Tiled Showers have the potential to become the new "leaky" issue for unsuspecting vendors and purchasers.  The current trend in bathroom renovations, (particularly in homes considered more upmarket), is to replace stainless steel or acrylic shower trays and liners with fully tiled shower cubicles and/or wet rooms.  This trend has undoubtedly been assisted by the recent popularity of home renovation shows on television and the fact that rising Auckland house prices mean home owners have increased equity against which they can borrow to fund major renovations.

However, the potential problems caused by incorrectly installed tiled showers and wet rooms should not be underestimated.  A failure of the waterproofing system behind tiles can lead to significant water damage within a home, which worst case scenario may not only require the entire shower to be replaced but may cause extensive damage not just in the bathroom itself but to other rooms, and can leave a repair bill for the homeowner running into thousands of dollars, if not more.

In our experience, when tiled showers are installed as part of renovations of existing bathrooms, building consent is not usually obtained.  This appears to be because either the homeowner’s minds is not turned to the question of whether building consent is required, or else the homeowner and/or builder mistakenly believe that the exemption in the Building Act applying to replacement of existing bathroom fixtures applies to replacing a liner style shower with a tiled shower.  As a result, many unsuspecting vendors are leaving themselves wide open to breach of warranty claims by purchasers, regardless of whether the waterproofing behind the tiled shower fails or not. 

The current edition of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Guidance to Building Work ("Ministry Guidance") makes it clear that the Ministry considers that "installing a tiled wet area shower will require a building consent".  The reason given for this approach is that construction of a wet area shower generally includes critical building work that is not limited to sanitary plumbing, such as waterproof membranes and carpentry work for structural modifications to the floor.  The Ministry's advice is that this critical building work is outside of any of the stated exemptions in Schedule 1 of the Building Act.  Enquiries we have made with major city councils confirm that most councils are following the Ministry Guidance and agree that building consent is required when replacing a tray and liner style shower with a tiled shower.  While the Building Act itself does not explicitly state that tiled showers require building consent, it would be prudent for home owners to follow both Ministry Guidance and council policy. 

Installing a tiled shower without a building consent can have long term implications for homeowners.  The biggest impact is likely to arise when they decide to sell their home with a renovated bathroom, including the tiled shower.  The REINZ/ADLSI standard agreement for sale and purchase contains a warranty from the vendor that where the vendor has done or authorised any work to be done on the property that required a building consent:

  1. the vendor obtained a building consent;
  2. to their knowledge, the works were completed in compliance with that consent; and
  3. a code compliance certificate was issued by Council for those works.

A homeowner who has replaced their tray and liner style shower with a tiled shower and not obtained building consent, will not be able to comply with the above warranties.  It is possible to amend the standard vendor warranties and disclose the issue to potential purchasers, but this may have an impact on the purchase price and/or saleability of the property.  Vendors who choose to stay silent and give the standard vendor warranties run the risk of being in breach of the vendor warranties in the agreement and having a purchaser take action for breach of such warranties.  Even if the shower does not leak and has been installed correctly, there is still a possibility of a purchaser claiming they have suffered a loss, either because the lack of a building consent has resulted in a loss of value to the property or on the basis that the only appropriate form of compensation would be for the shower to be removed, a building consent obtained and the shower reinstated. 

When entering an agreement for sale and purchase it would be prudent to consider  specific queries as to whether the bathrooms have been renovated and tiled showers installed and if so, consider whether changes need to be made to the standard vendor warranties.