Gillian Parnham had hired an attorney to dispute her insurance claim and was in debt to pay for stabilization of her backyard.
picture: RNZ/Samuel Rylston

A Wellington homeowner who was awakened by a landslide crashing through her kitchen window a year ago is still struggling to convince her insurance company to pay even a cent for the sky-high costs of rebuilding the destroyed retaining wall.

The night an avalanche of rocks and debris smashed into Gillian Parnham’s kitchen window is etched in her memory.

“We heard some crashes which must have been the first rocks to fall, and then there was a big roar, a big roar, and glass shattering as everything fell on the house. It was terrifying.”

A retaining wall measuring 3 meters high and 11 meters long burst due to the rain.

Parnham lived on the slopes in the Northland suburb of Wellington, near the Botanic Gardens, where her backyard was set on a hill at a 45-degree angle.

She and her husband were evacuated immediately, but Vero’s subsistence allowance has now been exhausted.

“We just got home but it’s just a construction site, all the scaffolding is up, the whole backyard is full of scaffolding, and it’s about three or four levels high.”

Persistent heavy rains last winter caused hundreds of slides across the capital — nearly 700 in seven weeks, resulting in nearly 300 land claims.

Gillian Parnham's home is in the Wellington suburb of Northland, near the Botanic Gardens, where her backyard sits on a hill at a 45-degree angle.

Gillian Parnham’s house was hit by a landslide, and she says engineers estimated it would cost $290,000 to rebuild it.
picture: RNZ/Samuel Rylston

Parnham needed to rebuild the 40-year-old retaining wall, but Vero said it didn’t need to top Toka Tū Ake EQC’s $36,000 ground cover — because the cost of bringing it back up to par would have been less than that amount.

But Parnham said the cost to rebuild to today’s higher standards was about $290,000, and she submitted those engineers’ quotes to the insurance company.

“You pay your premiums your whole life and you do the adult thing, and you think you’re covered, but when it comes down to it, you’re really not. The $36,000 that I have for the lost ground and the retaining wall, that’s only 12% of the actual cost of fixing that.”

She had hired an attorney to dispute the claim and was owed payment for stabilization of her backyard.

Insurers were handling land claims on behalf of EQC, in accordance with the EQC Act.

Gillian Parnham's house in Wellington

picture: RNZ/Samuel Rylston

Ferro made a statement declining the interview.

“In this case, the valuation was completed and the par value was less than the EQC compensation value, and therefore no additional interest was paid,” the company said.

“Our client disputed our cost assessment, and we asked them to provide a quote based on a similar repair to support their dispute.

“They have now provided a quote from a contractor and we are currently reviewing this and will get back to the client shortly.”

EQC had 7,700 land claims as a result of Hurricane Gabriel and the weekend flooding in Auckland, of which 35 percent had been paid.

Agency spokeswoman Kate Todd said many will take more than a year to settle, and homeowners should be aware of what the agency can cover.

“It is very complex and limited,” she said.

“At a very high level, you are protected by the platform on which your house sits, and then eight meters from it and other relevant structures on the site, and then your main entrance is covered by up to 60 metres.

“People think, ‘Great, I’ve got you covered,’ but when it actually comes down to claims time under the law, we’re required to price both the repairs and the value of the land damaged, and the law requires us to pay the lesser of those two amounts.”

Claims for land damage caused by slides can be complex and require a roster of experts to assess the situation, Todd said. For many, it will be a long wait.

Parnham was looking forward to the day when local wildlife would return to her Wellington backyard.

“I felt like Snow White with all the birds flying around, it’s a really beautiful thing. The retaining wall that was broken down, was covered in ferns and glow worms.”

Gillian Parnham's home is in the Wellington suburb of Northland, near the Botanic Gardens, where her backyard sits on a hill at a 45-degree angle.

Gillian Parnham’s home is in the Wellington suburb of Northland, near the Botanic Gardens, where her backyard sits on a hill at a 45-degree angle.
picture: RNZ/Samuel Rylston

Parnham urged other homeowners who have suffered landslide damage to seek independent advice.

At the same time, she was also contesting a separate claim for damage to her home caused by the slide, which cost builders and engineers just over $150,000 to repair — but the damages offered by EQC would only cover a third of that amount.

Parnham received just over $27,000 from the EQC in relation to the damage to her home, and was offered another $19,500, which she said was not enough.

Ferro said she has been in contact with Parnham about the allegations.

“The land settlement and damage to the house were based on the client’s entitlements under the EQC Act, while the land settlement was based on the valuation of the damaged land and the damaged retaining wall (the land settlement is based on the lesser of the value of the land damage or the cost of restoring the land),” the insurer said.

“Settlements include amounts related to imminent risks to land and buildings (based on normal weather over the next 12 months).”

    (tags for translation) Radio New Zealand 

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