Insurance expert has words of warning for quake homeowners

By Ilona Hanne -
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"If in doubt, get professional advice from an engineer or a surveyor. Even if you pay for it yourself, it will be money well spent."

Duncan Webb, a Christchurch lawyer who has a wealth of experience in the field of insurance law, says homeowners affected by the 7.8 magnitude Kaikoura earthquake on Monday need to be proactive as they work through the claims process.

"Don't assume your claims manager, project manager or builder will have your best interests at heart. They don't."

Webb says his concerns come after observing the problems faced by Christchurch homeowners dealing with defective repairs done through EQC.

Webb is encouraging homeowners experiencing damage from the Kaikoura earthquake and subsequent aftershocks to keep themselves as informed as possible, and has set up a Facebook group to offer advice and support.

The group, Kaikoura Quake: Help, Support and Advice for Homeowners, is open to all and Webb says it will provide invaluable advice from people who have "been there and done that".

"I realised we have a very willing community of people in Christchurch who understand what the people of Kaikoura are going through, and will be going through in the future.
It's not about offering bottles of water and cans of baked beans, it is about offering the wisdom which comes from six years of experience."

The experience he refers to isn't just the process, but also the potential resultant problems from work being done.

Webb spoke to the finance and expenditure select committee yesterday regarding a petition he started which has 3054 signatures calling for a royal commission of enquiry into EQC's repairs in Christchurch.

Webb says the petition is giving voice to homeowners who have been affected by defective repairs following the Christchurch earthquakes.

"There were about 68,000 repairs undertaken and there have been more than 12,000 enquiries abut defective repairs. That's a large percentage."

The defects, says Webb, "are pretty major, we are talking about foundation work and other structural elements".

Webb says while Earthquake Commission chairman, Sir Maarten Wevers, said yesterday there were parts of the petition he would not agree with, "he never expanded on that, he didn't say what parts, so that wasn't really helpful".

Everyone agrees, says Webb, "a large number of the repairs undertaken were not compliant".

Sir Maarten said the return rate "wasn't that bad for the industry," says Webb, "and I don't agree with him at all on that".

Webb says Sir Maarten said consenting would have added unnecessary delays to the process, "which to me translates to them choosing a hurried approach rather than a considered one".

A proper consenting process is vital, says Webb, and he hopes the experience of Christchurch homeowners will help Kaikoura homeowners navigate their way through the processes better informed and confident of what they need to do.

The Facebook group is offering good advice to homeowners, say Webb and he has some basic tips for anyone affected.

Webb's tips for quake-affected homeowners

• Make a timely claim.

• Keep good records. This he says, is vital. "EQC and insurers sometimes use processes which are pretty informal. As a homeowner, keep it formal. That stops things changing on you. We found casual comments could be made by a claims assessor, and then that would be taken as fact, as what would happen, which could then change, leaving the homeowner confused and unsure.

• Be prepared for a very long process, but keep at it and be pro-active. Don't wait for them to come to you. Go to them.

• Ask question. Join the Facebook group and stay informed.

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