'First step' taken on EQC action

ACTION PLAN: Canterbury homeowners file into a meeting in the Transitional Cathedral to discuss a class action against EQC.
ACTION PLAN: Canterbury homeowners file into a meeting in the Transitional Cathedral to discuss a class action against EQC.

A class action lawsuit against the Earthquake Commission has taken a step forward after a public meeting to gauge interest in the case drew more than 200 disgruntled Canterbury homeowners.

Law firm Anthony Harper plans to launch a group action to hold EQC to its obligations under the Earthquake Commission Act.

Last night's meeting, headed by lawyer Simon Munro, drew about 250 property owners concerned about the amount of money EQC was offering as cash settlements or unhappy about the work it was planning to do on their homes.

The meeting was closed to media, but those spoken to after expressed frustration at EQC's substandard work.

"A lawsuit is the only way we are going to get a repair that is fair," said Southshore resident Paul Manhire, whose home EQC had recommended for a "jack and pack" of its foundations. "My message is leave my crack alone."

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

The judgment would affect both repairs made by Fletcher on EQC's behalf as well as the amount EQC paid if it elected to settle claims in cash.

Munro said under the Earthquake Commission Act, EQC was obliged to replace or reinstate a building to the same condition it was when it was new, subject to any applicable laws.

If building materials or methods had evolved, or specific products were no longer available, the act said EQC was only bound to replace or reinstate as circumstances allowed and in a "reasonably sufficient manner".

Munro said the purpose of the meeting was to provide homeowners interested in taking on EQC with the information they needed to join the action.

St Albans resident Craig Edwards said the failure of EQC to adequately repair homes was a "scandal" comparable to the leaky homes crisis.

"It's going to be a massive issue for decades to come . . . this is the first step that EQC will be held to account."

Munro said that the level of interest in the proposed action meant Anthony Harper was able to cap each homeowner's cash contribution to the costs of the action at a maximum of $2000.

"We hope that for most people, considering their home is at stake, the payments will be manageable at that level," he said.

All work to date had been pro bono.

Everyone who joins the action is asked to make a contribution of $1000 towards the costs.

Munro estimated that a group of at least 120 was necessary to get the action off the ground.

He said the case would establish whether EQC's approach was wrong. While there would be no awards from the court the incentive was keeping equity in homeowner's properties. Others could still join.

"It's now over to all the people who have expressed an interest . . . they need to then make a decision to formally commit to joining."

The Press