1 Mar 2018

Homeowners left in limbo after faulty EQC repairs

From Checkpoint, 5:09 pm on 1 March 2018

EQC claimants say they're not surprised to hear about a rising number of botched repairs or missed quake damage being reported to the Commission.

It has been revealed half of the nearly 3000 cases EQC is still dealing with - seven years on from the earthquakes - are re-repairs.

A crack in Woodham Road caused by the Christchurch Earthquake

A crack in Woodham Road caused by the Christchurch Earthquake Photo: 123RF

Jennifer Dalziel knew her home's foundations were stuffed soon after the earthquakes.

The repairs to her villa, in the east of Christchurch, were completed soon after the February 2011 earthquake after an assessment: not by a qualified engineer, but by two builders.

"I think they were counting on the fact that if they just patched up the foundations with bog it would all be fine because there wouldn't be any more earthquakes," she said. 

"But what happened was in June 2011 when we had the next large earthquake, everything just cracked open again and their inadequate repairs were exposed." 

Fast forward three years to 2014 and a second EQC inspection.

"And then the second guys that came, he was a retired headmaster and they'd just been given these ipads to use to write all of the information down and they couldn't use them. 

"In the end they had to get someone to come out from head office to try and help them and then they all just left because they couldn't figure out how to use their ipads." 

After taking EQC to court, Ms Dalziel's home was finally inspected by an engineer last year.

After years of wrangling she was told her house would need to be lifted and her entire foundation rebuilt from scratch, something she'd known since the beginning.

Mike Stewart and Julia McEntyre did not work out there was a problem until long after they had bought their home.

Like a growing number of Cantabrians, they discovered the home they bought post-quake, that had had all of its EQC-managed repairs completed, was not as sound as they had been led to believe.

"We went to sell the house, it sold on the first open home and the person wanted to see our scope of works. We didn't see a problem with that, we had the completion certificate. 

"So I contacted EQC, they sent us the scope of works, and when we got it we looked at it and went 'uh oh, I don't think some of this stuff's been done', and the house sale fell through."

The family of four had already bought another house, meaning they now had two mortgages to pay and no hope of selling their quake-damaged home.

Despite identifying the need for substantial foundation repairs, EQC did not follow through on getting the work done. 

EQC have now agreed the damage to their home is over its $100,000 cap and that their case is ready to be handed on to their private insurer. 

However, their insurer said they should have disclosed the unrepaired damage to their property when they took out their policy, and it was now refusing to pay out for the $300,000 cost of getting their home properly fixed. 

Mr Stewart said they had been left in limbo. 

"I paid full market price for a house that was fixed by EQC/Fletchers, was signed off as fixed. They've admitted it was their problem, they've said that they would help us, they won't. 

"We have the reports that say they didn't do the work properly, the work was all identified, it just wasn't done. Just do it." 

McEntyre said the strain of having to pay two mortgages had been huge and they now had to put their new house on the market. 

The couple believed their situation was just the tip of he iceberg. 

In fact, the term 'On Solds' has already been coined in the Canterbury post-quake lexicon to denote people who have bought homes not properly repaired by EQC who do not qualify for a full payout from their private insurer.

Their case, and that of 15 others in the On Sold category, had been taken on by lawyer Andrew Hooker who said EQC could not just walk away from these people.

"Currently EQC says 'we have no obligations to pay anything outside the Act, we are simply obliged to comply with the Act'. We say no you don't, forget about the Act, you owe these people a duty of care, they're now left high and dry and you should pay whatever it costs to fix these houses."

Mr Hooker said it was a true David-and-Goliath battle, but one that needed to be fought.

"We're in discussions, advanced discussions, with a litigation funder from Australia with a view to finding funding for these people, because a large proportion of these people can't afford anything."

Andrew Hooker said EQC should now contact everybody in Christchurch that had had a repair managed by Fletcher EQR, all 150,000 of them, and offer to pay for a report by an independent engineer on the true state of their home.

Those spoken to by RNZ were not alone in their concern about the quality of EQC's work.

A Facebook posting asking for feedback generated comments from one person who said a retired vacuum cleaner salesperson was sent by EQC to assess their damage while another was sent a former army negotiator.

One person reported an assessor shining a torch under their home between the ventilation grate before declaring their foundations appeared to be fine.

A report from an independent assessor found numerous problems with their piles.

The Earthquake Commission's Chief Customer Officer, Trish Keith, said the organisation had committed to doing any re-repairs or reaching a settlement with any home owner who could prove their property was damaged by the earthquakes.