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Real Life

Auckland family's leaky home horror: ‘our lives fell apart’

The Auckland couple lost their house and savings after buying the wrong apartment

By Cloe Willetts
When Auckland couple Jagoda Jezowska and Denis Zaitsev moved in together seven years ago, they excitedly turned a cosy apartment in St Marys Bay into their dream nest. They repainted walls, replaced the carpet and installed a new kitchen, before welcoming their baby son Neo.
But within a year of city- living bliss, the hard-working pair watched their future crumble. The Ridge apartment complex, where they lived with 29 other owners, was found to be leaky, which catapulted the pair into a "living hell" that left them half a million dollars in debt.
"I purchased the apartment with a family member under a trust in 2012, using all my savings, and we had a lawyer check everything," says Denis, 35, who set up house with Jagoda around six years later. "The body corporate chairman said it'd cost about $50,000 to fix the balconies, which was the only thing wrong. I thought apartment living was a great step on to the property ladder. Then it all fell apart."
The Russian-born dad, who moved to New Zealand aged nine, was working at a car dealership in January 2019 when Jagoda heard a knock on their apartment door. She finished breastfeeding Neo, now six, and opened it to find men in bright orange suits and construction helmets, who said her family had just days to vacate with their belongings.
"They basically told me if I wasn't going to leave the property, it wouldn't end very well and they'd force me out because we were living in a house with no code of compliance," shares Polish-born Jagoda, 25. "They even threatened to call child services and separate us!"
Prior to that day, an investigation had been commissioned by some of the couple's worried neighbours, who'd noticed water-stained walls and rotten framing around the building. It turned out Denis and Jagoda's haven had structural, fire-compliance and water-leakage issues.
The body corporate, which handles the building's management and maintenance, is led by a "wealthy group" of apartment owners, who were in favour of stripping the structure bare to repair it. But it would come at a cost of around $90,000 for each owner.
"The body corporate said if people couldn't pay the money, they couldn't vote going forward," Denis says. "But the powerful people who were cashed-up could."
Gutted! Jagoda, Denis and son Neo are now living in a friend's one-bedroom studio.
Either way, the new father couldn't vote for or against the decision, since the trust he'd purchased the apartment under "was in limbo" because of a falling-out between him and a family member.
"The body corporate made their decision through court, and we were told the construction was going ahead and we needed to get the money together. I picked up as many hours at work as I could because you need solid income to get a leaky home loan approved. It was hard."
Appearing on the new season of the documentary series A Living Hell: Apartment Disasters, Denis and Jagoda chatted with home experts John Gray and Roger Levie about their ordeal, which forced them to leave their home and rent a friend's one-bedroom studio, where they still live.
When the couple refused to pay the body corporate until the trust was sorted, it took them to court, where they were advised to pay their debt, but without any enforcement. Then they went through the High Court to sort the trust so Denis could apply for a leaky home loan, which cost $25,000, meaning the couple had to claim hardship and withdraw all their KiwiSaver money.
"Our savings are gone now," Jagoda says. "The last time we had an evaluation done on the apartment, before Covid, it was about $80,000 and we were stoked. But now we owe around half a million!"
After a stressed-out Denis went to his bank to apply for a leaky home loan, it was approved, but the final step required having building consent and proof of the cost of finishing the project. When he asked the body corporate for the documents, there was no response.
"Then snap – they gathered and said nobody could afford the project, so they'd sell the building as is and abandon it. But for each year, they add 10% to everyone's debt, without being able to show what they've built with the money!"
Fortunately, he and Jagoda have a plan for wiping their crippling debt by winding down the trust, but they've lost their home and savings, while still having to pay mortgage and rates. They also said goodbye to a dear friend and neighbour, who died suddenly amid the drama.
Now the duo's former dream abode is sitting empty, incomplete and rotting. The kitchen Denis installed has gone, likely stolen by thieves who broke locks to get in.
"Our advice is to always double-check everything and find land somewhere you can afford instead of an apartment," he concludes. "Buying one ended up being the biggest mistake."
A Living Hell: Apartment Disasters is now streaming on Neon and Sky Go.
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