In early August 2013 the Building and Construction Minister announced the Government's policy to deal with earthquake-prone buildings in response to the recommendations of the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission.  The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill was introduced to Parliament in December 2013 to amend the Building Act 2004 in order to improve the system for managing earthquake prone buildings.

The main provisions of the Bill include:

  • Requiring territorial authorities to undertake a seismic capacity assessment of existing non-residential buildings and multi-storey and multi-unit residential buildings in their districts within 5 years from commencement (with certain buildings to be prioritised for assessment) using a methodology to be specified and published by the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment ("MBIE").
  • Creating a public register of building seismic capacity to be maintained by MBIE.
  • Clarifying the current threshold for defining an earthquake-prone building, including that it applies to parts of buildings as well as whole buildings.
  • Clarifying that the level of work required for earthquake-prone buildings is only such that the building, or the affected part, is no longer earthquake-prone.
  • Requiring work on existing earthquake-prone buildings to be undertaken within a single national time frame - within 20 years of the legislation taking effect (ie assessment by territorial authorities within 5 years and work completed within 15 years of assessment) and enabling territorial authorities to apply to the District Court to carry out or complete seismic works where the owner has either failed to do so by the required time or is taking too long to do so.
  • Allowing for an additional 10 year period (on the timeframes above) for re-strengthening and demolition works for owners of earthquake-prone heritage buildings.
  • Introducing offences for failing to comply with seismic work notices with corresponding fines of up to $200,000.
  • Providing that owners of buildings that are Category 1 historic places under the Historic Places Act 1993 may apply to the relevant territorial authority for an extension of up to 10 years to complete the work, and the owners must manage risk if an extension is granted.
  • Enabling territorial authorities (that are building consent authorities) to issue building consents for required work on buildings that are earthquake prone without requiring other upgrades (for access and facilities for people with disabilities and for means of escape from fire).

As an initial stance, Local Government New Zealand ("LGNZ") has criticised the lack of flexibility of the Bill to account for differences between local authorities and in its "one size fits all" approach to earthquake-prone buildings and public safety.  LGNZ considers that this approach fails to acknowledge the differences between local authorities (in terms of different social and economic needs or the time and costs of assessing buildings), which means that compliance with the Bill will be more difficult for some local authorities than it will be for others.

The Bill has now been referred to Select Committee and public submissions are being received until 17 April 2014. Please feel free to contact our team to discuss the potential implications of the Bill on your property or if you are interested in lodging a submission.