"Highlighting the inadequacies of the way in which the earthquakes of 2010-2012 were handled by the insurance industry! "

Complaint under the Fair Trading Act 1986 against the Earthquake Commission (EQC) – Guest post by Adrian Cowie


My name is Adrian Cowie.  I am a Registered Professional Surveyor, Licensed Cadastral Surveyor and have been involved in the assessment of buildings in Canterbury for earthquake damage since September 2010.I have a Bachelor of Surveying Degree (Otago), I am a member of the New Zealand Institute of Surveyors, the Institute of Cadastral Surveyors, a member of the Consultants Division of the NZIS, a member of the Structural Engineering Society of New Zealand. I have been carrying out forensic survey assessments of buildings in Canterbury since September 2010, and have been surveying in Canterbury since 1989.

I have seen first hand the methods that EQC use to measure floor levels and assess residential dwellings for earthquake damage, and I have also received plans and information showing their floor level

Surveyors at work, 1925

Surveyors at work, 1925 (Photo credit: State Records NSW)


I believe that EQC’s assessment of residential dwellings in Canterbury does not comply with the Fair Trading Act 1986.

Without limiting the extent of this non-compliance, their conduct breaches Section 9 (‘Misleading and Deceptive Conduct Generally’), Section 11 (‘Misleading Conduct in Relation to Services’), Section 13 (‘False or Misleading Representations’) of the Act.

They have been charged with assessing earthquake damage to Canterbury dwellings following the Canterbury Earthquake sequence.

The Department of Building and Housing (DBH) Guidelines form the basis for this assessment, with the differential floor level limits and floor slope limits clearly setout in the DBH Guidelines.

EQC in many instances simply do not take ANY levels at all in dwellings.

Where they do take levels, they use totally unqualified persons to carry out the levelling.  The results are factually incorrect and wrong.

EQC should be using Suitably Qualified Persons to do the floor levelling.  It is difficult, precise work that requires care and accuracy.

The minimum standard should be a Registered Professional Surveyor (RPSurv) with a Bachelor of Surveying Degree.

The Government require Chartered Professional Engineering qualifications for engineering assessments.  They should also be requiring RPSurv qualifications for these surveys.

Their floor level surveys cannot be used to accurately determine compliance with the DBH Guidelines.

They do not seem to assess the floor slope of dwellings in relation to the DBH Guideline threshold of 1 in 200.

The floor level survey forms one of the three aspects outlined in the DBH guidelines for assessing foundation damage. To incorrectly assess this part can affect the overall repair/rebuild strategy for the dwelling.

I have seen first hand the methods that EQC use to level houses – it is totally wrong and their results are wrong.

They take levels to the top of carpet.  They do not use proper benchmarks.  They do not adequately check and calibrate their instruments.  They do not draw their plans correctly and accurately.

There are potentially thousands, if not tens of thousands of dwellings in Canterbury that have been inadequately assessed by EQC.  The homeowners are simply not getting a fair go.

I am asking the Commerce Commission in instigate an Inquiry into this matter.  It is of the utmost importance and urgency.

In the first instance, I request that ALL EQC assessments be stopped immediately.

Secondly, I request that independent inquiry be carried out into EQC’s practices and methods.

Thirdly, I request that independent audits be carried out on homes that EQC have levelled to determine the scale of non-compliance.

Fourthly, I request that all of the dwellings that EQC have levelled, be re-levelled properly, using qualified persons and proper measurement techniques.

This is a very serious issue and I intend to follow it through to it’s conclusion.

There may be literally tens of thousands of Canterbury homes that have been mis-diagnosed due to EQC’s total incompetence.  This is unacceptable.  The homeowners of Canterbury have been trusting EQC with in most cases, their largest asset, yet EQC have not responded by carrying out their assessments properly.

Another Crisis for EQC on the Horizon.

Another looming issue is with the EQC Land Claim Assessments, particularly in the Flood Management and Flood Areas of Christchurch.
I have a client whose land is in the Flood Zones of Christchurch.  Their house and land have sunk by around 300mm in height, so it is further into the floodplain that it previously was.  Where the water once may have been ponding on the grass lawn, it may now be lapping around the carpet!   When meeting with the EQC Land Assessors on site – they specifically did not want to know this information.  Their instructions are only to assess what they can visibly see.  It is impossible to ‘see’ that the house and land have sunk by 300mm, without using surveying equipment, so their assessment conveniently shows no damage.
What is more, when we told the EQC Structural Engineers for this same property that the house had sunk and required lifting to at least its original height (i.e. raising it around 300mm), they indicated that was part of the Land Claim Assessment.  When the EQC Land Claims assessors arrived, they indicated that the land under the dwelling (concrete slab foundation) was not part of their assessment as they “could not visibly see it”.
And it gets worse!  Their sealed right of way has subsided at one end, so instead of draining towards the road, it is completely flat and ponding water.  But the assessors arrived on a clear, fine sunny Canterbury day, and what do you know, there was no water in sight.  Their conclusion: there is no damage.
What about the silt from liquefaction that the Student Army so selflessly cleared?  Well, because the EQC Assessors cannot visibly see this silt, their conclusion is that there has been no land damage from liquefaction.  Does that mean that all those homes inundated with silt had to leave the silt there for over two years until EQC decided to visit?
So, conveniently, my clients house which has sunk by 300mm and requires raising by at least that amount falls through the EQC assessment criteria.  The unqualified ‘experts’ from EQC have conveniently stripped my client of all equity in their house.  The house which they worked their whole lives to be able to buy.
Without being a cynic, I would have to conclude that EQC’s methodology in their assessments is deliberate.  A deliberate ploy to minimise insurance payout.  What confirms this is the talks I have had with workers in EQC.  They agree with me that their Land Assessments are wrong, to the point of being fraudulent, and actually encourage this information to be publicised.
There are around 10,000 homes in the Flood Zones in Christchurch, and possibly many more that have genuine land claim assessments, yet EQC seem to be deliberately clouding the issue so the homeowner does not get an honest, truthful assessment.
These EQC Land Claim assessments should also be part the Commerce Commissions investigation into EQC’s breach of the Fair Trading Act.
For those receiving cheques from EQC settling their Land Claim – I would advise caution in banking the cheque.  You might find that it only covers a fraction of what you are actually entitled to.
Actually, while writing, the crisis has moved, it is no longer on the horizon, it is now steaming straight up the Estuary!
Adrian Cowie
Topografo Ltd

Author: Sarah-Alice Miles

Love to write, create and watch the clouds move across the sky - these days in the Netherlands. 'Art allows us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time'.

11 thoughts on “Complaint under the Fair Trading Act 1986 against the Earthquake Commission (EQC) – Guest post by Adrian Cowie

  1. The facts of the matter people, are that the citizens of Christchurch who are unsuccessfully attempting to deal with with the bastardry of the EQC and Domestic Insurers in collusion with government agencies are facing corporate and political corruption on an unprecedented scale in the historic experience of New Zealand. Individually, they can do little or nothing. Insurers, as market driven commercial entities together with the EQC are proving Marx’s theories as to the results of unfettered power in markets just as they are also demonstrating the truth of Lord Acton’s assertion that “(All) power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely”. In New Zealand, we, the citizens, have had an unshakeable faith in the rule of law, the inherent incorruptibility of the judiciary, and the ultimate triumph of the “fair go”. All now proven hollow. As to reliance on the next election … New Zealanders are so inherently dumb politically that they will sleepwalk to an election that will confirm the status quo. It is no accident that no political party will take up the corruption issues surrounding the operational failure of various market safeguard mechanisms such as the Commerce Commission, Fair Trading, and above all the supposed ultimate safeguards provided by individual public representatives to Parliament. In the present circumstances, all can be seen to have failed. Where to now ? New Zealanders have to find the political will to act cohesively to throw each and every current member of Parliament, all of whom appear to be in the pockets of the lobbyists and corporate eminence gris who stand behind them. We should read and re-read Oliver Cromwell’s speech of dissolution to the Long Parliament of the 20th April 1653 which was as true then in its original context as it would be now in the context of the corrupt and self-serving Parliamentarians of New Zealand and their astonishing failure to ask questions relating the failure of the EQC to act in good faith and the equally astonishing failures of the systems and markets we once believed to be incorruptible.

    With the inspired use of social media, spearheaded by the young and by women (since the ‘men’ have comprehensively failed us politically) it may yet be possible unload the political trash fouling our nation before they do further damage. Then, the insurers and their fellow travellers.


    • James, I like the way you expressed yourself and I have to say I agree with you – it is a very sad time in New Zealand history – if the populous does not realize this then we’re in real trouble.


  2. I am so behind you . This problem has huge flow-on effects not the least of which has been stated in the blog. I also have issues with the land assessment (although relatively small compared to the cases given) Our back yard area is now constantly soggy and the soil just never drys out even in summer. There is a smallish area in the front of the property which has sunk (or the middle bit has risen Im not sure which) but they wont pay me out as their assessment of the damage, excluding any back yard issues, which they chose to ignore and flagged as not relevant, is below the excess amount of $500. When I enquired about getting soil to level the area it was going to cost me about $1000 including labour. Im just flabbergasted, how do they expect people to do the repairs and maintenance to get back to what they had previously. My house is also “under cap” and they wanted to pay it out, I said NO and opted back in. Now face a wait until 2015 to get repairs done. Time for us all to stand up and the rest of the country should be backing us. – afterthought, I was told recently by an engineer that there have been a lot of underground springs that have started flowing and this is causing the water level underground to rise which is perhaps the reason for the soggy ground in our backyard


  3. Under the NZ Building Act, all works undertaken to any building, whether it is consented or not, for example if it falls under Schedule 1 in the Building Act which covers non consentable works, any work conducted must still comply with the various clauses contained within the NZ Building Code. The there are no exceptions. EQC knows this, yet they do not encourage their assessors to adhere to this fundamental building law requirement.


  4. I agree fully with the writer. My property is the subject of four claims properly made with the EQC and one with the Insurer, an Australian company. None of the claims involve household contents. The principal damage inflicted on the property has been severe cracking of the foundation slab in a number of places in very straight-forward and visible manner. This damage was confirmed at an early stage by a professional engineering assessment. To date, over two years after the first damaging ‘quake, the Insurer has not yet assessed the damage and the EQC made one assessment ony after the third ‘quake and only after repeated requests to do so. The EQC assessment was made from outside the structure only, the two “assessors” having refused to enter the house to see and to assess the extensive cracks. One of them repeatedly endeavoured to “verbal” me by making exaggerated statements with which I was invited to agree and to endorse. He did not take notes, but may have been using a tape recorder. During the past two years EQC has avoided answering questions as to the status of the Claims made, or have replied in an evasive and untruthful manner. Not once, but repeatedly. Presently, there is a hiatus between the EQC and the insurer because the insurer claims that “the EQC will not answer or acknowledge our questions”. Yet, all I require is that the contractual conditions of my policy / contract established between the insurer and myself (the terms of which are not disputed) be honoured by the insurer and the EQC carries out its statutory role. Why is this not happening, and why do I, as the insured, have to hire a lawyer ? The insurer, in the manner of contemporary business practice, is simply stonewalling to keep the money in its Bank facilitated by inactions and diversions of the EQC. The EQC, however, appears to be deliberately engaging in corrupt and dishonest practice with malice aforethought. Why then, the mute inaction of a Parliament faced with this ….. more corrupt and dishonest practice ? What happened to “utmost good faith” principles on which the operation of insurance is founded ? Sarah Miles, and all those who are recording the corrupt practices being encountered by myself and many others are doing a greater service than they may realise …. and may yet save democracy itself in New Zealand.


    • This government couldnt act in utmost good faith if it tried. Not only is it stonewalling the claims with all the red tape and burearacracy it can muster they just seem to have no idea of a commonsense way forward. They are too busy massaging the egos of big business and placing the city in their hands in order to tear down buildings they see as obstacles to the path they want to take. Bring on the election and hopefully enough sense of the general public to vote them OUT


  5. The variation of level in my house was measured by EQC engineer Greame Robinson 48mm—concluded no repair!
    IAG and others two independent engineers’ measurement 57mm—-concluded repair or rebuild!!!

    anothe house EQC did not carry out measurement of level———concluded cosmetic damage
    our engineers measured the variation of floor level over the plan 152mm——concluded new foundation!!!


  6. Hope like heck this gets somewhere – my house has clearly sunk and it is clearly demonstrable with a gas hot water cylinder on the outside of my house now hanging 80mm above the ground having dropped about 25mm down the side of the house as well- with the brackets barely hanging on – and the land assessors said – NO land damage – this was CLEARLY visible and measurable… Find it unbelievable how badly we are being treated by this idiots.


  7. Thank you so much for having the courage and integrity to speak out. We need more qualified people like yourself to follow suit.


  8. Having just had our levels checked, I agree with the writer. At lot of the readings were guesses and taking into account the tiles / carpet etc were non existent.
    It is a very important job that DOES require a person with knowledge to undertake accurately.
    I will watch this article with anticipation.


  9. Well done …keep up the fight


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s