Proposed earthquake-prone buildings law change - Take 2

Real Estate Update

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In the wake of the Canterbury earthquakes, and at the recommendation of the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission, the Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill (Bill) was introduced to Parliament on 11 December 2013. It seeks to amend the Building Act 2004 by improving the system for managing earthquake-prone buildings.

On 2 September 2015, the Local Government and Environment Committee (Select Committee) released its report on the Bill. The Select Committee considered public submissions, as well as advice from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the Parliamentary Counsel Office and the Regulations Review Committee. 

As a result of this process, the Select Committee is recommending a number of changes to the Bill, which would significantly alter the version initially released. The main changes include: 

  • Defining areas of New Zealand as either high, medium or low seismic risk areas.
  • Aligning identification and remediation timeframes of earthquake-prone buildings with seismic risk around New Zealand. Territorial authorities will have 5, 10 or 15 years for identification of potentially earthquake-prone buildings in areas of high, medium and low seismic risk respectively, and building owners will have a further 15, 25 or 35 years to carry out seismic work (strengthen or demolish). 
  • Clarifying the definition of earthquake-prone building so that it includes buildings that pose a risk to people near them or on other properties, not just people within the building itself. It also excludes farm buildings, retaining walls, fences, monuments, wharves, bridges, tunnels and storage tanks. 
  • Requiring earthquake-prone buildings to be upgraded when substantial alterations are being undertaken. Where there are substantial alterations, territorial authorities will be able to require building owners to carry out strengthening works, in addition to other alterations, so that the building (or the affected part) is no longer earthquake-prone. Criteria for assessing whether an alteration is substantial will be set out in the regulations. 
  • Prioritising hospital buildings, school buildings, emergency service facilities, parts of unreinforced masonry buildings that could fall onto busy thoroughfares in an earthquake, and buildings that have the potential to impede strategic transport routes, in areas of high and medium seismic risk, by requiring these to be identified and addressed within half the standard time. 
  • Creating a nationwide earthquake-prone building register to provide the public with information about earthquake-prone buildings. 
The Bill will now be considered by Parliament when it is called for its second reading. If you have any questions, or require further information regarding any aspect of this update, please contact us. To read our take 1 overview of the Bill, please see our December 2013 update.

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