What does the new earthquake-prone buildings policy mean?

The new Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act 2016 overwrites the Council’s existing earthquake-prone buildings policy. The new legislation came into force on 1 July 2017.

In May 2016, Parliament passed the Buildings (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act. The amendment affects the section of the Act that governs earthquake-prone buildings. An earthquake-prone building is one that is less than one-third of the current structural standard. 

The aim of this legislation is to introduce a nationally consistent approach to the assessment and management of earthquake-prone buildings, along with a standardised notice and national public register of earthquake-prone buildings. This new framework for addressing earthquake-prone buildings is the most comprehensive of any country in the world.

The new legislation overwrites the Council’s existing earthquake-prone buildings policy. The new legislation came into force on 1 July 2017. 

What’s changing?

There will be different time frames for buildings to be assessed and upgraded, depending on the variations in earthquake risk. In high-risk areas, like the east coast of the North Island and west coast of the South Island, strengthening or demolition must be done within 15 years. In medium-risk areas, like Nelson, work must be done within 25 years, and in low-risk areas, like Auckland, within 35 years.

The new law also introduces a new classification of building called priority buildings. These will have to be strengthened in half the standard time and include hospitals, emergency and education buildings. Also included are buildings with unreinforced masonry elements on busy pedestrian and vehicle traffic routes, and buildings that could collapse and block transport routes of strategic importance. The Council will consult with the public to determine these routes. 

Another new requirement is for building owners who are doing a substantial upgrade of an earthquake-prone building to strengthen it to this minimum standard at the same time. 

The new legislation does not change the existing unreinforced masonry (URM) programme. The URM programme is running parallel to the changes to the earthquake-prone legislation.

Notices and timeframes

New earthquake-prone building notices will be issued to replace the existing yellow notices.The Council policy required earthquake-prone buildings to be fixed within 10–20 years. The new legislation specifies a maximum time frame of 15 years, and new notices will be issued to reflect this. This time frame will start from the date of issue of the original notice. Red and orange notices are issued when the original timeframe for the owners to take action is soon to expire or expired. It’s not an indication of the buildings strength against the New Building Standard (NBS). Because of this, there is still work to be done to transfer the red and orange notice process into the new national system. Building owners with a red or orange notice will receive a letter from Council in due course.

Notices with a time frame of less than 15 years will not change unless the building is identified as a priority building. Priority buildings must be fixed within 7.5 years. 

Owners of heritage buildings listed as a Category 1 historic place on the New Zealand heritage list, or included on the National Historic Landmarks, may apply in writing to their local Council for an extension of up to 10 years to complete seismic work. This would then be considered by the local authority taking into account the issues and risks with the building.

Priority buildings

The new legislation requires all councils to consult the public on the identification of high-traffic/ high-pedestrian priority routes. Wellington City Council is now consulting on those routes. See: Earthquake-prone priority buildings

We recently held a public meeting to provide some background information and to answer questions. There are two documents available to view from this:

If you have questions or comments about the meeting or the background power point please email policy.submission@wcc.govt.nz 

A list of priority routes will be available after the consultation process is completed. This process is expected to start early February/March 2018.

Next steps 

Letters will be sent to building owners advising that the Council’s earthquake-prone building policy has been replaced with the new legislation. This letter will also confirm the existing notices remain in effect until new notices are issued. The process of replacing all existing yellow notices is likely to take several months. Different time frames will apply for priority buildings. These new notices will be issued after public consultation has taken place. 

If you have already provided the Council with an engineering assessment of your earthquake-prone building, you will not have to submit it again.

However, if your building is potentially earthquake-prone, we will work with you to determine how the new legislation affects you, and you will need to submit an engineering assessment where appropriate. The criteria for assessing earthquake-prone building is largely the same however the Society of Earthquake Engineers has refined its advice to structural engineers on matters they should consider when assessing buildings as earthquake-prone or not.

More information

For more information visit the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment website