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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Shonky repairs and the law

A few of the repair procedures contained in the Department of Building and Housings (DBH) Revised guidance on repairing and rebuilding houses affected by the Canterbury earthquake sequence (Guide) appear, to use a layman's term, shonky.

One set of procedures in particular that spring to mind is the repair of cracked concrete slab foundations by the use of resin, grout or cement. Even the DBH seems to be uncertain about the viability of the procedures as we find this warning on page 125 of the Guide:
Please note: it cannot be assured that a crack will not reopen after the completion of any of the processes described below.
(see also the earlier blog posting here).

If you are having major repairs done by Fletcher/EQR, or your insurance company, get in writing what the life of the repair is. If proprietary techniques are being used (e.g. raising foundations by resin injections, or filling cracks with various compounds) find out what warranty is provided. Then check with your lawyer!

Many undertakings and warranties are of limited or little use. If the company doing the work goes bust who will back up the warranty? Maybe the company is still going but decides to deny responsibility, what grounds do you have for taking them to court? Neither EQC or your insurance company will be interested. Once you sign off on the repairs you are pretty much on your own.

If the shonky work or materials are hidden (under the floor or carpet, or behind wallboard) it may be years before a defect or failure is noticed. Unfortunately warranties run for a certain period of time based on when the work was done (and the problem caused), not when the problem was discovered. If a major structural component of your house is involved (foundations), or maybe the walls, you are faced with a substantial cost to restore your property to its market value. You can see why many are referring to earthquake repairs as the leaky building disaster of the future.

Of course, in the unlikely future event of another earthquake or storm EQC will consider the faulty work to be pre-existing damage and won't fix it.

There are some unsubstantiated reports of homeowners challenging the repairs being offered, and receiving an an ultimatum to sign up or they will be cashed out and abandoned. This may or may not be the case however, if you find yourself in a similar situation, contact a lawyer quickly. If you feel threatened and fearful, call the police.
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