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NZ Govt sets deadline for quake strengthening buildings

Property Here - Wednesday, August 07, 2013

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The Government has set a deadline of 20 years for assessing 193,000 buildings for earthquake risk and strengthening them.

Housing and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson said all commercial buildings and high-rise, multi-unit apartments in New Zealand will have to be assessed for earthquake risk within 5 years.

Any building found to be at risk of collapse will have to be strengthened or demolished within another 15 years under the proposed policy, which forms the Government's response to a Royal Commission investigation into earthquake-prone buildings after the Canterbury quakes.

Government had initially proposed that these buildings had to be strengthened within 10 years, but Mr Williamson said the cost to property owners would have been too great.

Category 1 heritage building will get extensions of 10 years on this national time-frame.

The strengthening requirements would remain the same - owners would have to upgrade to 34 percent of the new building standard.

Unreinforced masonry buildings resulted in the death of 39 people in the February 22, 2011 earthquake in Christchurch.

The commission found there was poor information on earthquake-prone buildings in New Zealand, lack of central guidance on defining and repairing these structures, and variable council approaches to fixing the problem.

Only 23 of 66 local authorities were able to tell the commission how many earthquake-prone buildings were in their area.

There was an estimated 15,000 to 25,000 buildings which were at risk of collapse in a moderate-sized tremor.

Mr Williamson emphasized that property owners who upgraded their buildings would benefit from a higher property value, higher rent, and lower insurance premiums.

The commission recommended that earthquake-prone buildings should be strengthened to 50 per cent of the building code.

Property Council New Zealand said it appeared the Government had listened to many submitters that reiterated the spiralling cost of strengthening work.

"We support the Government in its objective to balance the cost of strengthening or removal with protecting people from harm by maintaining the current standard of strengthening required for earthquake-prone buildings,'' chief executive Connal Townsend said.

The Property Council said any central register of quake-prone buildings, maintained by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, must be accurate and up to date.

"Inaccurate information can have significant ramifications on property values, obtaining insurance, finance and retaining tenants,'' Mr Townsend said.

Advocacy group BusinessNZ, however, said the policy changes don't adequately address the concerns of business and local communities.

Chief executive Phil O'Reilly said the policy contains no provision for compensation for affected building owners.

"This one-size-fits-all requirement doesn't take account of local conditions,'' he said.

"Local authorities should be able to deal with earthquake risk according to their local risk profile so that rational trade-offs can be made by communities most likely to be affected by earthquake-prone buildings.''