A Nelson couple say they feel bullied and stressed after National MP Judith Collins filed a lawsuit over a landslip that happened almost eight years ago.
Collins and her husband David Wong-Tung are suing the Nelson City Council along with Ashley Cooper and Ingrid Penfold, seeking $180,000 for remedial works and lost rental income, plus other costs, after the slip in the 2011 Nelson floods damaged their property.
Collins and Wong-Tung own a heritage-listed 1880s cottage in Nelson’s Haven Rd that sits below the Queens Rd property owned by Cooper and Penfold’s company.
In a statement of claim to the Nelson High Court, Collins and Wong-Tung say the slip in December 2011 saw the house declared unable to be occupied without remedial work.
The pair got a $39,500 Earthquake Commission payout but say it was not enough to reinstate the land. They estimate another $110,0000 is needed to repair the property and in the meantime they have lost $67,000 in rental income.
Cooper and Penfold say they remediated their land following the slip with the work signed off by council. They were shocked to learn they were facing civil action in December 2017, almost six years after the incident.
“We were handed a summons saying they were suing us for damage to their land and loss of income, we had no idea there was an issue, as far as we were aware everything was remedied and it just came completely out of the blue,” Cooper said.
“The stress has been unbelievable.”
Collins was the Minister of Justice when the slip occurred and Cooper wondered if she had waited until National were no longer in Government before taking legal action.
“When we found out who it was that was suing us it made us even more worried because obviously the connections, the money these people have got and the power and the influence.”
Cooper had a stress disorder which he suffered from prior to the slip but had since been hospitalised twice for.
“It’s really badly damaged us, emotionally, financially, we just don’t have the money to go up against these sorts of people.”
Cooper said since the slip he had not once been approached by Collins or Wong-Tung. It also appeared they had done no structural work on their land to stop further slips from occurring.
“They are saying they are concerned about future slips and stuff not being done correctly but they waited six years to even try to remedy the problem.
“We personally don’t think we have done anything wrong, everything was signed off by the council and the engineers.”
Cooper and Penfold bought their Stepneyville home which overlooks Port Nelson in May 2011.
They were aware there were outstanding issues with the property. An Earthquake Commission payment had been made to the previous owners for work needed to stabilise the land, except it hadn’t been done.
“We were aware of that, it wasn’t hidden from us. So when we bought there was work that had to be carried out for us to insure the property, and we were actively trying to get the work done as soon as possible,” Cooper said.
They applied for building consent to make alterations to the property in July 2011, including the removal of a sun room and the installation of a deck. Before granting consent, the Nelson City Council requested a geotechnical report be undertaken.
The report which came back in August noted that ineffective stormwater control and a yard sump were likely to have exacerbated movement on the slope below and that the landslide risk on the property was currently high.
Cooper said they had been unable to start work until they had the building consent, but in order for that to be granted they had to wait for geotechnical and engineers reports.
Cooper who himself is a builder, said they were about six weeks into the work when heavy rain that began on December 14 caused widespread flooding and significant damage across the region, prompting a state of emergency.
During the deluge, a major slip occurred on the land above Haven Rd. As the rain continued, the slip got closer and closer to Cooper and Penfold’s property, ending up about a metre from their house and taking away two of the retaining piles from the new deck.
Information from NIWA showed 160 houses were evacuated in Nelson due to flooding or landslides, there were more than 200 slips in the wider region and insurance claims from the event totalled $16.8 million.
The flooding in Nelson was described as a one in 250 year event, with 329 millimetres of rain falling at The Brook and 205 mm at Richmond over a 24-hour period.
The couple said they had since undertaken the work needed to remediate the site, which included installing a large retaining wall as directed by council and engineers.
“When the slip happened we had to put in a retaining wall and stabilise the house and we had to fund that ourselves, we had no EQC payout or insurance cover,” Penfold said.
The ordeal had left them feeling intimidated and bullied and had been “financially crippling”.
It had been a case of “scrimping and saving” to make ends meet. They estimated they had spent more than $50,000 on the repairs, not including the time spent by Cooper and others working on the property.
Cooper said the contractors had been very supportive and had agreed to wait until the couple had the funds to make payment.
Now, they were spending thousands of dollars a month on legal bills.
“If it goes to the High Court we are talking six digits, we have been warned about that. So where does that leave us?” Penfold said.
Cooper said he hoped the matter could be resolved at mediation, scheduled for next week.
Nelson City Council acting group manager environmental management Matt Heale said there was little it could say given the matter was before the courts but confirmed council would be defending the charges.
He said the Haven Road property was issued with a notice under the building act preventing it from being reoccupied on December 23, 2011. That notice had not yet been lifted.
Collins had not responded to requests for comment.
If an agreement couldn’t be reached in mediation, the case would be heard in the High Court.