'Failed repairs' on post-quake home purchases a 'growing problem' - lawyer
An earthquake claims lawyer says failed Earthquake Commission (EQC) repairs are blindsiding post-earthquake home buyers.
Georgie Hanafin's proceeding is one of 13 filed against EQC in the High Court by Shine Lawyers New Zealand managing director Andrew Hooker in the last week.
Hanafin and her partner bought their Linwood, Christchurch house in 2013.
She said her lawyer, bank and insurance company were all happy to accept EQC's repair paperwork as proof that everything was OK with the property.
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In 2014, Hanafin said they noticed nail heads popping through the ceiling, then cracks in the walls.
They went hunting for more damage and she said they found plenty.
Hanafin said there were new cracks in the foundations, the back corner of the house had dropped, weatherboards were separating in the corner and floor levels were out.
EQC sent an employee to inspect the house, Hanafin said, but denied the damage was due to faulty repairs.
She said she had paid for a geotechnical engineer's report and other box-ticking exercises.
"We're at least $10,000 deep and we still haven't had EQC back round to the property to have a look at the damage."
She had the house valued and said it had dropped from $360,000 when she bought it to $190,000.
Hanafin said she was in the process of separating with her partner, but he could not afford to move out and she could not afford to buy his share of the house.
"I'm really lucky that he is one of my best friends," she said.
"We're looking at bankruptcy, essentially."
EQC general manager of customer and claims Trish Keith said the organisation was in contact with Hanafin and had received her September geotechnical report.
"We received her claim two weeks ago and it is progressing through the remedial process, which is the same for all homeowners, regardless of whether their property is on-sold or not.".
All 13 claimants had bought houses that were repaired after the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes.
They claim the repairs overseen by EQC's Canterbury Home Repair Programme had failed.
Because the claimants did not own the houses when the earthquakes hit, they often could not claim from the private insurer when EQC put their claim over cap.
Hooker said some buyers did not get deeds assigning claims to the new owners and in some cases the home was not over cap so there was no private insurance claim to assign.
He said in many cases the cost of the unrepaired damage meant the house was worth less than the money owed on it.
Hooker said it was "an emerging and growing problem" that he was receiving up to six inquiries a week about.
He said the increasing number of new cases being shunted to the private insurers showed how poorly EQC had managed repairs.
He said the commission could be liable for more than its $100,000 payment cap per claim.
"EQC believes they can just kick these new claims over cap and be done with it.
"It is not that simple, which is why we need the courts to make a ruling."
Keith said she was aware of a small number of people who had purchased homes and subsequently believed they found outstanding earthquake damage.
"If damage is found after a property changes ownership, the responsibility for proving earthquake damage is with the homeowner who has been assigned the original claim.
"If the homeowner provides evidence that there is missed damage or outstanding repairs we will review their claims.
"Under the EQC Act, EQC can only provide cover for natural disaster damage up to the statutory cap and not beyond this."
The cases were not a group action, but it was likely one or two would be taken to their conclusion to achieve a ruling to help settle similar claims.