New Zealand: New legislation requires owners to strengthen their quake-prone buildings

Last Updated: 14 February 2017
Article by David Fitchett


The issue of earthquake-prone buildings remains a hot topic. You may have seen recent reports in the media including:

"Wellington considers new earthquake laws that could cost homeowners thousands" –, 21 January 2017

"Earthquake-prone Hurunui and Marlborough buildings could have just one year to reach building code" –, 25 January 2017

"IRD leaves Wellington office amid quake damage fears" –, 8 February 2017

There has recently been several pieces of legislation enacted which deal with the difficult issue of how to best protect the public from earthquake-prone buildings throughout the country. We summarise each impact of each new law on both the owners and occupiers of commercial and residential properties.

Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act 2016.

The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act 2016 (which we'll refer to as the EPB Act) is expected to come into force on 1 July 2017. At this stage a lot of the practical detail is still unknown as the government is still developing supporting regulations and a methodology as to how earthquake-prone buildings will be identified.

We do know however that the EPB Act will make major changes to the way earthquake-prone buildings will need to be identified and remediated. These changes include:

  • The EPB Act has not made a change to the definition of what is an "earthquake-prone building". Your building will still be deemed to be an earthquake risk if its level of strengthening is below 34% of the standard which would be required for a brand-new building.
  • New Zealand has been divided into three areas, being areas of high, medium and low seismic risk. You will see, for example, that Christchurch and Wellington have been designated as high risk areas. New Risk Zones for Strengthening
  • Certain buildings within the high and medium risk zones are designated as "priority buildings". These include buildings such as schools, emergency service facilities, hospitals, as well as dangerous buildings which are situated along major transport routes. The EPB Act requires that these priority buildings must be identified and strengthened twice as quickly as non-priority buildings within the same risk zone.
  • The risk zone then determines how long building owners will have to identify and then strengthen their buildings to remove the risk of people or property being injured or damaged in the event of a "moderate earthquake".
  • Seismic risk area Councils must identify potentially earthquake-prone buildings within: Once the building is determined as being earthquake prone the owner must strengthen or demolish earthquake prone buildings within:
    Priority Other Priority Other
    High 2 ½ years 5 years 2 ½ years 15 years
    Medium 5 years 10 years 5 years 25 years
    Low Not applicable 15 years Not applicable 35 years


    • The above timeframes run from the date the EPB Act comes into force (currently scheduled to be 1 July 2017).
    • Once a Council has notified a building owner that their building is potentially earthquake-prone the owner will have 1 year to obtain an engineering assessment. The owner will be able to apply for an extension in certain circumstances.
  • The EPB Act states that part of your building can be designated as earthquake prone e.g. a parapet or unreinforced masonry which could become a falling hazard. You could be required to upgrade those parts of your building, even if the rest of your building is otherwise safe.
  • Certain buildings won't need to be strengthened under the act e.g. farm buildings, stand-alone retaining walls, fences.
  • At this stage most residential buildings will also be excluded from the requirements of the EPB Act. However we do know that hostels, boarding houses, specialised accommodation of 2 stories or more, and residential buildings of 2 stories or more that contain more than 2 household units will be targeted by the EPB Act.
  • There are also suggestions that the separate Hurunui/Kaikoura Earthquakes Recovery Act's regulations could be utilised to impose additional requirements on homeowners within certain regions. We discuss the potential impact of that Act below.
  • Owners of other earthquake-prone buildings will be able to apply to their local Council for an exemption from the EPB Act's strengthening requirements. An example could be a seldom used rural church where it is unlikely that people and property would actually be affected.
  • Owners of certain heritage buildings will be able to apply to their local Council to extend the timeframes by a further 10 years.
  • If a building is assessed as earthquake-prone the owner will need to display a notice to that effect on their building. The building will also be listed on a national register of earthquake-prone buildings.

Civil Defence Emergency Management Amendment Act 2016 and the Hurunui/Kaikoura Earthquakes Recovery Act 2016

The Government has also passed an array of other legislation as a result of the 14 November 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake, including the Hurunui/Kaikoura Earthquakes Recovery Act 2016 (hereafter referred to as the HKERA Act) and the Civil Defence Emergency Management Amendment Act 2016(the CDEMA Act). These Acts were primarily brought into force to assist with the recovery of Kaikoura, but they are also having an impact on other regions.

The CDEMA Act also allows Civil Defence controllers to order building owners to carry out earthquake assessments. You may have seen that this power has recently been utilised in Wellington recently where the owners of 80 buildings in Wellington were ordered to have urgent engineering assessments of their buildings completed. This in turn resulted in the 450 staff of the IRD's Wellington office being urgently evacuated after an assessment highlighted concerns about the building.

There is also a suggestion that the new regulations which are currently being prepared to accompany the CDEMA Act may require homeowners in high risk seismic areas to carry out works on their properties. The Wellington Council has suggested that they may look to require their local homeowners to remove chimneys, reinforce foundation piles, and install emergency water tanks on their properties.

The HKERA Act increases the ease by which emergency works can be carried out in the Hurunui and Kaikoura regions by relaxing consenting requirements and timeframes on a case-by-case basis.

The Government has also utilised its emergency powers under the HKERA Act to require building owners within the Wellington, Lower Hutt, Blenheim, Hurunui and Kaikoura regions to secure unreinforced masonry facades and parapets by January 2018. Owners will be able to apply to a fund has been established by the local councils and the Government for up to half of the estimated cost of carrying out this work. As of the end of January 2017 300 buildings had been identified as requiring urgent work, 250 within the Wellington city region.

If you would like further advice as to how the above changes may affect you, then please do not hesitate to contact a member of our expert property team today.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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