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Loss and lessons of Cyclone Gabrielle

25 May 2023

Cyclone Gabrielle had a devastating impact on various regions throughout the North Island with people’s homes damaged, and in some cases, destroyed. At the forefront of the response were residential property managers — coming to the rescue for tenants and landlords alike. REINZ property management members from two of the most affected regions; Auckland and Hawke’s Bay, tell us their stories and the harsh lessons that came with it.

Aucklanders caught off-guard

Author: Deb McKinnie, General Manager of Residential Property Management, Harcourts Cooper & Co

After spending most of my career involved in residential property management, I tend to think I’ve seen almost everything. My view has been corrected twice in recent years — once when the country was plunged into a total lockdown in March 2020, and the other was watching our city brought to its knees on 27 January this year as Auckland was inundated with torrential rain of an unprecedented level. One of the most striking aspects of the Auckland floods was how suddenly and unexpectedly they occurred. Most Auckland residents were caught off-guard as the heavy rainfall resulted in flash floods that rapidly inundated their homes. Unlike slow-rising floods that allow for some preparation, the speed of the rising water and power of the flash floods was incredibly destructive, causing significant damage in a short amount of time.

Tenants didn’t have enough time or warning to move their belongings or take preventive measures to protect their homes, resulting in extensive losses and damage to both their belongings and the owner’s property.

Desperate calls for emergency accommodation

The sudden nature of the flooding also added to the challenges faced by tenants — particularly evacuation and finding temporary accommodation. With little time to plan or prepare, tenants had to quickly evacuate their homes — some in the middle of the night — leaving behind their possessions and valuables. Accommodation in the Auckland market is challenging at the best of times with the list of families needing emergency accommodation growing every year. Finding suitable temporary accommodation at such short notice created an immediate surge in demand.

Residents of our city had no option other than to rely on the support of friends and family, many of whom themselves were impacted by the floods. The emotional and logistical stress of the situation touched everyone in the city.

The floods have had a significant impact on the mental health and emotional wellbeing of both tenants and owners. This traumatic event left many with fear and anxiety. We dealt first-hand with many families trying to cope with the emotional distress of losing their homes, belongings, and sense of security in a short amount of time. Together with the practical challenges of displacement and property damages, this can have long-term effects on tenants' mental health and wellbeing.

Questioning preparedness and response measures

As a business working in the space of providing a roof over people’s heads, we were no doubt among the first to raise questions about preparedness and response measures. We, (and our tenants), were unaware of the flood risks in their area and without timely warnings or information from authorities, were unable to offer any information as the rain became heavier and continued through the night. Justifiably so, this has sparked discussions on the need for improved infrastructure, flood mitigation measures, and communication protocols to better prepare and respond to such emergencies in the future. Ensuring that tenants have access to accurate and timely information about flood risks, evacuation procedures, and available resources can help them make informed decisions and take necessary actions to protect themselves and their belongings.

It's the worst-kept secret that working in residential property management is often a thankless job that rarely receives the recognition it deserves. However, listening to the calls of my team as they raced out of their own flooded homes to go and help our tenants and their families (and even haul livestock out of flooding farming properties) was evidence of the need faced by those we seek to assist, and the commitment required to operate at that level.

The ongoing impacts

While I experienced immense pride in my teams’ loyalty to our owners and tenants, in many cases they were trying to fill gaps in our response and insurance sectors simply to try and progress as many issues, as quickly as possible. Now, four months on and with many properties still not fully assessed or with insurance claims still pending approval, the delay continues to wreak havoc on the mental health of tenants, property owners, tradespeople, and those working in property management.

Let’s hope that these floods, labelled a ‘one in 200-year event’, are in fact just that, as without improvements to the warning system, response times from insurers and improvements to those processes in unprecedented circumstances, communications from local and central government, support for those impacted as well as recognition for those working tirelessly in an increasingly challenging industry — there are few that could cope with another event any time soon.

The volume of residents facing displacement, property damages, and emotional distress in a short amount of time has highlighted the need for improved preparedness, response measures, and support systems for tenants facing such emergencies. As Auckland and its residents continue to recover from the floods, it is crucial to prioritise the wellbeing and needs of tenants and work towards building more resilient and inclusive communities. This includes not only addressing the immediate challenges faced by tenants but also addressing the underlying issues of housing affordability, availability, and preparedness to better protect and support vulnerable tenants in the face of natural disasters.


Horror in the Hawke’s Bay

Author: Jamie Richardson, Regional Manager – Hawke’s Bay, Oxygen

Valentine's Day 2023 was a day like no other. I'll remember it, and many Hawke's Bay people will remember it forever. Not for the flowers or the chocolates but for the sheer terror Cyclone Gabrielle unleashed on our poor region.

I'm sure many people went to bed on the night of Monday 13 February, thinking similar thoughts: a few roof leaks, some surface flooding, a few trees down, how bad can it be? Before we knew it, we experienced immense rainfall and wind, and then flash flooding. People woke up to the sound of running water, in pitch black darkness with no power. I don't think our community really understood the magnitude of this once-in-a-lifetime weather event.

Of course, as a property management company, Oxygen has procedures in place for almost any scenario — and in New Zealand, we're no stranger to extreme weather!

The preparation and steps we took on 13 February were important, with each property manager taking the time to touch base with owners and notify our tenants of the upcoming change in weather. We recommended that they tie or secure loose items around their properties and call us immediately if they had concerns regarding leaks, surface flooding, or damage.

Besides our immediate families and properties, the wellbeing and safety of our tenants, owners, their properties, and our tradespeople were our number one priority. After all, this is the most important piece to our puzzle — we work in the people industry. 

Coming together for the community

On Wednesday 15 February, our property management team, mainly based in Hastings and Havelock North, immediately sprang into action. We knew we had the safety and wellbeing of our tenants, owners, properties, and tradespeople to consider, and we spent days contacting everyone on our database. Are they safe? Are they warm? How are they feeling, and how could we help?

We have two Napier-based team members we couldn't get in contact with, and we were very worried for them and their families. We were also unable to contact half of our tenants and owners who were on the "other side" in Napier, which was very scary. 

Emotions running high along with adrenaline is what drove my team as well as our communities to help in any way possible. Knowing the make-up of our people and what they needed straight away was support, a friendly voice, a hug, or a smile.

In the following days, our team showed true leadership and team spirit as they worked together to support our owners, tenants, and tradespeople in affected areas, all while looking after and managing their flood-affected properties. 

Above all else, I've learned a lot about my team following the cyclone. They are resilient, dedicated, and most of all, caring towards not only our Oxygen clients but our entire Hawke's Bay community.

I felt so proud of them as they were out helping to clean up properties with friends and whānau, as well as secure rental properties for families displaced by the floods.

Fortunately, we were lucky to have only two rental properties considered "red-stickered" properties.

We will have a tough and long journey ahead, but I know we can do it. Together as a community, we are determined to help get Hawke's Bay back on its feet.