Building and Construction Minister Clayton Cosgrove says leaky homes claimants can now be certain that Weathertight Homes Tribunal and WHRS adjudicators are able to award general damages, including those for mental distress or anxiety.
However, the Weathertight Homes Resolution Services (Remedies) Amendment Bill passed through Parliament recently has arrived too late for some leaky home owners.
At least one owner has taken his own life and 10 others are on suicide watch, while hundreds of others are facing bankruptcy and wrecked lives as aggressive body corporates hound them for thousands of dollars to fix leaky buildings.
On top of ill health and shattered housing dreams, depression, anxiety and sleeplessness has descended upon those who watch as debts they cannot pay spiral with penalty interest.
Leaky Homes Action Group chairman John Gray is helping desperate apartment and multi-unit complex owners who can’t afford their share of bills run up by body corporates. Legal help is equally unaffordable.
Mr Gray predicts the leaky building human toll will be enormous. He knows at least 10 people on “suicide watch” and many more who are seriously depressed.
He is almost overwhelmed by the number of distraught people worried about threats from body corporates over unpaid repair bills.
Meanwhile, Mr Cosgrove says the Bill clears up any future problems that could arise as a result of a recent High Court decision (March 29, 2007) that held general damages could not be awarded as compensation for any mental anxiety or stress under the legislation.
He said the Government moved quickly to rectify the situation, given that the judgment set a precedent that could have impacted on existing adjudications started under the WHRS Act 2002, and the administration of the WHRS Act 2006.
“To date, some 21% of WHRS settlements have included general damages, and two previous District Court appeal decisions also interpreted the WHRS Act 2002 as ‘including’ such powers to claim general damages, so this High Court decision went against existing case and legal precedence.”
Mr Cosgrove thanked the Social Services Select Committee for its rapid work on the Bill, and stakeholders, including Mr Gray, who provided valuable guidance and assistance.
“Claimants value the awarding of general damages as an acknowledgement of the stress they have suffered.
“This change is great for WHRS claimants because being able to claim compensation for mental anxiety or distress is an important principle of justice for them.”