Couple in limbo over rebuild

ANNA PEARSON
Last updated 09:00 21/12/2013
Bernie and Ruth McLean
Daniel Tobin

STILL BATTLING: Ruth and Bernie McLean are battling Southern Response to get their destroyed 1860s cottage located at 17 Flavell St, Heathcote, rebuilt.

Bernie and Ruth McLean
Daniel Tobin
WORDS, NO ACTION: A message on the fence of Ruth and Bernie McLean's property.

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An empty lot and overgrown weeds mark the spot where a Heathcote Valley cottage sat since the 1860s - like a memorial to a Christchurch couple's insurance woes.

The claim remains unresolved more than two years after Ruth and Bernie McLean signed off on a rebuild following earthquake damage to their three-bedroom Flavell St home.

Christchurch earthquake advocate Dean Lester says the case highlights a lack of engagement with clients and blame-laying on the insurer's behalf.

The fully-restored double brick 1860s character house, with kauri floors, was the McLeans' home for 30 years. They were married there, their two children were born there and it was demolished in October 2011.

The McLeans signed paperwork in the middle of 2011 for a rebuild to take place. Their new home had building and resource consent by the start of this year, but the site remains empty.

Ruth McLean said Government-owned Southern Response, along with Arrow International, told them their replacement home could be modern, as long as it was of a similar size and value to their original one.

In a case that went to the High Court last year, regarding a Christchurch claimant's century-old Edwardian villa, the court found that Southern Response had to pay for the cost of building the same style house with the same quality of materials; however, it could use common contemporary methods and elements.

McLean said an architect was contracted by Southern Response but when the plans were finished the couple was "accused" of going over budget.

"They costed the plans and said, ‘You owe us $200,000'. The architect was accused of flights of fancy," she said.

Lester, who used to work in the insurance industry, said the "significant dollar difference" became apparent during a meeting with the insurers.

"The meeting . . . was very confrontational. It was, ‘The insured's fault'. It is not fair to blame [the McLeans]. The designer was not correctly instructed. What was most disturbing of all was when the Arrow representative stood up, collected his papers and said, ‘I have got better things to do'. Ultimately the degree of performance sits on the insurance company," he said.

Ruth McLean said Southern Response calculated the replacement cost about $80,000 to $85,000 below what she and her husband believed their house to be worth - based on a quantity survey done by Red Quantity Surveying.

"The new house was being costed at ‘X', and their replacement costing for our old house was ‘Y'. The difference was $200,000, [but] they are not comparing apples with apples. The plans were put in for consent before they had been fully costed. We want compensation for two years of stress, financial loss, lies [and] delay. Our lives are on hold," she said.

Lester said Southern Response had acted in a "belligerent and arrogant manner", by blaming the McLeans for the budget blow-out.

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The main bone of contention appeared to be around how to replace some of the original cottage's valuable materials "as new" - such as native timbers.

"It was one of those houses that our forefathers built when they came over the hill. If you have got all the ingredients for a chocolate cake you end up with a chocolate cake. If you have not got the cocoa you'll never end up with a chocolate cake," he said.

"It is not a car claim where there are a few dings to be repaired by a panel beater. . . . It is the largest asset many Kiwis will ever own and it is worth hundreds of thousands."

Ruth McLean said she and her husband just wanted a solution - a replacement house, three years on from the quakes. '

Southern Response chief executive Peter Rose said it was clear the "communications aspects" of the McLeans' claim had not been managed well.

"We should have retained greater involvement during the time the McLeans were working with their architect and Arrow project manager. This would have ensured we all had a good understanding of the sum available for the rebuild . . .

"We remain confident that we can get their rebuild back on track, keeping additional delays to a minimum. We want to see the McLeans' rebuild completed as quickly as possible and for them to get exactly what they are entitled to under their policy," Rose said.

- The Press

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