Dunedin resident 'shocked' over wall repair bill

By Timothy Brown

Careys Bay resident Hayden Smith demonstrates the depth of a crack which opened in his front yard after a retaining wall shifted during last June's downpour. Photo / Peter McIntosh
Careys Bay resident Hayden Smith demonstrates the depth of a crack which opened in his front yard after a retaining wall shifted during last June's downpour. Photo / Peter McIntosh

Dunedin resident Hayden Smith is "shocked'' he will have to foot the bill for repairs to a retaining wall damaged by last June's downpour.

The wall shifted during June last year, after 175mm of rain fell in Dunedin on June 3 and 4, which caused slips and flooding in areas of the city.

Mr Smith said soon after the deluge he noticed a crack in his front yard in Careys Bay and the wall had shifted.

The slip was only metres from a corner of his home and the threat of damage had left him and his wife nervous.

Soon afterwards, the couple contacted the Dunedin City Council and the Earthquake Commission (EQC). Both assessed it and came to the conclusion the wall - which was built before the Smiths bought the property in 2001 - had been built without consent and outside the property's boundary on council road reserve.

As a result, the EQC informed the Smiths it would only pay for the damage to property they owned - about $365 - and the council would not assist with the cost of a damaged unconsented wall.

"They want no part of it,'' Mr Smith said of the council's response.

"They would only do something if it did slip on to the road.

"And if we were to rectify it, we would need their permission to do so and pay $3000 for resource consent for that.''

The responses prompted the Smiths to pursue restitution through their private insurer, ASB.

However, it also declined to cover the cost of repairs - estimated at about $20,000 - because the wall was on council land. That was despite the Smiths taking out specific coverage for the retaining wall of up to $20,000.

"That was a bit of a shock for us to find out,'' he said. "There's a bit of disbelief. I think, like a lot of people, we think EQC should be stumping up to cover natural disasters that we don't have any other help for.''

In an emailed statement, EQC customer and claims general manager Trish Keith said the commission was "working closely with all Dunedin customers affected by last year's floods to ensure they receive their full entitlement and the amount paid in settlement is determined by the Earthquake Commission (EQC) Act''.

"In this case, Mr Smith lodged a claim for damage to a retaining wall and land damage near his house, following the floods,'' the statement said.

``An inspection by EQC's consulting engineers in July 2015 found that the wall was outside the boundary of his property and therefore was not covered under the Act.

"The inspection did find that some of the land on Mr Smith's property had slumped and was damaged and we made settlement on that basis.

"Any concerns regarding the retaining wall should be referred to the local authority.''

Mr Smith said he was resigned to the EQC payout being far less than what was hoped for or necessary to complete repairs.

The couple were willing to cover some of the cost themselves but believed, as the wall bordered council land, it should be shared with the council.

Council transport network team leader Michael Tannock said the council had found no evidence the wall was constructed by or for the council.

"It offers benefit to the property owner as it enables them to have a larger flat area,'' he said.

"The wall is on road reserve, but it is not uncommon for private landscaping walls or garages to be built within road reserve.

"We sympathise with Mr Smith, but this is an issue for the property owner, not a DCC responsibility. The DCC is happy to advise and consider alternative lower-cost remedies to this situation to help Mr Smith.''

"As the wall was of no benefit to the public it would be ``unfair for the general ratepayer to have to contribute for repairs to it.

"The council does not appear to have done anything to trigger the movement of the wall,'' Mr Tannock said

"Although this is not a fence, there is sometimes confusion about cost sharing because of the Fencing Act. However, the Fencing Act specifically does not apply to roads.

"The council does sometimes allow walls on portions of unformed roads on a case-by-case basis after consideration of detailed plans.''

The council only became aware of the wall's construction after Mr Smith raised his concerns about its stability following the floods.

The situation had left the couple anxious about its ongoing stability as the EQC's report on the damage said it needed to be repaired within six months to a year, Mr Smith said.

"We are thinking if we have another good rain it might just slide off and go,'' he said.

"We are getting a bit nervous about what might happen if it goes and when.''

The couple had not given up hope on reaching a compromise with the council.

- Otago Daily Times

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