A Wellington homeowner awoken by a landslide crashing through her kitchen window a year ago is still battling to get her insurer to pay even a cent towards the huge costs of rebuilding a wrecked retaining wall.
The night an avalanche of rocks and debris crashed through Gillian Parnham’s kitchen window is etched in her memory.
“We’d heard some crashing which must have been the first rocks coming down, and then there was a big roar, big rumbling, glass breaking as it all came down into the house. It was terrifying.”
A 3m-high, 11m-long retaining wall had burst in the rain.
Parnham lived on the slopes in the Wellington suburb of Northland, near the Botanical Gardens, where her backyard was on a 45-degree hill.
She and her husband evacuated immediately but their accommodation allowance, paid by Vero, has now run out.
“We’ve just moved back in but it’s a building site, all the scaffold’s up, the whole backyard is filled with scaffold, it’s about three or four levels high.”
Last winter’s persistent, heavy rain caused hundreds of slips across the capital – almost 700 in seven weeks, resulting in nearly 300 land claims.
Parnham needed to rebuild the 40-year-old retaining wall, but Vero said it did not need to top up Toka Tū Ake EQC’s land cover of $36,000 – because the cost of reinstating it like-for-like was less than that amount.
But Parnham said the cost of rebuilding to today’s much higher standards was almost $290,000, and she had given those engineers’ quotes to the insurance company.
“You pay your premiums all your life and do the adult thing, think you’re covered but when it comes to it, you’re really not. The $36,000 that I’ve had for the lost land and the retaining wall, that’s only 12 percent of what that’s actually going to cost to fix.”
She has commissioned a lawyer to dispute the claim and was going into debt to pay to have her backyard stabilised.
Insurers were handling land claims on behalf of EQC, in accordance with the EQC Act.
Vero provided a statement, declining an interview.
“In this case an assessment was completed and the like-for-like value was less than the EQC indemnity value and thus no top up benefit was payable,” the company said.
“Our customer has disputed our assessment of the cost, and we have asked for them to provide a quote based on a like-for-like repair to support their dispute.
“[They have] now provided a quote from a contractor and we are currently reviewing this and will revert back to the customer shortly.”
EQC had 7700 land claims as a result of Cyclone Gabrielle and the Auckland Anniversary weekend flooding, of which 35 percent had been paid out.
Spokesperson Kate Tod said many would take more than a year to settle – and homeowners needed to be aware of what the agency could cover.
“It is quite complex and it is limited,” she said.
“At a very high level, you’re covered for the platform that your house sits on, and then eight metres out from that and other pertinent structures on the site, and then you’re covered for your main accessway up to 60 metres.
“People think, ‘Great I’ve got cover,’ but then when it actually comes to the claims time under the Act we are required to price both the repairs and the value of the affected land, and the Act requires us to pay the lesser of those two amounts.”
Tod said claims related to land damage from slips could be complex and required a list of experts to assess the situation. For many, it would be a long wait.
Parnham was looking forward to the day native wildlife returned to her Wellington backyard.
“I felt like Snow White with all the birds flying around, it’s a really lovely thing. The retaining wall that got smashed out, it was covered in ferns and glow worms.”
Parnham urged other homeowners with damage caused by landslides to get independent advice.
Meanwhile, she was also disputing a separate claim for damage to her house caused by the slip, which builders and engineers have costed at just over $150,000 to repair – but the payout on offer from EQC would cover just a third of that.
Parnham had received just over $27,000 from EQC related to damage to her home, and had been offered another $19,500, which she said was not enough.
Vero said it was in contact with Parnham about the claims.
“The settlement for both the land and home damage was based on the customer’s entitlements under the EQC Act with the land settlement based on the valuation of the damaged land and the damaged retaining wall (land is settled on the lower of the value of the damaged land or the cost to reinstate the land),” the insurer said.
“Included in the settlements were amounts for imminent risk to the land and building (based on normal weather over the next 12 months).”