Shake up

Shake up

Total Property - Issue 5 2017

New Zealand’s commercial property sector needs to prepare itself for new legislation governing earthquake-prone buildings, writes Peter Liu, director of structural engineering firm EQ Struc Group

New legislation aimed at earthquake-prone buildings (EPBs) comes into effect on July 1, 2017.

The new legislation will ensure that central government provides more leadership and direction for managing earthquake-prone buildings. Territorial authorities (TAs) will no longer be required to develop individual policies for doing this, but will still be responsible for administering the new requirements in their district.

Key highlights of the new legislation:

• Provides guidance from central government and reduces variability in the management of EPBs by TAs.
• Targets high-risk areas and puts vulnerable buildings first.
• Keeps the public informed through mandatory disclosure of earthquake-prone status; and
• Achieves a balance between protecting people from harm, cost of strengthening or removing buildings, and the impact on heritage structures.

Under the new legislation, TAs will have between five and 15 years, depending on the risk zone, to identify buildings that are potentially earthquake-prone and require further assessment by the building owner.

Once confirmed as earthquake-prone, the TAs will issue a notice to be displayed in a prominent place on the building, and information relating to the earthquake vulnerabilities of the building must be kept on a central register. The notice will be issued to the building owner as well as parties that have an involvement in the property such as mortgage or registered encumbrance.

The EPB notice serves two intentions: 1) To inform the public of the risk, and; 2) To motivate building owners to act to remediate their buildings.

What defines an earthquake-prone building?

Under the new legislation, an earthquake-prone building is one that would have its ultimate capacity exceeded in a moderate earthquake and, if the building were to collapse, would be likely to cause injury, death, or damage to another property.

This definition applies to specific features of a building and the building as a whole. In practice, an EPB is often referred to as one that meets less than 34 percent of the new building standard (NBS).

The seismic rating takes into account multiple factors such as level of seismic risk around New Zealand. This results in a building at 33 percent NBS in Wellington being stronger (in absolute terms) than a building at 33 percent NBS in Auckland, where the seismic risk is significantly lower.

What happens when the timeframes are not met?

If the owner does not engage an engineer and provide an assessment of their building to the TA within the 12 month timeframe, the legislation requires that the TA is to proceed as though the building has been deemed as earthquake-prone. Owners who do not meet the timeframe for strengthening an EPB could be convicted and fined up to $200,000.