Brownlee rejects EQC 'penny-pinching' over repairs

Quake-damaged homes with $300,000 repair bills had only $1000 spent on them before being deemed fixed, it's been claimed.

The Government is facing a $1 billion-plus bill after it emerged hundreds of Christchurch homes had substandard repairs before being on-sold.

Insurers won't pay out for the new owners because they didn't have insurance on the property when the quakes happened, and EQC won't pay because it's spent as much as its legally allowed to.

So far there have been more than 600 cases registered, but Andrew Hooker of Shine Lawyers believes thousands more could be affected.

"Hopefully the inquiry the Government's going to hold is going to uncover that. We don't know [how many], and that's why we need to do an audit to find out how bad the problem is."

He claims in some cases, houses originally scoped at needing $300,000 were "downscoped to under $1000 - a bit of polyfilla and we're on the way".

Mr Hooker is representing homeowners looking for redress in the courts, where a test case could potentially find that the Earthquake Commission (EQC) has liability to fix the botched repairs.

"I've got young couples coming to see me who bought a house that had been fixed by EQC. They might have paid $350,000 for the house, they borrowed $300,000 and the house is worth $150,000 - they're broke."

EQC has apologised, but Mr Hooker says that won't fix his clients' houses.

"EQC's position at the moment is, 'We have no responsibility outside the Act, so sorry guys - we might have wrecked your house, but go and find someone else to pay.' At least their new CEO is stepping up and taking some ownership for this. But let's just stop the talking and let's get the cheque book out and start fixing some of these houses."

Andrew Hooker.
Andrew Hooker. Photo credit: The AM Show

As for blame, he said to ask former EQC Minister Gerry Brownlee.

"I don't know the answer - all I see is the result. The result is absolutely botched repairs and people in financial strife. We have people in our office every week crying because they're financially ruined as a result of this. Absolute misery."

Mr Brownlee told Newstalk ZB on Wednesday afternoon there was no truth to suggestions EQC contractors did repairs on the cheap.

"The scopes of works were never penny-pinched, some people found them quite surprising, and found they were having work done on their house they had not seen that was not particularly visible. I reject that. I think it was much more thorough than the current political agenda would want anyone to think."

But he also said the scale of the missed repairs was "not a new thing", having been reported publicly by EQC in documents it released every six months, putting the cost at $11 billion.

"I don't think there's anything new or surprising in any of this. It is difficult stuff, very, very difficult. You've just got to find your way through it - it's what Governments do."

Gerry Brownlee.
Gerry Brownlee. Photo credit: Reuters

Mr Hooker said "billions" were at stake, with repair jobs on 140,000 homes possibly in line to be re-checked.

Mr Brownlee said if it's shown that EQC failed to repair homes properly, it "has a problem".

"Insurance is a contract and EQC is a contract, and if EQC has come up short on the delivery of those contracts, then quite clearly it has a problem it has to solve."