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#AskGeorgie: High price for poor service

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It's the biggest investment most of us will make in our lifetime: buying a property. Building a new home on that property is not the most economical choice, though. Risk is supposed to be mitigated by registering your new build with the National Home Builders Registration Council - but a Pretoria couple are questioning the value of paying in excess of R20 000 to the council for no assistance more than a year after they first tried to raise issues relating to their builder’s poor work. Is it a case of failure to follow process or a dereliction of duty on the part of the NHBRC?

Charmaine and Werner de Kock’s new home in Magalieskruin didn’t show up any issues almost a year after it was built. Then the heavy rains came and paint started bubbling, among a litany of faults. Confident that they were covered by the NHBRC, they tried to submit claims - a few times - but phone calls and emails were simply left unanswered.

There’s nothing like a Gauteng rainstorm on a leaking roof to drive stress levels through the stratosphere. So they contacted me.

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Can you be sure that all rules and regulations have been followed and that the quality of work is fully guaranteed? Picture: Cindy Waxa

“We went through a disaster of a building process during 2015 and 2016. We occupied our house in April last year. We experienced problems with the builder from day one,” Werner said.

“On our return from Australia in January this year, we noticed some serious water leakages, and water damp on nearly all inside and outside walls, which in time will have an effect on the structure of the building.

“We notified the builder via phone, email and WhatsApp, to which he eventually replied that everything is maintenance related and for our account and our responsibility as he only provided a three-month retention period.”

Then the couple called their insurer, Absa, which declined their claim due to poor workmanship.

The assessor put the issues down to poor construction: “The building might be a little more than a year old, and rising damp already started to form, which indicates there is a building defect.

“The rising damp is near corners and windows; some rising damp was on the outside walls as well the concrete roof was poorly constructed and painted.” He recommended that the roof and windowsills should be properly sealed and painted; the edges waterproofed; and the internal walls stripped and allowed to dry before repainting - but insurance wouldn’t be covering poor construction.

The NHBRC then, despite several phone calls, emails and Facebook contacts, provided no action.

“This is still a newly built house; someone must take responsibility for this damage,” said Werner.

“There must be some sort of guarantee/warranty or something.All the experts - engineers, building inspectors and professionals - signed off and approved that everything was built up to standard. All parties, including the builder, NHBRC and Absa Insurance, got their money.

“Now we as consumers sit with all these problems, even though we followed all the rules. Surely the builder needs to fix his poor workmanship?”

When contacted for comment, the NHBRC initially apologised for its lack of responsiveness.

It told the readers to submit a claim, but then suggested that waterproofing and roof issues were only covered for three months.

“We would like to unreservedly apologise to Mr De Kock for the NHBRC’s non-response to his emails and telephone calls,” council spokesperson Tshepo Nkosi told me.

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“The NHBRC has a general process that is followed for each complaint, and, depending on what emerges at each stage, we can then apply the appropriate corrective measures.

“After a careful consideration of the emailed correspondence, we would like to advise Mr De Kock to lay a formal complaint for the covered patio [damp shows on the ceiling] as this might be from a roof leakage. I have attached a complaint form that he must fill in and return back to us.

“Unfortunately, Mr De Kock’s issues regarding water leakages, water damp on mostly all inside and outside walls should have been addressed within three months of occupation of their new home.”

Nkosi then lays out the warranty scheme, which provides five years’ cover against major structural defects on a new home; 12 months’ roof warranty cover; and 90 days’ defects liability warranty cover.

Not so, building consultant Justin Power told me. “The NHBRC is very much mistaken: those roof leakages and rising damp issues are latent defects, which are covered for a period of up to five years. How would you know that there’s an issue with a leaking roof, for instance, if there’s no water at play?”

Not being a building expert, I contacted the NHBRC again, saying without heavy rain, there is no leakage - the problem is a latent defect. Nkosi agreed: “You are correct in that the latent defect can occur at any given time due to a myriad reasons, including but not limited to damp and unsuitable soil conditions, among others. These kinds of defects enjoy a five-year warranty cover from the NHBRC.

Apology

He apologised unreservedly to the De Kocks but advised that the complaints process needs to be followed. “[When] our customer services communicated with Ms De Kock, she responded with an empty complaint form and a list of defects, on April 18, 2017.

“We contacted the client now, and they will fill the forms and follow the complaint process. We wish to extend our apologies to Ms De Kock for the poor service she previously experienced and we are working to improve our communications with our customers as we continue in the quest to protect the rights of housing consumers.”

Roy Mnisi, the executive director of Master Builders South Africa (MBSA), warned that more caution needs to be exercised when appointing contractors by checking if the builder is registered with industry regulation bodies such as the MBSA (a voluntary, self-regulated association) and the NHBRC (a legal requirement). “Do reference checks to get comments and feedback on the professionalism and quality of building works of the builder.”

In the De Kocks’ case, Mnisi advises: “The NHBRC offers a warranty scheme that provides a five-year warranty against structural defects, and cover for one year against roof leakage.

Ordinarily, the house would have been inspected by a qualified inspector from foundation level to practical completion.” He could not comment on why that would not have happened.

“All members of the (provincial) Master Builders Associations are bound by strict codes of conduct, including responsibility to do quality work conforming to building regulations and standards. Should the builder be a member of MBSA, the complaint may be sent to us to see how our respective association can intervene and assist.”

Werner contacted me on Thursday to say firecrackers seem to have been lit because the builder has now sent another contractor to the house to start repair works. The second builder, though, claims his work will only be covered for two years. I’d get that NHBRC process under way soonest - the warranty on his initial work should have been five years, not around three years.

CAPE ARGUS

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