27 Sep 2021

Family lose most of their possessions after repair blunder contaminates state house

8:42 am on 27 September 2021

A distraught family says it was given 30 minutes to choose a handful of belongings from a Kāinga Ora house after a roof repair botch-up contaminated it with asbestos.

Some of the family's possessions dumped in their front yard.

Some of the family's possessions dumped in their front yard. Photo: Supplied

The Christchurch family says three-quarters of their personal possessions, including prized keepsakes and heirlooms, were dumped in a skip.

The state landlord has been accused of lacking any compassion and mishandling repairs on the home, potentially affecting the family's health.

Kerin Buckingham, who shared her Linwood state house with her two children, aged 11 and 13, was at first relieved when the tradesmen turned up to repair the damage to her roof.

However, lockdown meant the work had to be paused.

"There was a lot of rain that night. There was a lot of rain the next day and a lot of leaks. I rang them and told them that the carpet was wet, the wall was wet, the ceiling was wet, 'what do we do?'"

Kāinga Ora's answer was to hire fans to dry out the wet areas.

When somebody turned up with a moisture reader to see if the fans were doing their job, it fell straight through the soaking wet plaster, showering particles of asbestos on to the floor below.

Buckingham and her children stayed in the home for a further two-and-a-half hours as the fan blew straight on to the exposed, asbestos riddled plasterboard, spreading the toxic dust around the house.

When a builder turned up to fix the problem, he was shocked at what he saw.

"He said it never should have happened like that, it was completely the wrong thing to do."

Taking the phone off Kerin, he spoke directly to Kāinga Ora.

"He wanted them to know how bad the situation was, and that he could not leave me and my children living in that sort of situation. He said it was unsafe."

The family were moved to a motel that night taking nothing but the clothes they were wearing.

A week-and-a-half later, Buckingham was asked to come to the house.

She said she had no idea what was about to happen.

"They had already just tipped everything out of cupboards or drawers into plastic bags. And then told us to look through the bags and stipulated that anything we wanted tested was going to cost $250 and we couldn't pick too much."

Kerin Buckingham and her son Shay Mattheou.

Kerin Buckingham and her son Shay Mattheou. Photo: Supplied

Everything she owned, a lifetime's worth of keepsakes and momentos, photographs and family heirlooms, were in those clear plastic bags.

She said she was given 30 minutes to find what she could, without opening them.

Struggling to contain her emotions, Kerin said she was told the rest would be placed in the huge skip that had been parked on her driveway.

"I've lost all my kids' birth things, pregnancy scans, hospital bracelets, first hair cuts, teeth, umbilical cord, my great, great nana's ring, my eighteenth birthday ring, necklaces, my wedding ring, my wedding dress, kindy pictures, just gone."

Her adult son Shay Mattheou, who was there on the day, said Kāinga Ora staff obviously hadn't considered how distressing all of this would be.

"They just started talking to us like kindergarten [children] trying to hurry us along and get us to try and look through everything. It was just horrendous, it was absolutely appalling. I don't know how they thought we could deal with it within that 30-minute span they gave us. We dragged it out for definitely a hell of a lot longer than that, but they only came around once they saw mum's reaction."

The skip where three-quarters of the family's possessions ended up.

The skip where three-quarters of the family's possessions ended up. Photo: Supplied

Mattheou estimated they only managed to retrieve a quarter of what was there.

He said while they did get an apology from his mum's case manager, more should have been done to save their belongings from being dumped.

"If there was an attack plan put into place before they just went in and started rummaging everything and putting everything in bags mum could have informed them where items of importance were and we could have not lost great great grandma's ring.

"We could have not lost mum's wedding ring."

Kerin Buckingham had given up all hope of having her things returned and now worried about the long-term health impact of being exposed to the asbestos while they were still in the house.

Nobody from Kāinga Ora was willing to be interviewed for this story and it instead responded to questions through a series of emails.

While it admitted the asbestos contamination was "a mistake", it was refusing to accept any blame for it, instead pointing the finger at a sub-contractor it hired to dry out the house.

It denied a time limit of 30 minutes was set for the family to pick out possessions from the plastic bags, and said they ended up being given four-and-a-half hours to do this.

Kāinga Ora said it was "regrettable" to lose precious things but compared what happened to the loss of possessions in a natural disaster or a fire.

The house was now being deep-cleaned, repainted and re-carpeted in order for the family to live there once more.