Knives wielded at quake repair workers

CHARLES ANDERSON
Last updated 05:00 13/01/2014

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Irate Canterbury homeowners are resorting to holding earthquake repair contractors hostage and threatening them with knives to vent their frustration.

Contractors who are tired of negative reports of their work are hitting back with accusations of homeowners' poor - and sometimes frightening - behaviour.

One contractor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of an agreement with Fletcher EQR, said there were regular reports of homeowners who were treated badly, but there was little in the public spotlight about the other side of the story.

"It's getting worse in terms of homeowners' tempers," he said. "Some people behave like real a........"

Some of his 40 employees had been locked in rooms and threatened with knives and machetes.

Homeowners had also stolen materials including paint and ladders. Many tried "gaming the system" by insisting contractors had damaged homes when photographic evidence proved otherwise, he said.

"We have seen them do damage to houses and then come back to EQC (Earthquake Commission) to show them it. Luckily, we always take photos."

Incidents of angry Cantabrians threatening to blow up earthquake repair hubs and shoot staff have been documented in The Press.

Fletcher EQR spends thousands of dollars on extra security to protect its 700 staff from threats and verbal abuse from homeowners.

In March, a New Brighton man flung a fire extinguisher at contractors after his "living hell" dealing with earthquake authorities.

EQC had also fielded death threats. One person had said they would go up to an EQC facility with a gun and shoot someone.

At one point late last year, the contractor said he was owed $700,000 for work homeowners had refused to sign off.

"There are cowboys doing crap work that give us all a bad reputation."

Homeowners and the growing industry of assessors for those who had opted out of the EQC process thought they were experts at complicated construction measures like floor levelling.

The contractor admitted that sometimes mistakes were made. He always did his best to fix them, but too often homeowners took it too far. He had been accused of stealing 23 cubic metres of soil from under a house, which he replaced with concrete for major foundation work.

Once, when his team accidentally shut off a freezer, the homeowner insisted there was "35 crayfish and five tonnes of steak" in it that had to be replaced.

Fletcher EQR said while such incidents were rare, there were still issues with overzealous homeowners.

Spokesman Barry Akers said there were plenty of stories about inappropriate behaviour, but they were at the "extreme end of the spectrum".

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"You are dealing with a very large programme that completes hundreds of home repairs every week and involves thousands of people. You are going to get the full range of human behaviour," he said.

Christchurch City councillor Ali Jones, who helped organise protests against insurer Southern Response last year, had heard of people being unreasonable and abusive, but it was rare.

"There is something about dealing with these earthquake issues that turns people into raving shouting lunatics," Jones said.

She said it was important to move these issues on so people could take part in Christchurch's "journey of recovery".

EQC Canterbury Home Repair Programme manager Reid Stiven said with 70,000 repairs in the programme the commission had to deal with a "wide cross-section" of Canterbury homeowners.

"Inevitably a small proportion will be more difficult to work with than is ideal," he said.

- The Press

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