An Auckland couple who are the neighbours of illegal excavation works could be insured if something goes awry; as long as it's not due to natural causes.

Paula Lockett and Brian Malone were nervous after being told by their insurance company that their Third Ave property wouldn't be covered if something happened while their neighbours carried out unconsented excavation work.

Lockett said they saw soil being removed and contractors arriving before diggers turned up and began excavating underneath the house.

"The real concerns kicked in when they started doing the excavation - because literally at one point they had two diggers under the house."

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They were told by the owners that they were doing a "small renovation" - but soon after realised the enormity of what was happening.

The owners, who did not want to be named, told the Herald they had decided to renovate the basement, but didn't realise work was "going to be that huge".

"We were just going to tidy it up," they said.

The property was pictured fenced off today. Photo / Xavier Malone
The property was pictured fenced off today. Photo / Xavier Malone

Lockett's partner Brian Malone said they'd been told by their insurance company that they wouldn't be covered if the neighbouring property was to cause damage to theirs. Instead, they would have to sue the owners for damages.

However, an ICNZ spokesperson today said any damage caused by the neighbouring works could be covered; it would depend what sort of damage it was and the specifics of the person's policy.

"If the damage was a result of land slippage, your insurance won't cover it as private insurers don't insure land in New Zealand.

"If the damage was not caused by land and doesn't fall under any other exclusion in your policy – such as resulting from gradual damage instead of an accident caused by the renovations – then your insurance will likely cover the damage. Any exclusions will be clearly laid out in your policy documents."

The spokesperson said it was also advisable for anyone doing any significant renovations to their property to ensure they are also insured.

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"Most house insurance policies won't cover significant renovations; instead, customers can take out a contract works policy for the duration of the renovations."

The spokesperson said anyone doing renovations needed to ensure they met all local body requirements before beginning, including gaining appropriate consents.

Diggers went under the house to carry out excavation work. Photo / John Holley
Diggers went under the house to carry out excavation work. Photo / John Holley

"It's important to be aware that a contract works policy is unlikely to cover any damage if the work that caused it is being done illegally."

When contacted today, Lockett said she was slightly relieved by the news but was still frustrated at what had happened and the council's initial lacklustre response.

She was still to receive any confirmation whether they were safe staying in their house or why no one had been at the house today.

"We are completely frustrated. I don't consider we have been adequately informed, and question whether we should even be here," she said.

She said they got the shock of their lives when they saw a digger directly under the house, carrying out the excavation and were worried someone might get injured or worse.

"Honestly, we were looking out the window and the digger was underneath the house and I said to Brian, 'if that house collapses, that digger driver is dead'."

They had been inundated with messages from friends and also noticed an increase in rubberneckers, keen to check out the carnage next door, but no word yet from any officials.

She said they were still formulating an official complaint to lodge against the council.

When questioned around how common it was for people to begin work without getting consent, Auckland Council's Steve Pearce said the "vast majority of people comply with the rules, however a small proportion don't and require us to take enforcement action".

"In the case of Third Ave, our compliance officers have issued a Dangerous Building Notice to this site. The site was found to lack necessary structural support.

"The dangerous building notice ensures safety is prioritised by restricting access to the building, other than for remedial works to be completed.

"We are working with the homeowners and their engineer to get the site secured and safe."

Men were at the Third Ave site when the Herald visited on Monday. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Men were at the Third Ave site when the Herald visited on Monday. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Pearce said the situation at Third Ave was an important reminder to check with the council before starting any building work.

"All building work in New Zealand must comply with the Building Code and Unitary Plan. Most projects will need a building consent and many a resource consent. This ensures work is completed in a safe and satisfactory way."

As for whose responsibility it was to ensure the consents were gained, Pearce said the council relied on "builders and homeowners to follow these consent laws and keep us informed if they have any concerns about building work going on in their community".

"The regulations that control what we can and cannot build are set out in the Government's Building Act that covers the whole country, with a strong emphasis on safety."