Random Play by Graham Reid

Christmas Under Canvas

Because of my well-known antipathy to backpacker accommodation it will come as no surprise I don’t do camping either. The last time I slept under canvas was when I was at intermediate school.

Then rock’n’roll and pubic hair arrived, so I quit Scouts and have never once since thought fondly of sleeping in a tent, especially not when it is raining.

It’s raining today and I am preparing myself for a Christmas under canvas, and I’m not looking forward to it.

But the karmic wheel has turned and I am about to get a comeuppance.

But it’s not like I will be able to crawl out of the tent and be in the middle some nice piece of native bush or near a pristine beach.

I am going to be under canvas in my own home.

We have a leaky building -- and it’s Christo-time in Morningside. The back of our apartment block is about to be wrapped up for possibly four months, maybe even longer.

In a further irony, our lovely sunny apartment which faces north-west and catches the sun all day, shows no symptoms of being leaky, smelly, creepy or whatever else people have identified in leaky buildings.

But it probably is -- the builder says when they ripped the patios off the other nearby unit they were rotting away quietly -- so we are going to wrapped up, stripped down, rebuilt and reclad and then painted.

As someone who works from home I’m not looking forward to this one bit: it’s not just the fact that we will have scaffolding and canvas (more correctly “tarpaulin” I suppose) around one side of the house, or that we won’t be able to use the patio or modest back garden, or that there will be dust and noise from saws, hammers and classic hits radio that the builders favour.

It’s that I have had to move office. The room beneath the house -- beneath the offending patio actually -- has been my well used, well established and nicely appointed office for years. The books, documents, files, records, tapes and CDs weren’t catalogued but I knew where everything was.

Ironically again, I still do: they are either piled up in one corner in an impenetrable heap or are now in storage. I can’t access anything readily at all.

I have had to move to a small humid room at the top of the house, but even this window is going to be covered in tarps although this upper part of the façade isn’t going to be touched for months.

And once they have finished off this side they will move on to other units then back to do our kitchen side and the wall which is alongside the railway land.

I am guessing that in the next 18 months some part of our house won’t have light coming in. And windows we aren’t allowed to open, and a patio we can’t walk on.

This is all annoying but there are also more serious costs: some people in our block are finding it difficult to raise the extra money needed to pay in advance for these essential repairs. Our lawyer is after the develop[ers and so on but the case is unlikely to be settled until much later next year, possibly in 2007, and there is no guarantee we will get back in compensation all that we have had to raise.

And it’s a not inconsiderable sum: by the close of play it will be well in excess of $60,000 which people are having to add to their mortgages. Maybe we’ll get lucky and be paid back $45,000. Shit!

Our helpful bank (Westpac who have been extremely good through all this) has done us a deal, but in July we will have to find $60,000 (the short answer to your question is, we don’t know, and we can’t) but we also have no choice here.

This is our house, the only one we’ve got, and we have to sit all this out.

But it is worse for some who simply have mortgages so high already they can’t raise the additional funds.

I won’t tell you how that matter can be resolved, but let it be said I have no great love for being on a body corporate which has to -- and legally can -- force a mortgagee sale on one of my neighbours.

I mention all this because leaky buildings are getting a bit of press right now, what with the Court of Appeal judgement that struck out a $20 million claim by the 153 owners of apartments in the leaky Sacramento complex in Manukau City.

You needn’t be troubled by the ins and outs of this case, but the human cost of leaky buildings really hits you hard when you think about it: people worrying about raising massive amounts of money to pay for repairs on homes bought in good faith from developers who have done a runner; neighbours unwillingly being pitted against each other as a result; people having to live in building sites for months and months on end (cold in winter, airless and dark in summer); and elderly folk watching the home they bought with their life savings being pulled apart and them having to live with not only the discomfort but also the fear they might not be able to raise and repay a mortgage.

It’s a shitty situation all round and so yes, this is one of those times when I reluctantly have to mutter that great Kiwi catchphrase, “the government should do something”.

Successive governments haven’t of course, but this latest court ruling puts the heat on even more.

People in leaky homes deserve better.

Jeez, four decades after swearing off sleeping in a tent I’ve got to spend Christmas under canvas.