Building Owners guide to Red Stickering

A CBD Building Owners guide to surviving earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand.

We own one of “Gerry’s Dungers” in the CBD. It is still standing despite the best efforts of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) to demolish all of the “dungers”.

Here is a beginner’s guide for a building owner on how to survive.  Errors and omissions accepted.

Gerry's Dunger!

Gerry’s Dunger!

1. Do Not expect any help from the authorities. (They will not help you do urgent repairs to your house/building nor offer meaningful assistance). The tendency of the authorities is to panic, pick up the Health and Safety manual and put idiots in charge. In our case they locked the building owners out of the CBD for 2 years. The results of this are plain to see today.  Desolation, abandoned buildings, empty bare land.

2. Do Not move out of your house/building unless it is truly munted. If in doubt ring a builder friend. If you have to move into your garage or shed and make urgent repairs do so). It is usually better to stay in your house regardless of the condition. Financially, moving is an extra stress that you do not need. Also the landowners take advantage of your misery and Insurance funds by putting up the cost of the rentals immediately. DO NOT MOVE unless absolutely VITAL.  (Minor cracks to the plaster does not constitute “major damage” nor does “off the foundations” or sloping floors or even broken windows.  ( I and my neighbours pushed the walls of my house back into alignment with a Ute and propped it up with the help of scrounged/liberated building supplies. Then we lived in it for 3 years. It is not good, but it is better than renting and using up your insurance funds).

Here is a pix of 4 years progress on my house:  Southern NO Response– the Insurance company, Arrow– Project Managers and Benchmark (Building company) should be ashamed of themselves. The lack of efficiency, cost over runs and mistakes made are beyond belief).

This is 4 years progress for the Insurance company on my house.

This is 4 years progress for the Insurance company on my house.

3. Do Not expect any help from the authorities. They will be too busy protecting their jobs and having meetings.

3a.  This includes the CCC building Consents department.  The system does not take account of the difficulties of getting your Engineering paper work sorted in a timely manner.  (In our case they are still arguing about whether the steel reinforcing columns will melt before the bricks explode in the event of a fire). In CHCH most people I know are now opting out of the Consents process.  This says it all really.

4. Do Not expect any help from the other building owners in the city. They will show no leadership skills.  They are too busy protecting their own properties and positions:
a) taking positions. ie buying up your property or trying to get their hands on your insurance settlement.
b) sorting out their own problems.

5. Do not expect the authorities to listen to reason. They know better! This is regardless of the soundness of your arguments and opinions.

5a. Do not believe what the authorities or “Powers that Be” tell you.  Tomorrow the details will change.  Just assume that they do not know what they are doing and tomorrow they will change their minds.  One would like to hope that reason would eventually prevail. Do not count on it.

6. Do not expect the authorities to listen to overseas experts, even ones with experience in handling exactly the same disaster that you are facing. New Zealand authorities always know better.

7. Do not expect the authorities to put in place competent administrators with experience. Here we got a landscape gardener in charge, an ex army Engineer and a council official from Timaru.

8. Do not expect the insurance companies to honour their policies.  Do Not expect help from your Broker. The mantra is “Deny, delay, defend”. (Our insurance settlement is still unresolved 4 years after the event).
a) Expect numerous assessments and assessors. ( I have heard of up to 11 different insurance assessors dealing with the one building owner, you will find that you repeat yourself endlessly as you go through the details over and over again.  We had 8 accessors, I think, I have lost count????
b) It is often to your insurance companies advantage if you do not repair/ rebuild your building. You tend to get indemnity value only, which is lower than replacement value.

9. Do not be afraid to hire your own Engineers.

a) Pick one with experience in your type of structure. Chose your Engineer wisely. ( ie there are only approximately 5 Engineers in Christchurch experienced in the repairs of Un reinforced masonry buildings. (URM’s). We had a few young CERA Engineers come through our building and tell us that “it was very dangerous”. They were barely out of University and had no experience with URM’s.

b) DO NOT believe what the “Government paid” Engineers tell you. SIGHT your building ie a site inspection. Do NOT take their word as Gospel. Get your own Engineer, get a second or third opinion if you have ANY doubts. (There were many buildings in Christchurch that should not have been bulldozed).

10. Do not expect logic to take any place in the redevelopment of the city. They will continue to pull down both brand new and old buildings that do not fit their new “Grand Design”. They will have a grand plan that defies logic. Try not to focus on their grand design, it will drive you mad. Fight for your building and try to ignore the idiots in charge. If they try to take your building, stall, stall, stall. The longer you stall the higher the price you will get.  You hope.

11. Do not expect the authorities to be able to make decisions quickly. Decisions take YEARS! (As it sits on the desks of those with sign off power).  We can not rebuild the back of our building as they refuse to tell us the planned design for the lane way at the back of our building.  Only another year before we get an answer. lol!

12. Take no notice of the authorities. Do what you have to do. Be it raiding your building/house to get your gear out or refusing to allow them to demolish your building without a second opinion. The trick is to APPEAR to be doing something. Even if its DELAY, DELAY, DELAY. Treat the powers that be with the contempt that they deserve. Remember that they have not got a clue about what they are doing. They will bully you endlessly and try to tell you that they know what they are doing. Do not believe them.

13. Every once in a while you will find a sympathetic/helpful official. Be grateful for small mercies. In our case it has been the Heritage lobby officials. The encouragement that you get makes it worthwhile.

14. Calling all Media experts : if you are a Media/Communication Expert immediately apply to the govt for a job. The government needs to put a positive spin on what they are doing so they will hire heaps of Media Experts to try to influence the Press. Last count at CERA was 43 and the money is good. ( This is a problem for those of us with a conscience as they have filled the Press with bull shit about how well its going).

15. Take the insurance companies or EQC to court to get JUST settlements, one building at a time if necessary.  Get your paper work in order.  Be it Engineer Reports, building or land assessments and go for it.

16. Expect more than one earthquake. Take no notice of the earthquake experts, they  have no clues about what will happen. And the powers that be will try to keep morale up by putting a positive spin on it.  Expect each quake to cause damage to your building. Brace yourself for 15,000 plus. Expect quakes for many more years to come.

17. Expect to have at least one or two or three…. who cares how many…. meltdowns in 4 years. The stress of dealing with this number of earthquakes has a cumulative effect. Meltdowns are perfectly allowable and normal. ( Avoid chocolate and booze. Lapses are allowed especially with your friends and family). You are allowed to cry in the street, throw tantrums and generally behave badly. Its normal. ye ha…… Expect to be hugged by perfect strangers in the street.

18. Expect to come out of the experience as a different person. You will be stronger, more resilient. Less concerned with appearances, possessions and small issues. Less tolerant of bull shit. You will change.  It is unavoidable.

19.  Keep those water bottles clean and full and do not fill in the long drop in the garden, they are a sod to dig.  And always keep your hard hat, boots and fluro jacket with “Engineer” written on the back, you never know when it will come in handy.

20.  The rest of New Zealand.  Be very afraid. The CER style Act of Parliament tramples on individual property owners rights.  It is poor legislation that was rushed through in a dictatorial manner and ignores the conventions on post disaster recovery.  ( a point made by Robert , a reader of this blog).

21.  Realise that the EQC system is flawed.   The multiple assessments by untrained: cops, office girls, children of EQC management etc was a flawed process. (If you were really lucky you got a real trained competent builder!).  Today 4 years on there are still home owners who do not know if their houses are to be repaired or bulldozed.  The system of apportionment ( ie a % figure allocated to the damage caused by each quake) is flawed. To be “Fletchered”  ie have your house repairs managed by Fletchers is a verb in CHCH.  If you were lucky you got competent local builders.  If you were unlucky you got a shoddy patch up job, some of these repair jobs are going to haunt many home owners for many years to come.

So:  If you have a multiple event situation like we did, think CAREFULLY before you put in multiple claims with EQC.  One or 2 claims gets you to your Insurance company in a more timely manner.

Link here:

(As you can see from the picture of my “house” this does not always help you. The Insurance companies have in many cases performed badly as well!  Southern No Response is a good example).

hey Its just another day,  the sun is shining, the birds are tweeting and all is quiet!


12 thoughts on “Building Owners guide to Red Stickering

  1. Hi
    I live in England and am writing an article on Christchurch’s recovery for an on-line magazine for students aged 16 – 18 studying Geography at “A” Level ( a qualification needed to enter University ).
    Over the last week I have read every post on your Blog and followed the links as preparation.
    It must have been cathartic writing the entries during your difficulties. I admire your tenacity and hope you get what you want in the future.
    Best wishes

    • Hi Richard. I feel honoured that you read the whole lot. This blog was started as an attempt to keep a historical record. It became a way of telling the city what was happening to one small slightly crazy building owner with a Heritage building. (Heritage in NZ means anything older than 100 years, which is a bit of a laugh really). Yes you are correct, writing it has been cathartic. But really I do it to tell CERA and the “powers that be” what a bunch of idiots they are. Government do not make good recovery specialists. They took too much control and did not take the CBD building owners with them. My views are more openly expressed than most of the other building owners, I have a very healthy disrespect for authority. There are very few building owners in my situation now as most of the Heritage buildings in the city have been demolished. One of the issues I rarely touch on is that we are still running our business from this building. This is about survival and paying the rates and power bill and feeding the family.
      Thank you for your interest. Regards Nicky

  2. Kia Ora

    I read this as a person who did postgrad natural hazards at University of Canterbury, and can totally understand and sympathise with your experience. I also read as one who has been in Christchurch for every magnitude 6.0+ event, all but two of the magnitude 5.0-5.9’s, nearly all of the magnitude 4.0-4.9’s and *most* of the magnitude 3.0’s.

    I suppose by now you are probably thinking a psychologist would probably have a field day asking you to describe the effects it had on you as property owners. It may or may not be cathartic to just let it all come out – what you haven’t already grumbled, screamed, cried, yelled, muttered or growled to anyone who would listen.

    But a couple of comments about your ABC guide:

    1) First, well done for trying to do one.

    2) Expect a C.E.R.A. style Act of Parliament to be attempted. Whether or not a future one relating to a future disaster occurs or not will in part depend on how the existing one is viewed – I opposed it because I thought it was rushed, too dictatorial and ignored conventions on post disaster recovery.

    3) Regarding your #14. Best if this is read in the day time and not just before bed. You may/not be aware of the underlying geology of Christchurch and the concept of a sedimentary box, bounded by a fault or faults crudely on all four sides. If we use Christchurch as an example you have the Greendale fault to the west, the Port Hills Fault to the south. There are various faults in Pegasus Bay, plus the Kaiapoi Fault to the north. The Greendale Fault (the western side)only partially ruptured (you can draw a rough line between its eastern end near Rolleston and the Port Hills Fault. Are they connected? Don’t know, but if they are, that means the Greendale Fault is not finished).

    Basically it ain’t over, yet…

    4) Sometimes it seems councils are only good at half baked planning decisions. All too often that is true, but there is a reason. Councils are cramped by a combination of rate payer pressures to keep rates down, a reluctance of elected councils to properly staff their planning/policy sections and – a personal view from the son of one planner who has more than 20 years experience with the R.M.A. – the constant fiddling with the Act by Members of Parliament who should just leave the damn thing alone.

    Kudos for the blog. Look forward to seeing more posts from you.



    • Thanks Robert. I am worried that the psychologists will have a field day with me. I am sure some one will recommend counselling.
      Your comments about the ongoing quakes mirror what my Engineer says. Greendale/ port hills fault rupturing will not be pretty. I had not really thought of the sedimentary box concept, Let alone even thinking of the alpine fault. Thanks for the clarification. But you are right its not over.
      I suspect that councils and governments will always struggle with disaster recovery and citizens will always be dissatisfied with progress or the lack of it. And there will always be a grumpy building owner. Thanks for your thoughts


  3. Dear Nick,

    This is such depressing reading. I wish you weren’t stuck in both home and business. I’m still waiting to hear if I’m a repair or rebuild.

    We go on…

    Cheers Maria (Gina’s Mum 😉

    • Hi Maira, it is nice to hear from you. I really feel for you. It is much easier once you have a decision the waiting for a decision regarding repair or a rebuild just does your head in. It is very very stressful. I hope your living conditions are okay. It takes so much energy to keep hassling the Insurance companies but that is what works the best. Sorry if the blogs depressing reading. We are actually reasonably cheerful about it all. We now are trying to treat the whole situation as a big joke, Other wise we go mad. I must confess we could make a long running soap opera about the situation in CHCH. Hey drop past when you are around and I will pop the kettle on! regards Nicky

  4. Was you ‘old dunger’ strengthened before the earthquakes. A number of unreinforced masonry buildings that had been strengthened survived the earthquakes well e.g. the Holy Smoke Smoke House in Ferry road (two storied and very close to the epicentre, ChCh Boys’ High (two plus stories with a clock tower)

    • Hi, we had all the reinforcing steel for the strengthening made and in the “galvanising bath” on the 4th of September. Bad timing! Between Sept 2010 and Feb 2011 we rushed to get all the steel in. We ran out of time unfortunately, and did not finish the first floor. February came and we were locked out for 3 months. We managed to get a 2 week pass in May 11 and installed the final steel upstairs. We thought we were looking good! Then we had June… at this time our neighbours frontage fell taking part of ours. The rest of the building that had the steel installed did very well! You are correct, most of the buildings that had any sort of strengthening did really well. Often it was just a case of sorting out the parapets. The reason the Duncans Buildings have survived is that 6 of them had been strengthened prior to the quakes. Looks like we have managed to keep most of them up in spite of CERA.


  5. Pingback: Wellington edition of Shaky Town Blues, a guide to abandoned and derelict buildings. Part 191 | ShakyTown Blues

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