– St Albans, Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

House lift

We sign a 6-month lease and move to rental accommodation in Avonhead. The townhouse is fully furnished, with a double garage so we can store our contents. The builder asks me several times about storing our carpet. I am confused, as there is budget for him to store it in the scope of works. He says that it is much safer to store contents with the owner, as even entire containers full of contents have been stolen. We say we are happy to store the carpet in a container down the back of our section. He keeps insisting. I keep saying no.

The builder turns up with our carpet latched to the open tray of his truck during a thunder storm and asks us to store it. I feel coerced, but take delivery. Our landlord is not pleased at all.

The builders removes the lower three weatherboards of our single storey home, smashes out the concrete floor, brick porch and fireplace hearths, and removes our 3 chimneys.

Terry and I notice what looked like asbestos sheeting under the porch. The rules around asbestos testing are being reviewed, and all homes older than 1970 (ours is 1910) must have an asbestos inspection. I call the project manager but can’t get hold of him. I speak to our builder about the new rules.
“An asbestos test will close your site down, and prevent further work” he says. “We are lucky – your home can’t be seen from the street. Inspectors don’t know work is occurring. I have heard of places being shut down for months”.
“I would rather we had this tested” I said. “It may not be asbestos, then we won’t have a problem. If it is asbestos, for the sake of safety, we want our home closed down”. The builder ignores me.

We have a date for our house lift. I made sure I was there to watch. For safety reasons, I am asked to stand on the roadside path.
“Aren’t you staying for the lift?” I ask the builder. He is getting in his ute.
“Yes, we will, but we are just popping out for morning tea while the lifter makes preparations. See you in half an hour when the lift starts. “
“Where’s the project manager?”
“Oh, he’ll probably turn up in a bit”.
The builder did not come back. The project manager did not arrive.

Our home was lifted. Up it went, very slowly. Men went under the house when it was about half a metre up. A young man who was assisting with the lift ran past me, and began scrabbling around the back of a flatbed truck that was parked on the road.
“Is everything ok?” I asked.
“Oh, we are just disconnecting a few pipes and wires that the builder missed” he said. I could hear muffled swearing.
“Could you please ask the site foreman for permission for me to come on site?” I asked.

The foreman came out, and directed me to a safe place to stand at the rear of our home.
Our home went up a bit more, to a metre. There was more loud discussion out of my earshot on the other side of our home. The young man ran past me again. I followed him out to the truck. He scrabbled frantically in the tray again looking for something.
I smiled at him.
“Where is a builder when you need one?” he had a fist full of long nails.
“What do you need?” I asked.
“A hammer” he said.
“I can get you a hammer from the shed” I said.
We walked back on to our property.

The site foreman greeted me.
“Prior to the quakes your kitchen extension was not properly attached to your home” he said. “We are just temporarily connecting it properly. The builder will attach and brace it later”.
Our kitchen had been properly attached to our home. The earthquake must have separated it. When the young man and foreman had were out of sight, I slowly got out my camera. I didn’t want to attract attention.

Our home went up another half metre. The entire kitchen floor fell down, and our kitchen slid with it. I slowly lifted up the camera.
The young many came back holding my hammer and a few nails.
I looked at the nails and I looked at the kitchen floor and kitchen. He looked at my camera. Dammit. I put the camera away. Our home was lowered again. The floor went back up.
“Where’s a builder when you need one?” he smiled, handing me the hammer.
He politely asked me to leave the site.

I took the hammer and walked around the kitchen and past the site foreman. He was on the phone to the builder. There was a lot of swearing. I waited on the footpath.

The builder came back. He braced the kitchen floor, attaching it to the ceiling. Our home was raised again to 1.5m. The builder came out to talk with me.

“We just have to brace your home and we will lift it to its correct height of 2.5m later.” he said. “The 2.5m height is needed so that a digger can get under the house. “
He left our home on temporary supports at different levels at 1.5m. It stayed there for a year with half the floor missing.

I call the loss adjuster and had a half hour conversation with him, during which time he basically told me everything is ok. The builder has told the loss adjuster that the kitchen had been braced before the lift, because it was incorrectly attached to our home before the lift.

The lies are so large, the loss adjuster appears not to see them.

I call the Project Manager but cannot get hold of him.

I call lawyers, but they all have conflicts of interest as they are acting for the project management company

We cannot believe it.

I lose count of the number of times that I call and e-mail the Project Manager.

The silence is deafening.

I finally get hold of our Claims Manager who is out of her depth and tells me to contact the Loss Adjuster.

Our home is being systematically destroyed by incompetence and negligence and we do not know how to stop it.

More worryingly, the lives of men are at risk.

When we were kids we used to play a game of calling dibs. If there was some unpleasant task to do, the first one to call dibs didn’t have to do it. Dibs – it’s not me!

Our loss adjuster, project manager and claims manager have just called dibs.

We are on our own.

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