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Govt forced to review ‘badly drafted’ unit titles law

The Department of Building and Housing has been forced to review the 2010 Unit Titles Act after scathing criticism by lawyers.

Ministry of Innovation, Business and Employment spokeswoman Rebecca Barclay has confirmed a review of the law governing New Zealand’s 18,000 apartment buildings will start this week and run until February.

The review is in response to feedback from lawyers who want amendments, she says.

The 2010 act replaced the 1972 Unit Titles Act, updating approaches to unit titles and aiming to fix problems such as developers holding on to body corporate management rights. The new act introduced dispute resolution using the Tenancy Tribunal.

But letters to Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson and Housing Minister Phil Heatley from lawyers outline “significant concerns” about the 2010 act.

The letters from lawyers John Greenwood, Tim Jones and Thomas Gibbons say there are obvious errors in the act, poor drafting and “pragmatism has been ignored”.

“The department’s position seems to be one of denial rather than there being any proactive approach adopted.”

The review documents – now available online – limit the scope of consultation to technical and minor issues. 

However, AUT University law lecturer Rod Thomas says while some issues are technical, they could still be significant.

“There’s one provision in the act that says you can pass something with a 50% resolution. But, if you think about that, if you can pass something with a 50% resolution then you can unpass it just as easily.

“There are lots of things like that that just don’t work.”

Mr Thomas says there has been a constant demand from the law society since the law came into effect to have these matters addressed.

The act had not been in effect for very long and the government’s swift move to fix it reflected significant drafting errors.

McCaw Lewis partner Thomas Gibbons says the technical errors mean lawyers could argue most issues either way.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty over maintenance and who should pay for what."

More by Victoria Young for NBR NZ Property Investor

Comments and questions

Like most criticisms that statute law is badly drafted, this one is misdirected. The fault lies with sows' ear policy which the drafter has been instructed to translate into a silk purse Bill cum Act.