8 Apr 2016

'We suspect there are systemic failings'

7:03 pm on 8 April 2016

Fed-up Christchurch homeowners have delivered a 3000-signature petition to the government calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into shoddy earthquake repairs.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, however, says problems with building repairs are being "overegged" and a Royal Commission would be an expensive waste of time.


One of the tens of thousands of homes damaged in the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes (file). Photo: RNZ

Last year, a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) report into structural repairs revealed more than a third of surveyed homes failed to meet the building code.

The 'Yes We Can Fix It' volunteer group calling for the inquiry handed over its petition to Labour leader Andrew Little in Christchurch today.

Sharon Toogood, who has been battling with EQC over repairs to four properties, said handing over the petition gave her a sense of achievement.

She said one of her properties was only put over the $100,000 cap, which means private insurers also share the cost of a claim, last week.

"It's been horrid, EQC has minimised our issues and flogged us off. They've been difficult to deal with and the only reason the house went over cap was because we got lawyer Grant Shand involved."

Ms Toogood said, at one house, EQC had epoxied a floor but an independent report showed it needed to be replaced.

She said no one from EQC had ever gone under the floor to inspect it before the job was done.

Melanie Tobeck, Megan Woods, Andrew Little and lawyer Duncan Webb, left to right, at the presentation of the petition calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into earthquake repairs.

Melanie Tobeck, Megan Woods, Andrew Little and lawyer Duncan Webb, left to right, at the presentation of the petition in Christchurch. Photo: RNZ / Sally Murphy

"I'm not young and I do start to wonder if I will spend the rest of my life fighting this. I feel for those who have given up and settled for bad repairs or payouts which won't cover the cost of fixing their homes."

It was stories like Ms Toogood's that got 'Yes We Can Fix It' calling for action.

Group member and Southern Response holder Melanie Tobeck said about 3000 people had signed the petition.

"We're asking Parliament for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into why so many repairs appear to be failing. It's raising so many issues about additional costs, it will be a burden on the taxpayers, but something needs to be done."

As of February, EQC had completed nearly 68,000 home repairs.

A Christchurch family is attempting to sue the EQC and their insurer, Southern Response.

Southern Response is a state-owned company responsible for handling particular earthquake claims. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Ms Tobeck questioned how many were up to scratch.

"We don't feel there is enough independence. We feel the government has a conflict of interest because of [state-owned company] Southern Response and EQC, and we suspect there are systemic failings right throughout the entire process, right from the very first home that they repaired."

She said although people had put a lot of hard work and effort into the petition, they were not expecting action from the government.

"The cost to put this right will be phenomenal, so the government won't want to expose that.

"We're not holding our breath that this will be successful, but I think it is our job as policy holders to bring this to the attention of the public, things need to be done right and they need to be done right the first time," Ms Tobeck said.

Lawyer Duncan Webb, who helped organise the petition, said the system had failed to protect homeowners.

"When you put all those components of the system together - the consenting process, the pressure on loss adjustors, the fiscal constraints on insurers - you're not going to get a good outcome, you're going to get a bad outcome.

"There are a lot of instances that I see, not only ones that haven't been settled but where they have been settled where people haven't been paid enough to repair their houses, and fixes that have been done have been utterly inadequate, so it has failed."

He said many of the problems involved problems with buildings' foundations.

"It's much easier to say here's a cheque and all you are [getting] is a cosmetic fix. But when you've got old foundations on the kind of weak land that Christchurch has in places, when [foundations are] cracked, it's not easy to repair.

"And they will continue to move over time because the land is weaker, so that's the kind of investigation that's needed on any of these houses on weak land."

'Current situation is being massively overegged'

Mr Brownlee said the situation would have been worse if it had been handled differently.

"If people are on their own, paid out, and having to work with individual contractors, then I think you have a much worse situation and frankly I think the current situation is being massively overegged."

He implied timing was also a concern.

"Remember that we've had 13,000 earthquakes over our earthquake sequence and 67 of those have been over 5 on the Richter scale. So it's difficult to pinpoint a time when you can say there will be no more damage."

He said the MBIE report had only sampled a small portion of the damaged houses, and only ones where there had been a jack-and-pack pile solution.

He also dismissed a Treasury report that found the government had missed key milestones, saying it had only focused on one project.

"There's nine very large projects totalling many hundreds of millions. That report was last October and there's been huge progress on any number of those projects."

He said he thought a Royal Commission would be costly and would find in the government's favour.

"I think it would be a very expensive exercise that would probably conclude that things were done as well as they possibly could be."

Mr Little said he would take the petition back to Parliament, and it would be tabled next week.

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