OWNERS of earthquake-prone buildings in medium and high seismic risk areas in New Zealand may face hefty fines or have their buildings demolished if the issues with their properties are not remedied within specified time frames, new legislation dictates.
The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act 2016 came into force on July 1.
Southland Express reporter PETRINA WRIGHT spoke with Invercargill City Council development liaison manager Simon Tonkin to find out what these changes could mean for Invercargill’s commercial property owners.
“IF you were in Christchurch [after the 2010-2011 earthquakes] and saw the devastation, you would say the legislation doesn’t go far enough… [the requirement to strengthen earthquake-prone buildings up to] a third of the building code is too low,” Mr Tonkin said.
“But Christchurch and Kaikoura is a signal to us that we are susceptible to earthquakes in areas where we didn’t think there was an earthquake risk, so on that hand we have got to say removing dangers on the streets for people has to be a good thing.”
Mr Tonkin said under the new rules, councils in high-risk zones had two and a-half years and councils in medium zones had five years from when the legislation came into effect in which to identify “priority buildings”.
Invercargill is classified as a medium seismic risk zone. Southland district consists of high, medium and low seismic risk zones.
Priority buildings are commercial buildings located in areas of medium or high seismic risk, including hospital buildings needed in an emergency, pre-1935 and pre-1976 buildings which meet certain criteria located along strategic transport routes used in an emergency or along high-volume public roads and footpaths on to which unreinforced masonry, such as chimneys and parapets, could fall in an earthquake.
Under the new legislation, owners of priority buildings in medium-risk areas are required to upgrade their properties within 12 years and six months from the date the council issues them with an earthquake-prone notice. Owners of category one heritage-listed buildings may be eligible for an extension. Owners of earthquake-prone buildings which have not been identified as priority buildings have 25 years after they receive an earthquake-prone notice in which to strengthen their properties. If owners fail to complete the seismic work within the specified time frames, they can be fined up to $200,000 or have their building demolished under the new law requirements.
“If you don’t upgrade your building the law states it will be demolished,” Mr Tonkin said.
“I don’t expect any owners of heritage buildings or other buildings would come to that.”
Mr Tonkin said staff would identify priority buildings, and it would then go out for public consultation in September/October before being approved by the council.
He did not know how many buildings in Invercargill would be affected at this stage, as the Government was still to release the guidelines and regulations associated with the amended legislation, he said.
Another change under the new legislation was for all engineers to follow a standard procedure when assessing buildings’ earthquake risk.
Mr Tonkin said previously there had been situations where engineers’ reports had varied widely, a variance of 80% at times, which had caused confusion, so engineers being required to follow a prescribed procedure was welcomed.
“We want the engineers to give us a consistent, robust report.
“We are happiness-filled over that.”
The Invercargill City Council conducted a survey in 2014 proposing several possible incentives the council could offer commercial property owners in the CBD to support them to strengthen their properties, such as rates relief, waiver of council fees, grants and low-interest loans.
Mr Tonkin said as far as he was aware, the council had not yet made any decisions regarding this.
Buildings exempt under the Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act 2016
Residential properties (except three-storey buildings used as hostels, boarding houses of other specialised accommodation or properties containing three or more household units)
Wharves, bridges, tunnels
Building that is a dam
Part of a building that is a dam
Stand-alone retaining wall