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Our dream home turned into a nightmare

By This is Gloucestershire  |  Posted: April 05, 2010

James Meyer

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​A COUPLE’S dream has turned into a nightmare after tree roots caused gaping cracks in the walls of their home.

Now James Meyer and Linda Camp, who bought their home in Eldorado Road, Cheltenham, for £1.5 million in April 2008, have been told they cannot claim on their insurance.

Thinking it was the ideal place to spend their retirement, the couple made plans to renovate part of the detached Edwardian property, starting work to install a kitchen and a patio, where they could sit and enjoy barbecues in the summer.

But when cracks started to appear in the side of the building, they realised tree roots from a neighbouring garden were causing subsidence.

They contacted insurance company Liverpool Victoria, with whom they had taken out a policy on the home, but were shocked to be told it was invalid.

The Bournemouth-based insurance giants claim they should have been told about the subsidence when the policy was submitted – even though the couple had carried out a survey revealing no evidence of the problem.

Mr Meyer, 57, said: “Words cannot express our anger. We did everything by the book. There has been no history of subsidence at the property before, as our survey showed when we bought the house.

“There was evidence of historic movement, but that is common to almost every house of a certain age. Movement and subsidence are two very different things.”

After a long-running dispute with Liverpool Victoria, the couple have not been able to overturn the decision, leaving them more than £50,000 out of pocket.

 They have been forced to live in a tiny portion of the house while the refurbishment project is put on hold, and the part-completed patio is little more than untidy pile of rubble.

Mr Meyer added: “Our dream home is still a long way to becoming a reality.

 “The whole episode has been a nightmare.
“It has put us back by more than a year and driven a coach and horses through our budget.

 “To compound our problems, the house is now uninsurable and would be almost impossible to sell.”

Ms Camp added: “We feel Liverpool Victoria have reneged on a contract we made in good faith.

“We did nothing to mislead them. It doesn’t seem right.”

The couple’s view has been supported by industry professionals.

Gloucester-based structural engineers EPOC said the subsidence had occurred during the lifetime of the policy.

The couple contacted the Financial Ombudsman Service in a bid to overturn LV’s decision, but were told they should have told the company about previous movement at the property.

A letter from the ombudsman said: “Whilst I have genuine sympathy for your predicament, I must reach the view that the insurer is entitled to void your policy from inception.

“It was unreasonable not to disclose information relating to past movement at the property.”

Liverpool Victoria maintains it was right to void the policy – a decision it claims was vindicated by the ombudsman’s findings. Emma Holyer, media relations manager at the company, said: “The customer told us that there was no subsidence on this property even though they were aware of existing problems of this nature.

 “Had we known this, we would never have insured the property.
“And we would have recommended they stay with the previous insurer. The key message for people buying a house is to ensure they get a survey done and make sure they read all the details carefully.”

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    Terry Heath, Cheltenham  |  April 05 2010, 6:40PM

    Any competent surveyor would have called in a specialist civil engineer to examine the possibility of damage as soon as he saw adjacent trees and should have insisted on trial holes being dug to confirm the type of soil and underlying strata. Tree roots and leaking sewers are the main causes of damage.

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    Kay Powell, Tredworth  |  April 05 2010, 4:54PM

    I can't help feeling that we aren't being given the full picture. If Mr. Meyer genuinely had proof that the subsidence was caused by tree roots from a neighbour's garden, then he could have claimed against his neighbour's insurance. It looks as if the foundations of his house simply weren't very good, and that there had been movement over some time, culminating in really bad damage. Very wet or very dry weather can cause this to happen. Tree roots don't have to be involved.

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    Grumpy, Cheltenham  |  April 05 2010, 3:11PM

    Have they sought redress from the company they employed to carry out the survey when purchasing the property?

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    Anon, Glos  |  April 05 2010, 2:08PM

    Nice to see the FOS standing up for the insurers for a change! Fact is you are asked when taking out the policy about movement and subsidence. Mr Meyer admits that he was aware of the "movement" and failed to disclose it. Besides if he can afford 1.5million, he can afford the 50k repairs