Hostile EQC clients huddle for lawsuit

GEORGINA STYLIANOU
Last updated 05:00 22/02/2014

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Close to 100 Canterbury homeowners have signed up for a group action challenging the Earthquake Commission's (EQC) handling of the rebuild.

Law firm Anthony Harper last year called for disgruntled homeowners to join its campaign to hold EQC to account under the Earthquake Commission Act.

Lawyer Simon Munro said 95 people were on board so far but the firm needed to reach its target of 120 homeowners to make legal proceedings financially viable for those involved.

Munro said the firm had decided early on that group members would not pay more than $2000 each in legal fees.

"We wanted this to be accessible for everybody," he said.

About 60 people attended a meeting at Morrell & Co on Lincoln Rd on Thursday night and Munro was confident more would sign up.

The proposed action aimed to get a declaratory judgment from the High Court confirming the standard of repair EQC was required to meet.

"It's about ensuring the scope of works EQC comes up with, the repair methodology . . . being sufficient to bring the property back to the standard required," Munro said.

EQC had misinterpreted its obligations, a move that was "possibly motivated by the desire to cut costs and manage the overall cost of the rebuild".

Some group members were stuck in negotiations with EQC while others had had partial or full repairs carried out, he said.

Group member Warwick Schaffer said the legal action needed to go ahead to get answers "not just for Christchurch, but for all New Zealanders".

Schaffer joined the group after months of failed negotiations over a damaged wall at his Redcliffs property.

"The foundation slab moved south and the house moved a bit north . . . we had emergency repairs after the earthquake so the windows and doors could open and close."

He claimed that after disagreeing with EQC about the work that needed to be done to fix the wall, an assessor said the damage was historic, meaning EQC was not obligated to repair it.

"It made us see red to be honest, we just couldn't believe it."

Schaffer had refused to sign off on the repairs and felt legal action was his last option. "EQC say it's not there for betterment [of a property] but when you buy a full replacement property [policy], it is kind of like a betterment policy."

An EQC spokesman could not comment on legal action the commission had not yet seen.

As for the betterment issue, he said there was a "variety of circumstances which are taken into account when making decisions about a repair.

"Typically, you would be looking to replace earthquake-damaged components with an equivalent in new condition, but this isn't always possible and the legislation recognises this by providing for ‘reasonably sufficient' in some circumstances."

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- The Press

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