Boarding houses are homes, court rules

MICHAEL WRIGHT
Last updated 14:00 19/02/2013

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The Earthquake Commission could face millions of dollars in extra payouts after a High Court judge ruled it must provide cover to boarding houses.

The commission (EQC) had disputed it was liable for the properties, claiming boarding houses where people lived separately but shared facilities like kitchens and bathrooms were not residential buildings - the only building type it provides cover for.

There are more than 30 boarding house owners in Canterbury with earthquake-damaged properties.

Two owners, who owned six boarding houses between them, appealed to the High Court that they qualified for EQC cover.

In a decision released yesterday, Justice Priestley found ''the six boarding houses sit comfortably . . . inside the [legal] definition of dwelling''.

''The stark reality was that the Christchurch earthquakes resulted in the destruction or severe damage of all six boarding houses, thus depriving their occupants at the time of the natural disaster of their homes.''

EQC had argued boarding house rooms were not self-contained, on account of the shared facilities, and therefore not a ''dwelling'' under the Earthquake Commission Act 1993.

Justice Priestley found the argument had ''incorporated into the statutory definition of 'dwelling' an element which is quite simply not there''.

"All six boarding houses were self-contained premises in which a number of people could live. They had their own rooms. Other facilities were shared.

"Importantly, all occupants, for the time being, regarded the boarding house as their home. Indeed some had lived there for considerable periods of time.''

The decisions could leave the commission open to dozens more property payouts.

During the hearing EQC counsel John Knight told the court the two proceedings were a ''test case'', citing the more than 30 other boarding house owners in a similar position.

EQC is liable for the first $100,000 of property damage incurred at an insured residential property for each earthquake event.

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