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Saturday, 20 August 2011

Christchurch post earthquake - insurance woes

It has been a harrowing time the past few months and the future is uncertain.... I suppose everyone's future is, but sometimes we can buffer ourselves from unexpected nasty surprises.  I used to be able to, but now through no fault of my own - I can't.


I am talking about my house insurance in post quake Christchurch.


I moved to Auckland 4 years ago...exactly - August 2007.  I had always had house, contents and car insurance for at least a couple of decades with AMI but as I was renting my house out in Christchurch, I had to relinquish the house insurance as AMI at this time did not offer a landlord package.  Instead I opted to go with Prosure Max Landlord Insurance through 'Insurer Services Limited' [now 'The Insurance Group'] in Auckland.  This policy would be underwritten by China Taiping Insurance NZ [CTINZ], a  fully registered NZ insurance company and falls under the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman.


I left the care of my house in the hands of Kennard's Real Estate REINZ as my property manager.  More on that debacle later.  They ceased being my property manager on 10 February 2011 and another private entity who is a registered security guard and works for a multi national organisation as property facilitator is now managing it.  Suffice to say my house has always been under the 'care' of property managers.


For four years I promptly pay my landlord insurance premium of nearly $1000 per annum well in advance of due date, as I do with all my bills.  No mention or questions made of who manages my house and no contact made to me by the underwriter via my insurance broker.


Then the earthquakes:
  • September 4th 2010 the first earthquake measuring 7.1 First EQC claim.
  • Boxing day 26 December 2010 measuring 4.9 a quake epicentre was practically underneath the house. Second EQC claim.
  • February 22 2011 measuring 6.3 - more damage sustained [I was in Christchurch at this time awaiting the birth of my first grandchild]. Third EQC claim.
  • June 13 2011 measuring 6.3. Fourth EQC claim.
The damage compounded.  Luckily my house is weatherboard and on piles.  Athough damaged to quite a degree cosmetically interiorwise with walls coming away from ceilings, piles moved and architraves warped, there is some structural damage but not a huge amount.  Driveway, fences courtyards appear stretched and damage occured in these areas.  Not to worry...I have insurance... I feel secure...


After the February quake, contact is made with my broker and I arrange to meet China Taiping Insurance's independent assessor - Mainland Claims Management Limited.  We go through the house, he takes photos and documents damage and other information; advises yes I will get loss of rent as it is preventing me being able to find another tenant [my tenant had moved out at the beginning of November 2010].  The assessor stated to me that I was only insured for $100,000 - I adamantly stressed I had full cover.  Transpires I did have full cover and he was wrongly reading the section on EQC cover.


So months down the track - nothing goes into my bank account.  Various lies from the insurance company and they finally admit that the assessor had not filed a report with them in relation to my house.  In fact the assessor had LOST all the information.  I even reduce CTINZ's responsibility to me as my insurer by finding a new tenant - at a much reduced rental rate due to damage.

Now, I'm an understanding person and if they had been open and honest with me, I could have accepted that, however they strung me along, lied and insisted that I meet again with the same assessing firm.  I did not want this as I could no longer trust them, but CTINZ would not budge so Queens Birthday weekend 2011 I had to meet up with the principal of the same assessing firm - who turns out to be the father of the first assessor.  To date CTINZ has still not received a report on my house from them.   My house has been confirmed as being in the green zone and repairs can go ahead.  I have not been contacted by my now former insurance broker [he 'resigned' on 9 August] nor China Taiping Insurance NZ and still do not know what is happening in relation to my repairs.
[Update 23 Aug 2011: The saga continues. Finally heard from insurance assessor via the broker. Looks like the ball has been dropped again as they want to assess my house for the third time by yet another assessor! To be continued...]


At this juncture I have to mention I have a dispute lodged with the Insurance Ombudsman about China Taiping Insurance NZ for other reasons, but this is an important point.  I feel it also impacts on why CTINZ have dumped me as a client, leaving me totally without the capability to secure any insurance including earthquake cover.

Mid July, a month before my Prosure Max Landlord policy underwritten by CTINZ expires, I receive notification from The Insurance Group, my brokers that my landlord insurance will be lapsed due to "renewal not offered as outside facility rules".  This transpires to be that CTINZ are insinuating I have no property manager.
What follows:
  • Insurance broker informs CTINZ that I do have and have always had a property manager
  • CTINZ insist on a letter from the current property manager
  • I provide this
  • CTINZ come back to insurance broker and insist this letter is not good enough [it is on letter head, has all contact information and all relevant details about the service he provides].  They insist because they have "not been able to locate any Yellow Pages or online presence or information in regards to the property manager" they don't see him as being a legitimate business.   [Since when was it a requirement to have an internet presence to run a business!?] My current property manager is someone who does NOT need this type of presence.  He is by word of mouth and so a whole raft of ridiculous questions get asked by the insurance company, who it is important to note NEVER AT ANY OTHER STAGE DURING THE TIME I HAD MY PROPERTY INSURED WITH THEM HAVE ASKED ME BEFORE.  Also  and most importantly, there is no requirement in the policy documentation to have a property manager [up to 1 July 2011].  CLICK TO SEE POLICY WORDING [POSSIBLE PENDING CHANGE - CHECK DATE ON BOTTOM OF WORDING TO ENSURE CORRECT VERSION BEING READ]  
During the month I learned that CTINZ would not be reinsuring me and leaving me in a very precarious position, I have contacted:

  • Insurance Council of NZ who told me that they cannot do anything
  • IBANZ who inform that the insurance broker is not a member [however I'm sure their staff have been in the past]
  • Campbell Live via a TV3 news employee - they did not take the story up
  • Close Up - I never heard back from
  • Fair Go - who opened 1 of my emails but have not contacted me
  • Lianne Dalziel [my electorate MP] twice. No reply either time.
  • Brendon Burns MP  [because i've been told insurance hassles are close to his heart] - no reply.
  • Gerry Brownlee has also been emailed with my predicament and also the link to my Press article. I've heard nothing back so far.
and of course...
  • I contacted my bank ... stupidly thinking because i have a mortgage with them they may actually care about my situation...and of course...they don't. Their underwriter, Vero are not writing any new insurance in Christchurch.
I contacted all insurance companies
  • AMI who contrary to what people think, have confirmed they are not writing new insurance in Christchurch and I still have my car insurance with them. 
  • AA practically laughed in my face
  • State - not writing any new insurance in Christchurch
  • Tower - as above
  • Fintel - as above.
I have also contacted another broker who has also been through all avenues available to him (Vero, NZI and others)  but to no avail.


And so a friend contacted The Press last Saturday which culminated in Ben Heather, quake story reporter contacting and writing an article which was printed on the front page last Wednesday 17th August.  Most galling is the comment from Rob Cormack that I have "done myself no favours" - he is basing this statement upon my refusal to respond to his requests for endless details of the property manager - a property manager which according to the policy wording is not required.

Yes it has been stressful and remains stressful.  Everything I've worked for is tied up in that house and if your own bank you have your mortgage with won't help you nor the associations that you think are in place to protect you...who will?  We have to stand together in this situation...I am in it and I'm sure I won't be the only one.  It will cripple Canterbury and affect the Christchurch economy for many years to come.

I appreciate the support from everyone around me at home, at work and my family in Christchurch, some of whom are in the red zone.

UPDATE 5 December 2011

Not a lot on the positive side has happened really.

INSURANCE
I still cannot get insurance.  I have now been completely uninsured for just on 4 months.  The stress does not get any easier.

Insurance and Savings Ombudsman
My complaint has now been in with the Ombudsman for several weeks.  Contact was made by them a couple of weeks ago and i've been told it will be several more weeks before determination is made.  The process of gathering all the information had been stressful in dealing with everything else also but i'm glad i've done it.  Whatever the outcome I have to show that I am willing to stand up and be counted.

Exterior non EQC covered damage and Insurance
China Taiping Insurance NZ's assessor Mainland Claims Management Limited assessed my exterior [non eqc covered damage] and have come up with a final figure.  I was given a new claims manager...surprise surprise. No surprises after the debacle i've been through with them already.  

I was working on a cash settlement for the non-eqc settlement because hey...who the hell wants to get things fixed for them to be smashed again in another quake and you're uninsured?

THEN

...on 15 November my land was classified as TC3 [blue].  Oh joy. So here I sit in Auckland, waiting to hear back from EQC who told me several weeks back that it will be reassessed before Christmas. 

In the meantime I have also been dealing with Kennard's Real Estate whose shoddy property management of my home has led to them paying me out a substantial sum as compensation.  I am still owed money for arrears on my house that their property manager allowed to eventuate.  It has been before the tenancy tribunal and is now with Baycorp.  That in itself is a farce.  Kennard's do not inform me regularly with what is happening with the money owed to me and Baycorp have told me when I last enquired that they have sent letters to the tenant who defaulted and if I want, I can go around to her workplace and demand the money. Oh pppleaseeee!  She has since had a second baby to another man and living on the benefit.  She is INCREDIBLY easily traceable.  I DO NOT recommend this business.  I also know 2 other individual's whose dealings with this firm have been less than satisfactory.  It has been an incredibly stressing 4 years dealing with their property managers.  Only one seemed to know what she was talking about and all the others lied to me.  Tenants were also not vetted properly and I have emails from a manager admitting to this.  At one stage I had a white power member in the house.

Gerry Brownlee
To top it off, we now get the email from Gerry - Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery in response to one my partner sent on 17 August, the same day my article appeared in The Press

Dear Mr Brownlee
The woman mentioned in the Press article at http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/christchurch-earthquake-2011/5456223/Earthquake-damaged-home-loses-insurance is my partner. I am sure you will understand that she is very distraught at being treated like this. She and I have contacted all the major insurance companies and several brokers and are unable to find her any form of cover.
I am under the impression that the Government provided a lot of support (and in the case of AMI a massive guarantee) to insurance companies to minimise their exposure to Christchurch claims on the understanding that this sort of situation would not occur and that the insurers would continue cover that was already in place.
Can you please take action to ensure that Sarndra is able to get continued cover, either by reminding China Taiping of their obligations, or by suggesting to AMI that in light of their taxpayer funded rescue package they have a moral obligation to the citizens of New Zealand to behave in a manner which benefits NZ society.
Yours faithfully...etc

Gerry's reply today 5 December 2011

Dear Mr ...
Thank you for your email of 17 August 2011, regarding your partner's insurance cover.  I regret the delay in replying to you.  As you will appreciate, I have received a significant amount of correspondence following the Canterbury earthquakes.

I am sorry to hear about your partner's situation, and I appreciate the frustration and worry it is causing you both.  I hope that your partner has been able to find a resolution since writing to me.  The government is closely observing the performance of insurers in Canterbury, but at present I recommend that your partner attempts to resolve any issues with her policy directly with her insurer, where possible.  The government is not intervening in individual insurance matters, as these are based on private agreements.  If she is not able to resolve the matter she may consider approaching the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman (www.iombudsman.org.nz), which may be able to assist.

Again thank you for your email, and for your patience through this process.  I wish you and your partner every success in the months ahead as Canterbury's recovery moves forward.

Yours sincerely
[signed]
Well Gerry...fat lot of good that is for me...I've done it all and still I, like so many others have got nowhere and obviously the Government isn't going to help us.  Maybe i should send him my blog to read.
At least Gerry responded I guess.  Lianne Dalziel hasn't replied to either of my emails and nor did Brendan Burns.
So Christmas is upon us shortly.  I am off to visit my lovely family for a couple of weeks and have lots of cuddles with my gorgeous 9 month old grandson Joseph and visit with my parents who are still in the redzone, it being possibly the last visit to the house I grew up in and have known since the age of 2 before they move on.
... hoping 2012 brings something more positive to not just myself, but to so many people stuck in limbo out there.  Thanks sooooo much to my incredibly supportive partner Mike who has been my rock throughout this. 

Have a fantastic Christmas and a safe New Year.... no doubt i'll be back to update this page!



Update: 8 March 2012
In the middle of January the Ombudsman's office phoned me with very good news and as of today, the insurance saga is now closed.  The terms of the settlement preclude me from commenting but i'm smiling as I type this :))))))
I hope my struggles and subsequent outcome may encourage others to stand up for their rights.  It's not easy but it does show that we are not prepared to be walked over.
THANK YOU to all who have supported me, especially my lovely partner Mike.  It's been one hell of a journey...the next step, selling the house after having to evict my tenant last month. 
Update: 8 April 2013
Insurance
I was unable to get any form of house insurance until the end of April 2012. 
I visited my bank weeks previous to this and demanded that because I had originally taken my mortgage out with them and it had to be insured at that time, it was through no fault of my own that I could not insure it now.  They ignored me ... and so I got more vocal.  Vero is their underwriter they said and Vero was not taking on any new business in Christchurch. 
My partner and I continued to pressure and eventually I was offered Mortgage indemity insurance.  This was to cost me $850pa - payable in full within 24 hours.  It would cover me for only up to $90,000 and not cover earthquake damage, however it would give me EQC cover.  Being my only option, I took it. 
It is nearly due for renewal...I haven't heard from the bank.

Quake repairs
In the meantime my quake repairs are in the process of being completed having commenced almost 2 years to the day of the February event.  My house has been empty since beginning of January after a raft of bad tenants and so I left it empty for the repairs. 

My partner and I went down to look over progress in February.  This is what I found - my house curtains trashed:
LOUNGE curtains lying in the porch and through to the wash house. Floor covered in plaster dust and trampled on
Still on curtain rods - thrown on floor

LOUNGE curtains lying in the porch and through to the wash house. Plaster dust and trampled on.

Another snap of the Lounge curtains in the wash house.  Vinyl being ripped up [which THEY did and wasn't repaired until my property manager told them it was part of the repairs].

Rest of the house curtains including nets thrown into a bedroom wardrobe.  The nets had been bundled up and tied with STICKY cloth tape
When we went back the next day the lounge curtains had been moved to front bedroom and the roman blinds from wash house also.  Plonked onto plasting sheeting covered in plaster dust.

More photos of the repairs HERE


To be fair, the project manager for this job worked in well with my property manager in finding a solution, but this should NEVER have happened in the first place and it was quite a job in the end hassling them to get things completed to my satisfaction. 

It has now been nearly 10 weeks since the repairs commenced.  It was meant to be a 6 week job.  They indicated it was completed but when my property manager went to check, he noted:
  • Some of the wash house vinyl had been ripped up by them, but they said it was not to be repaired...it was and IS on the scope of works
  • The repaint over the exterior weatherboard repairs was a mismatch to the rest of the front of the house.
  • The solid plaster repairs to the foundation had not been commenced let alone completed.
  • The curtains are still in the process of being sorted. They have agreed to replacing 2 bedrooms and drycleaning the rest.
Sad to say, I have elderly aunt and uncle who have also had  an horrendous time with their repairers and repairs  which were carried out at the same time as mine.  Their damage in the Cashmere Hills was much more extensive both interior and exterior with most the bricks falling off their house.
House Sale
I had intended listing the house in December 2010 and the Boxing day quake hit so that put paid to that.
I listed instead in March 2011 and the house remains on the market.  It has actually had some interest, even up until yesterday with someone going through [have yet to hear how that went] but all the others could not raise insurance to purchase, being that the property is still TC3 [green/blue].  Oh my how our Government and agencies have added so much stress to our situation by now effectively making our houses unsellable!  I wish i had gone red :(

I am still owed thousands from Neil George THOMAS,  who i've had to take to tenancy tribunal and district court for not paying rent and also having to remove his rubbish all round the exterior of the house.  If you image google "neil thomas milk" it will come up with a photo of him holding a 2 litre container of milk.  He also owes thousands to other landlords.  He keeps skipping houses.  Let me know if you see him.  It would be nice to get my money. 

I can understand why landlords do not want to let their houses out.  I've had nothing but stress and inconvenience.  At this stage i'm almost happy to leave the house empty until it sells - the stress becomes almost unbearable otherwise, on top of everything else.

Good News
My mum and dad finally moved from Red Zone Avondale but not after their own situation was fraught with complexities with AMI Insurance.  Their solicitor came through for them though and settlement was made.  They are now [as of October 2012] comfortably living in a lovely warm home and it is fantastic to see this after the trauma of 5 lots of liquefaction and living in such a damaged area with houses being pulled down around them - they were the last to leave.
Moving day [with snaps of other houses in street] HERE
Some photos HERE taken February 2013

Update: 1 July 2013
The quake repairs were signed off at Anzac Weekend.  But I was still trying to claw back money for power used by the contractors [hundred's of dollars] for several weeks and in the end had to phone the head honcho of the business who did not appreciate being phoned...well I didn't appreciate having to chase!  He admitted he just hadn't done signatures for the project manager to complete.

I stood my ground and the curtains were replaced; the exterior painting was completed to my satisfaction and various other things I wasn't happy with were sorted.  I must say that I'm extremely disappointed that some of these repair companies are putting us through so much stress when anyone who should be sympathetic would be these people.  It appears that the basin in my house was used as a urinal also without attempting to clean it up.

My house sold last month to someone who was very lucky to get full insurance.  Who you know not what you know maybe?  Either way the relief is palpable for me and I can now move forward in life and put behind me an exceedingly stressful situation.  Dealing with this has been no better for someone who lives outside of Christchurch - in fact in some ways worse...many people up here don't realise what you're actually going through in reality - I can understand that, just hope they don't have to face it themselves one day.
The new owner adores the place :) and as it had been a great home for myself and raising my children since 1993, i'm pleased it's gone to someone who appreciates it.















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