– St Albans, Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand


We have our last project group control meeting before Christmas. The extent of the defective work undertaken by Builder 2 is becoming clear. The rondo – steel framing into which ceiling gib slots – is not level. Weatherboards that were replaced were not the same style as our weatherboards. Our kitchen window was repaired with untreated timber. Our project manager says that they have already spent the withheld $100,000.00 on correcting Builder 2’s defective and incomplete work. I am relieved the repair of this window has finally been addressed. Builder 3 says that 99% of our weatherboards will be replaced and our entire kitchen rebuilt.

We all know that our home should have been a rebuild and not a repair. After 3 years all that is left of our home is about half of the external frame, a few windows and a couple of doors. The insurance company has already spent twice the cost of a new home, and it looks like they are heading to spend three times that amount.

We discuss what should happen to windows that are now rotting. We know that where costs lie will again be negotiable. it will be another unnecessary fight. I will probably have to take them to mediation.

People tell me that we are lucky, we are going to get an amazing repair, and I should therefore think of all the other people who do not have the negotiating skills we have. We are lucky in some ways. We are lucky that I was able to give up work, we (mostly) knew our legal entitlements, how to negotiate and understand complex documents and plans, and found out about accommodation and power subsidies. Although we have never enforced a claim or built a home before, we have renovated homes so know what good builders should be doing.

Other people tell me that insurance companies know that only a small proportion of the population are likely to stand their ground, and that in addition to skill, we are lucky to have resilience, persistence, patience, tertiary education, a good financial backing and energy. It is a terrible travesty that insurance companies treat less advantaged people and the elderly in particular in such an appalling and manner.

In many other ways we have not been lucky. Lucky is having a home that the earthquakes did not cause major damage, having a good builder who works well with the project manager, Loss Adjuster and Claims manager. Lucky is having a home less than the cost of a group home build that is a total write off, having a replica home rebuilt, being clearly over “cap” or under “cap”, being incorrectly paid the $100,000 cap twice due to an administrative error and not being legally required to pay it back, having a repair completed early in the earthquake swarm.

We know people who have been in each of these situations.

Even prior to the earthquakes, the number of builders with the skills to repair a character home was low. That’s the way the chips fall.

We are still experiencing the fallout from New Zealand’s largest disaster, and one of the world’s most expensive insurance claims in the past 50 years. For a tiny country that is quite a statement. It was never going to be easy, and it was always going to take a lot of time.

We were prepared to wait. We were not prepared to be one of the very few extreme cases of negligence and deliberate lies.

Over three years of stress is not good for anyone. I have had several ocular migraines (I didn’t even know these existed!) and my hair has been falling out. It won’t grow back.

When so many people are affected, insurers tend to think of you as a number, and your home as a site. I wonder if our Claims Manager had ever been through an earthquake and lost their home. If they had, they would surely have empathy and provide a better service.

Someone somewhere must have the courage to say sorry, we stuffed up, how can we make sure this doesn’t happen again?

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