As repair work advances in the leaky building saga, breaches of fire safety rules are showing up as a hidden, but significant issue.
While remedial work on leaky buildings is being undertaken, it is being discovered that fire rated materials and devices are incomplete, or do not exist at all. This includes holes in fire-resistant walls, a lack of fire collars that expand with heat to seal cavities around pipes, and walls which are not built up to sealing. These issues are being blamed on substandard workmanship, shortcuts and a compliance system that was not fit for purpose at the time the buildings were constructed.
Fire safety problems have already been discovered in several major complexes in Auckland, and there are major concerns about how widespread the problem may be. The Home Owners and Buyers Association of New Zealand (HOBANZ) predicts that the majority of multi-storey apartment buildings built between 1995 and 2005 do not comply with fire safety regulations and never have done. This view is consistent with a report released by the New Zealand Fire Association, which found that ‘a large number of buildings in New Zealand would fall well short of the level of fire safety performance expected.’
New buildings are not considered as much of a concern, as they are required to meet current fire safety standards of the Building Code. The current Building Code requires that a fire engineer assess the buildings plans and designs to ensure they meet current fire safety standards and that the building is safe for purpose. Existing buildings which have passed through the building consent process (for alterations or extensions) are also not as much of an issue, as they are also required to be upgraded to, or are to ‘as near as reasonably practicable’ to, the current standards of the Building Code. Again, this involves a fire engineer carrying out an assessment of the building.
In terms of correcting the issues with older buildings, HOBANZ would like to see mandatory insurance backed by warranties as a starting point. HOBANZ also suggests that the shortcomings of Council fire safety warrant of fitness checks could also be expanded, to cover more than just checking fire alarms and exits.