31 Aug 2023

New tool lets potential property buyers easily look up past EQC claims

11:50 am on 31 August 2023
A photo of the EQC's new Natural Hazards Portal website.

A photo of the EQC's new Natural Hazards Portal website. Photo: RNZ / Dan Satherley

An Earthquake Commission (EQC) official has acknowledged there is a risk its new online tool which allows people to easily look up past damage claims could have a negative impact on the value of affected properties.

But people have a right to know the potential risks of a property they are considering buying or moving into, EQC chief resilience and research officer Jo Horrocks told Morning Report on Wednesday.

The new Natural Hazards Portal includes a map revealing previously settled claims made to EQC, and encourages buyers to ask questions about whether any damage to a property has been properly repaired.

"It's got a lot of information about natural hazards in this country, it has links to local and regional data and includes information on past natural hazard events," Horrocks said.

"And the main functionality - or the main new functionality - is a map that shows all previous settled EQC cover claims. It's just a prompt to try and help people understand more about the risks at a particular property or in a community or suburb, and it's just part of our commitment to share more information about natural hazard risk in this country."

Those risks included not just earthquakes, but "all the natural hazards that EQC covers - that includes volcanoes, landslips, geothermal activity, volcanic activity and land damage from floods and storms".

Hastings District Council has changed the rules so people with yellow stickered houses will now be offered remission for two rates instalments if they apply for it.

Red and yellow stickers for houses damaged in natural disasters. Photo: Hastings District Council

None of the information was previously unavailable, but could be difficult to access. In a separate interview, Horrocks told 1News many of those who lost their homes in the Auckland floods or Cyclone Gabrielle were not aware they were living in a hazardous area.

"People have always been able to request information about previous claims through the Official Information Act, and we deal with maybe sort of 800 of those a month, I think it is. But this aims to make it publicly available for the first time nationwide," Horrocks explained on Morning Report.

"It's just basic information about claims, so it doesn't go into too much detail - just the event that caused the damage and the date, and then the type of claim, whether it's for building or land and the hazard that happened.

"So it's just an additional layer of information, an additional prompt for people, particularly when buying a house - but maybe for those who already own a house or renting a property, just to be aware of what might have happened in the past and to think about some of the things that they could do to maybe make make the property a bit safer, or to plan and prepare for what might happen."

Asked if making hazard data - past claims, and present and future risks - could see property values drop, Horrocks said that was something "we've been aware of and concerned about from the very beginning".

"I think the message that we've been trying to promote is that claims aren't necessarily a bad thing in and of themselves. They were a sign that something might have happened - but it might have been large, it might have been quite small. It might have been a very long time ago, it might be more recent. And, you know, most claims, most damage should have been repaired and reinstated perhaps to an even better standard.

"But… we think this is information that people should really have access to, they're entitled to. People should be able to make informed decisions about whether they want to take a particular risk or not, and just to have the knowledge that there's something that they could do about it."

The data goes back as far as EQC's digital records do - 1997.

"We are trying to go back a bit further, but that obviously starts to become quite time-consuming, to go through paper documents," Horrocks said.

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