Cleaning up a flood damaged property and claiming insurance: What you need to know

10:04 pm on 31 January 2023
Graphic for flooding explainer.

Photo: RNZ

The wide-spread weather event that continues to affect the upper North Island has left thousands of properties damaged by floodwaters.

So far, Auckland Council has confirmed 375 properties in the region have been yellow-stickered and 102 red-stickered.

But what should you do if your home is compromised, and how do you start the clean-up?

We have all you need to know about what to do in the aftermath.

Cleaning up

Floodwaters can make the air in your home unhealthy, government website Get Ready said.

It is important to clean and dry everything in the home once floodwaters had receded.

"When things get wet for more than two days they usually get mouldy. There may also be germs and bugs in your home after a flood."

Get Ready suggested wearing a certified respirator, goggles, gloves, protective clothing, and sturdy footwear while cleaning up.

People with asthma, allergies or other breathing problems may be affected by mould.

"Talk to your doctor or another medical professional if you have questions about cleaning or working in a home that has been flooded.

Debris left by the flood in Pito Place in Māngere.

Debris left by the flood in Pito Place in south Auckland's Māngere. Photo: RNZ / Jonty Dine

"If there is a large amount of mould, you may want to hire professional help to clean up the mould."

Get Ready said wooden spoons, plastic utensils, and baby bottles, teats ad dummies need to be thrown away if they have been covered by floodwater.

"There is no way to safely clean them.

"Disinfect metal pans and utensils by boiling them in clean water."

Making your home safe

The clean-up from the flooding was expected to be a massive job, with contamination a key concern.

University of Otago researcher Dr Lucy Telfar-Barnard said any sort of absorbent building material had to be thrown out.

"If you have carpet or some kind of layered flooring, it may have to be replaced. That's because it's not just about the surface contaminants, but also what's sitting underneath - and the smell that will not go away unless you do that.

Checking electricals was also a priority - as they did not mix well with water.

David Playle at flood-wrecked Grey Lynn flat

The contents of a flood damaged flat in Grey Lynn sits outside. Photo: RNZ / Leonard Powell

University of Otago senior lecturer Dr Lesley Gray said people should make sure to wear gloves for any clean-up.

"For anyone who is having to recover items from floodwater, remember the floodwater may be contaminated with faecal matter, so please ensure you wear gloves and wash your hands (and legs) very carefully afterwards.

Tenancy agreements

Tenants do not have to continue paying rent if the property is uninhabitable - but they are legally required to tell their landlord if there is damage.

Telfar-Barnard said the law stated that if a residential rental is uninhabitable, the tenant cant stop paying rent and give two days' notice of vacating.

"If it's only partially uninhabitable then it gets tricky, because if the landlord doesn't agree, you'll have to go to the tenancy tribunal to have the lease ended."

Telfar-Barnard said she would consider a home unliveable if the home could not be accessed without passing through "flood-inundated areas".

"If the property is damaged, tenants are legally required to let the landlord know as soon as possible. When you're telling the landlord whatever damage the property has suffered, that's also a good time to talk about what rent you will or won't be paying, and how long you will or won't be staying in the property."

Landlord responsibilities

Landlord are responsible for paying for any damage caused by such weather events, University of Otago senior researcher Dr Sarah Bierre said.

Where tenants can give just 2 days' notice for vacating an unliveable home, landlords must give the tenants 7 days.

West Auckland flood damage, 30 January 2023

Flood damage at a West Auckland home. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

If the home can still be lived in but needs repairs, Bierre said rent should be reduced during this time.

"No rent should be paid if the tenant has to leave while repairs are done. In some cases, it might seem better for the tenancy to end.

"A landlord or tenant can apply to the Tenancy Tribunal for this to happen."

Insurance claims

The Insurance Council said claims from the wet weather sweeping Te-Ika-a-Maui are likely to total tens of millions of dollars.

Thousands of claims have already been laid, and more are expected, with rain forecast until Thursday for much of the upper North Island.

Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton said a good indication of claim numbers was the 5000 homes Auckland Council needed to assess.

He said patience was needed because it was an unprecedented weather event and insurers would be doing their level-best to process claims as quickly as possible.

A typical house and contents policy would include an accommodation allowance for an uninhabitable home and renters would also be covered, he said.

EQC would become involved in providing cover if there was a landslip, however, those affected should still contact their insurer first.

Insurance companies were "highly solvent" and would be able to meet the financial demands of an event on this scale, he said.

Grafton estimated along with the tens of thousands of home and contents claims, there would also be thousands of claims for cars and businesses.

He said it would take at least two weeks before the total number was known.

Consumer NZ said if your private home insurance includes fire insurance, then you also had EQCover.

If a home has been damaged by a landslip, EQCover will pay for the damage to the home or surrounding land.

Legal advice

Home owners and tenants should take a lot of photos and not to attempt any repairs until they've spoken to their insurer, senior associate at law firm Tompkins Wake Morgan Brady said.

Brady told Nine to Noon taking photos and videos was the best way to have evidence of damage to show insurers and council what needed to be repaired.

While urgent repairs without consent were allowed under the Building Act, "photos will be your friend" as officials will want to know exactly what was done in order to sign off on it.

If tenants wanted to vacate a property and end a tenancy early, Brady suggested getting legal advice prior to making any decisions.

Cancelled flights

The flooding led to cancellation of domestic and international flights.

Consumer NZ said airlines do not have to provide a refund as a result of a domestic cancellation.

"Your rights depend on the type of fare purchased and the airline's terms and conditions. If you bought a refundable fare, you are entitled to a refund regardless of the reason for the flight cancellation or delay.

A terminal at Auckland International Airport is flooded.

Auckland Airport was severely affected by the flooding on Friday. Photo: Facebook / Sher Singh

"If you don't have a refundable fare, the airline will usually rebook you onto another flight or give you a credit."

Consumer NZ said Air New Zealand is offering flexibility on all fights through and from Auckland until 6 February.

In relation to international flights, Consumer NZ said your rights depend on what country you are in, where you are going and the airline you are flying with.

" If you have travel insurance, you could be covered. Check your policy and talk to your insurer."

Retirement village residents' rights

Consumer NZ said the retirement village operator should give clear direction to any residents who need to be evacuated from their retirement home.

If any needed to be moved, this would be covered by the retirement village.

"When it comes to weekly fees, if a resident is moved to another unit within the same village, it's likely the resident will continue paying their weekly fee.

"If a resident is relocated to a different retirement village, then it's up to the two village operators to negotiate the rate."

However, much like tenants, Consumer NZ said residents were responsible for their own contents insurance.

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