Environmental / Resource Management

Shakin’ up not breakin’ down – the Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill 2013

The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill 2013 (the Bill) amends the Building Act 2004 (the Act) in an effort to improve the system for managing earthquake-prone buildings. The recent earthquake in Wellington has again brought to the fore the importance of protecting against earthquake damage and dangers in building construction and design.

The new system aims to strike a balance between protection of people and buildings, and managing the costs of strengthening and removing buildings. The Bill introduces a new subpart 6A that sets out new definitions, building assessment procedures and local government powers. A greater leadership role is given to central government to make better use of the specific strengths and resources of central and local government.

Key Provisions

Definitions

The Bill includes the same basic definition of "earthquake-prone buildings" as the Act. A building is considered earthquake-prone if it will have its ultimate capacity exceeded in a moderate earthquake and if the building were to collapse in a moderate earthquake, the collapse would be likely to cause injury, death or damage. In the case of existing buildings the Bill tweaks the definition of a "moderate earthquake" to be one that is 1/3 the strength of the earthquake shaking used as the bench mark in the design of a new building at that site on the date of commencement of the Bill. As is the case under the Act, the Bill does not apply to residential buildings unless they have 2 or more levels or 3 or more units. In addition, new sections in the Bill extend and modify the basic definition:

  1. The Bill allows for a part of a building to be declared earthquake-prone.
  2. The Bill provides for "priority buildings" (to be defined in regulations). If a building is earmarked as a "priority building" the territorial authority must prioritise its assessment, and the statutory time frame for completion of required renovations can be shortened.

Seismic Capacity Assessments

The first step in the earthquake proofing process is the completion of seismic capacity assessments of existing buildings by the territorial authority in each district.

The Bill requires the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to develop a methodology for seismic capacity assessments that must specify:

  1. how to assess a building's seismic capacity;
  2. how a territorial authority is to prioritise the assessment of the buildings in its district;
  3. engineering tests from which alternative evidence of seismic capacity can be taken; and
  4. how to evaluate engineering tests completed before the Bill was in force.

Territorial authorities must undertake seismic assessments of all existing buildings in their districts using the process set down in the methodology, within 5 years of the Bill coming into force. On completion of the assessment the territorial authority must provide the owner of each building with a notice informing them of the outcome of the assessment, the work required, and the timeframe within which the work needs to be completed. It must also record each building on the national seismic register.

Generally, required work must be completed within 15 years of the issue of a notice or the building will be demolished. In the case of priority buildings, a shorter timeframe can be specified. In contrast, the owners of category 1 Heritage Buildings can apply for an extension of up to 10 years, taking the maximum timeframe for the completion of required work to 25 years.

It is also possible to apply for an exemption from the requirement to carry out work on a particular building. If an exemption is granted a notice stating that the building is earthquake-prone must be displayed in a prominent place on the building.

Powers and offences

Under the Bill territorial authorities are given a number of powers in relation to earthquake-prone buildings including:

  1. the ability to physically prevent people from accessing earthquake-prone buildings; and
  2. the option to apply to the District Court to carry out seismic work if the owner fails to do so. In this instance the owner of the building will be liable for the cost of that seismic work.

The Bill also sets down four offences relating to the management of earthquake‑prone buildings:

  1. failure to complete seismic work within the required time frame;
  2. failure to comply with safety measures imposed on the building;
  3. failure to attach a seismic notice;
  4. failure to inform the territorial authority if a seismic notice ceases to be attached or becomes illegible.

Conclusion

The Bill provides a strong framework toward ensuring New Zealand's buildings can stand up to seismic shakes. The clarity and quality of the assessment methodology, and the ability for central government, local government and building owners to work together will be instrumental in ensuring that the Bill is able to provide the improved system for managing earthquake-prone buildings it strives to deliver.

The Bill is to be referred to Select Committee early this year, with an opportunity for public submission.

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The contents of this publication are general in nature and are not intended to serve as a substitute for legal advice on a specific matter. In the absence of such advice no responsibility is accepted by Brookfields for reliance on any of the information provided in this publication.

 

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