when producer Rachel Stace and director John Hagen saw firsthand the human impact of leaky homes while working on the TV One series "Location Location Location". Often home owners had no idea there was anything wrong with their house until they tried to sell it. Then they were stuck. - the house wouldn't sell and they couldn't afford the huge sums to fix it. John and Rachel heard many instances of unlucky people who had bought their houses in good faith and got caught with a leaker.

How had this happened? There was obviously a story here waiting to be told. Why had no one ever told it?

The documentary was commissioned in 2008 through Ninox, the makers of "Location Location Location", as part of TVNZ's prestigious Festival Docs series. Ninox then went into receivership in 2009 and it looked like the documentary would also be a casualty but by then Rachel and John were determined to continue.

"It is impossible not to be touched by John Gray's passion," says John Hagen. "It's a peculiar thing when you meet someone so dedicated to a cause that it invades their soul. It's like that with John. He's an airline pilot by trade and a leaky home expert by accident."

John and Rachel formed their own company e2 Productions to finish the documentary. But there were many more hurdles over the next two years.

"One of the major concerns with bringing the full story of leaky homes to the screen was that we were sure there were many key players who wouldn't talk to us," says John Hagen. "And so it proved. We expected the builders and developers who had been responsible for building leakers to duck for cover but there were some surprises - people with experience of council's inspection regimes suddenly didn't want to talk, politicians who talked regularly to John Gray suddenly closed ranks and stood firmly behind media minders saying "it would set an unusual precedent" to talk to a leader of a lobby group.

And of course, although John Gray is often called on to comment on news stories about leaky homes, he is not an experienced television presenter.

"Fronting a full length documentary is quite different," says John Hagen. "But he's a fast and willing learner. John's expertise and understanding just needed moulding into the language of documentary making - what to ask in interviews, how the story would flow, and what the audience would see."

The timeframe was not helped by the fact John Gray had to fit the filming in between his fulltime work as a senior pilot and his HOBANZ commitments. But the upside was that the long filming period allowed the stories to unfold naturally.

"I don't think anyone realized how long it would take to complete this documentary," says John Hagen. "So much of the story relies on following the outcome of court cases, which in turn opens the door to other parts of the story. And all the time we had to tread a fine legal line. Even when people were proven guilty in court, we had to be careful about privacy and fairness. We had lawyers' letters about some of John Gray's more confrontational approaches but at the end of the day we felt the truth was a good defense.

"And although overshadowed at present by things like the Christchurch earthquake (where it's even more important to rebuild with good building practices), the full story of leaky homes has not yet been played out…."

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