High Court orders Masterton builders to pay $460,000 for failed home renovation

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A Masterton builder has been ordered by the High Court to pay a client after a series of problems arose during a major renovation job.

Monique Ford / Stuff

A Masterton builder has been ordered by the High Court to pay a client after a series of problems arose during a major renovation job.

Renovation of a Wairarapa woman’s half-million-dollar home turned into an endless litany of construction issues, culminating in a High Court judgment against the builders for nearly 460 $000.

Shortly after work was completed on Barbara Palmer’s home on the outskirts of Masterton in December 2016, a “series of issues arose” as a result of the main contractor’s work.

Masterton District Council issued a Building Defect Correction Notice in October 2018, and as of the trial date earlier this year, no Code of Compliance Certificate had yet been issued.

The High Court ruling on July 7 named Hewitt Building Ltd as the first defendant in the case and its owner and sole director Mark Wilson Hewitt as the second defendant.

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High Court Judge Cooke described the case as a ‘domestic building project gone seriously wrong’.

The court found the construction company liable for $392,000, and a judgment of $67,000 was entered against Hewitt himself for negligence.

According to court documents, Palmer entered into a fixed-price construction contract with Hewitt Building Ltd in June 2016 to renovate his Masterton home for $526,000.

Work was mostly complete by December that year, but a “series of issues and disputes” were already emerging.

“Mr Hewitt felt it had reached practical completion, but Ms Palmer raised a range of concerns she had about the construction work,” Judge Cooke said.

In May the following year the council carried out an inspection and a number of aspects of the construction were not passed. A series of other problems then developed.

In July 2017 the septic tank system flooded and in August there was a problem with water freezing in the pipes. Both the gas fireplace and the built-in fireplace had faulty installation issues.

Later in October, the property was flooded because the storm water drainage system was inadequate, and the toilet was also identified as being poorly ventilated in the ceiling space, according to the ruling.

In October 2018, Masterton District Council issued a correction notice for several shortcomings before adopting a compliance code.

The High Court decision highlighted a host of other problems in the execution of the project which resulted in monetary judgments being ordered against Palmer.

The garage was built smaller than the consent plans and the construction company was ordered to pay $23,000 to fix it.

There were issues with the roofing materials, its construction and the roof was smaller than originally planned as parts were missing and the eaves around the building were 300mm shorter than on the plans.

“The different may be the result of an error by Mr. Hewitt, although it is possible because of his cost cutting,” Judge Cooke said in his ruling on the eaves.

For the roofing issues and shortened eaves, the company was ordered to pay $47,000.

Another $13,000 was ordered for problems with the installation of a built-in fireplace that did not comply with the building code. It was replaced by another builder with a freestanding wood stove.

A judgment of $18,600 was entered to repair two interior walls that Palmer described as “jelly walls” that would shake and shake unacceptably.

Hewitt Building Ltd was also ordered to pay Palmer $2,742 for failing to install the Hyspan laminate veneer structural timber beams that were included in the contract. Instead, the builder installed a redesigned truss layout “to achieve the same result.”

Palmer also received $3,686 because Hewitt Building installed a 15,000 liter water tank instead of the agreed 25,000 liter tank.

The ruling noted that Hewitt said at trial that her company would not have the assets to meet the judgment sought against her.

The judge found Hewitt personally liable for $67,575 in connection with work he performed on the roof, flashings and siding.

Both Palmer and Hewitt were approached by Stuff for comment, but chose not to speak publicly about the matter at this stage.

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