Remove regulators’ liability and we might see more innovation in the building sector NZGBC gets stuck in again

19 September 2022 by Jason Quinn

Writing for The Spinoff recently, NZGBC head Andrew Eagles takes to task the Commerce Commission’s findings into competition in the residential building supplies market. “Not only does our industry suffer from a reliance on the ‘tried and tested’, but this conservativism is backed by a risk structure that incentivises our building officials to be wary of anything new. Products commonplace in countries with harsher climates than ours often struggle to get approval or a foothold here,” he writes.

I share his frustration about the large liability barrier that makes it much harder to improve our homes. I’ve similarly pointed out, through gritted teeth, how easy it is to get a building permit if a builder or designer makes their project look like a cartoon guide of the Acceptable Solution. Never mind if the consenting authority knows that the Acceptable Solution is poor practice. 

Meanwhile, a better designer using a superior design detail (which everyone, including the building consent authority, agrees is better practice) needs to squander their client’s money proving that their Alternative Solution is compliant. Some councils force them to do that every single time they use the same product—vastly superior joinery for instance. 

I’m continually shocked at how much an advantage is received by just designing per the status quo. Legal liability is driving this shit show and that is why we need to significantly change the Building Code and perhaps the legal liability system also. As Andrew says, “Our regulators need to embrace innovation. They simply won’t do this while they’re exposed to the same liability risk as developers, designers, suppliers and builders—our current joint and several liability regime must change and the Commerce Commission should state this boldly.”

I suggest changing from joint and several liability to proportionate liability. If this reduced the recovery potential for the building owners too much, then require a third party insurance policy.

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