The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act 2016 (the Act) received royal assent on 13 May 2016. After a lengthy Parliamentary process, the Building Act has been updated to balance the risk posed by earthquake-prone buildings with the significant cost and impact on heritage of upgrading those buildings.

The key amendments to the Building Act include:

Definition of earthquake-prone building

Buildings will be categorised earthquake-prone if, in the case of a moderate earthquake:

  • Their ultimate capacity is likely to be exceeded
  • A resulting collapse is likely to cause injury to a person or damage to property.

'Moderate earthquake' and 'ultimate capacity' will be defined in the regulations which will take into account the location of the building and its method of construction. If deemed earthquake-prone, the territorial authority will serve the building owner with an earthquake-prone building notice (EPB notice).

The methodology for determining whether a building is earthquake-prone will be decided by 13 June 2016.

Categorisation of earthquake risk

Previous iterations of the earthquake strengthening legislation were viewed as being unnecessarily one size fits all. To avoid this, the Act now divides the country into three distinct categories of earthquake risk.

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The Act also creates a new category of building called 'Priority Buildings' which require urgent strengthening. Examples of Priority Buildings include:

  • Hospitals and other buildings used by emergency services
  • Schools and other buildings which are regularly inhabited by 20 or more people
  • Buildings whose collapse could lead to masonry falling onto public roads or footpaths.

The effects of a building's seismic zone and categorisation as a priority or non-priority building are as follows:

  • High seismic risk - must be assessed within two years and six months for priority buildings and five years for other buildings. If an EPB notice is issued, remedial work must be completed within seven years and six months for a Priority Building and 15 years for any other building
  • Medium seismic risk - must be assessed within five years for priority buildings and 10 years for other buildings. If an EPB notice is issued, remedial work must be completed within 12 years and six months for a Priority Building and 25 years for any other building
  • Low seismic risk - must be assessed within 15 years and remedial work must be completed within 35 years after the issuance of an EPB notice.

Exemptions

The Act makes some provision for owners of earthquake-prone buildings to apply for an exemption to carrying out the required seismic work. It also allows for owners of certain heritage buildings to apply for an extension to the seismic work completion deadline.

Transitional provisions

The Act introduces a number of transitional provisions that apply to buildings which have already been deemed earthquake-prone. The intended effect of the transitional regime is to preserve existing deadlines with two exceptions:

  • If later under the old regime, existing deadlines will be brought forward to be in line with the new regime
  • Existing deadlines can be extended if the deadline under the new regime is later; and the owner applies for the extension.

Conclusion

The Act will provide a comprehensive framework for the identification and rectification of earthquake-prone buildings. While the Act will enforce mandatory seismic strengthening on some building owners, the timeframes have been adjusted so that they better reflect the risk of an earthquake affecting each building. This will come as a relief to owners of buildings in areas of low seismic activity, as the timeframe for seismic strengthening work has been injected with a degree of realism.

The full Act can be found here.