Homeowners come out firing following 'landmark' EQC court settlement
Homeowners have come out firing after a landmark settlement confirmed the Earthquake Commission's legal obligation to repair damaged homes to a "when new" condition.
Thursday's settlement, between EQC and the EQC Action Group, "sets the rules of the game", they say.
Alastair Cree said EQC "continually" told him that his damaged garage would be repaired to its pre-earthquake condition, not to a "when new" standard.
He reached a cash settlement, but was recently contacted by the Government-owned insurer to arrange a re-scope of repair work.
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"I had people come into my drive, come and talk to me and tell me they knew exactly what it was all about and said my garage needed to be repaired to a state as it was before the earthquakes.
"We've learnt from the joint statement that in fact the standard is 'when new'," he said.
After finding EQC was incorrect to say his garage would be repaired to pre-earthquake standards, Cree complained.
"I said, 'where in the [EQC] Act does this allow you to get out of paying as new standard?'"
EQC responded stating they only had to "put it to a situation as reasonably sufficient as circumstances permit".
"But, as we learned in today's press statement, that doesn't apply when there's a cash payout," Cree said.
The joint statement stipulated EQC must cover the cost of work needed to an undamaged part of the house to enable quake repairs. In addition, EQC must apply the same standard of repair whether customers are cash settled or their home is repaired.
Cree found it "astounding" that EQC claimed it had been acting in accordance with the joint statement "since day one".
"This is ongoing, this is happening to people all around Christchurch. It's happened for five years and it's still happening today.
"They come in and say 'there's no damage, it's not damaged' and then the next one saying 'it's historic damage'," he said.
Warwick Schaffer said the settlement "sets the rules of the game".
"You've got an [EQC] Act that says one thing, it seems black and white when you read it as a lay person, and then EQC come in and say 'it means something different'."
EQC had repaired a wall at Schaffer's house, but not to a "when new" standard.
"It got pushed out and it's sort of on a slant . . . You've got a wall that's trapezoid and so instead of straightening the wall up what they did was make the door and window trapezoid.
"In those days they told us pre-earthquake was the standard," Schaffer said.
"The next EQC guy came along and said 'that's all historic [damage]'."
Schaffer, Steering Committee chair of the action group, said the settlement felt like a "milestone".
"This is obviously for the group members and people in Christchurch.
"But I think what's really important about this is for people in Wellington and everybody living up and down earthquake faults in New Zealand – they've got confidence that EQC will do the right job in the right way when it hits next."
Both Brownlee's office and EQC said the agreed settlement principles merely reaffirmed the organisation's position.
"The processes for making a claim, having it settled and even seeking a review do not change as a result of the joint statement."
EQC said Thursday's declaration, confirming its legal obligation to repair damaged homes to a "when new" rather than pre-earthquake condition, would not spark any changes to EQC practices.
Acting chief executive Bryan Dunne said the agreed settlement principles merely confirmed EQC's approach to assessing and settling building claims and would not require EQC to make any changes to its policies.
"From EQC's perspective, the statement makes it clear that the principles that have always guided its [policies]...meet the requirements of the EQC Act."