Earthquake-prone Buildings – new legislation in the pipeline

April 22, 2014

in Property

Property: Unit Titles Act 2010The Government has introduced a Bill which proposes to amend the current legislation. The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill proposes to amend the Building Act 2004 to give effect to reforms announced in August 2013 to improve the system for managing earthquake prone buildings.

Regardless of the final form this legislation will take, this will have a significant impact on commercial building owners. It covers all existing non residential buildings together with multi-story and multi-unit residential buildings. Although the legislation evolved as a result of the Christchurch earthquakes this legislation will impact building owners throughout the country. This will be particularly significant in towns and cities that have older heritage precincts. For example, the Vulcan Lane and High Street areas of central Auckland and the significant number of older buildings in central Dunedin.

Proposed amendments in the Bill include:

  • Requiring Councils to undertake a seismic capacity assessment of existing non residential buildings and multi-story and multi-unit residential buildings in their districts within 5 years from commencement using a methodology to be specified and published by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment;
  • Requiring work on existing earthquake prone buildings to be undertaken within a single national timeframe, being within 20 years of the legislation taking effect (that is, assessment by Councils within 5 years and work completed within 15 years of that assessment).
  • Certain buildings will be prioritised for assessment. Priority buildings will be defined in the regulations as buildings likely to have a significant impact on public safety (for example, buildings with high risk elements such as falling hazards) and strategically important buildings (for example, buildings on transport routes identified as critical in an emergency).
  • Owners of buildings that are category 1 historic places under the current Historic Places Act 1993 legislation may apply to the relevant council for an extension of up to ten years to complete the work.
  • The establishment of a publicly available national register on the seismic capacity of buildings.

Although the timeframes for compliance appear reasonably generous there will be significant costs imposed on building owners where buildings do not meet the minimum strengthening requirements. An earthquake prone building is defined as one that is less than 34% of the new building standard. This definition of an earthquake prone building does take into account a range of factors including different levels of seismic risk around New Zealand. This means a building at 33% in Wellington, where there is relatively high seismic risk, is stronger (in absolute terms) than a building at 33% in Auckland or Dunedin where the seismic risk is lower.

We will continue to monitor and keep you up to date as this Bill progresses through Parliament.

We are specialists in all aspects of commercial property providing strategic advice to landlords and tenants and to vendors and purchasers of commercial property.

If you require any advice or further information on the matters dealt with in this publication please contact the lawyer at Farry and Co. who normally advises you, or alternatively contact:

Simon Milne

03 477 8870  or  09 379 0055


The information contained in this publication is intended as a guide only.  It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.  Professional advice should be sought before applying any of the information to particular circumstances.  While every reasonable care has been taken in the preparation of this publication, Farry and Co. does not accept liability for any errors it may contain. 

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