New system for managing earthquake-prone buildings

Posted: 31 May 2017

Protecting people from harm is the primary objective of a new system for managing earthquake-prone buildings that is expected to take effect from 1 July this year.

The new system will change the way earthquake-prone buildings are identified and managed. The changes will be introduced through the Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act 2016 (the Amendment Act). 

The changes are important for councils, building owners, engineers and building users.

The Amendment Act will create a single national policy framework for managing earthquake-prone buildings. It categorises New Zealand into three seismic risk areas and sets timeframes, based on seismic risk, for identifying, strengthening or removing earthquake-prone buildings.

It will also provide more information for people using buildings. Councils will be required to identify potentially earthquake-prone buildings, issue earthquake-prone building notices and publish information about earthquake-prone buildings in a public register.

Building owners will be required to display notices if an engineering assessment confirms their building is earthquake-prone.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) will publish a methodology that will help councils and engineers identify and assess earthquake-prone buildings.

“Earthquake-prone buildings are a potential risk to people and other property in earthquakes,” says John Gardiner, MBIE Manager Determinations and Assurance, who is managing the implementation of the Amendment Act.

“The changes in the Amendment Act are designed to manage and reduce the risk to people – be they occupants or passers-by. The law focuses on the most vulnerable buildings, in terms of the risk to public safety.”

The Amendment Act will apply to non-residential buildings and residential buildings that are two storeys or more, have three or more household units or are used as a hostel, boarding house or other form of specialised accommodation. However certain buildings with a low risk to life safety such as farm buildings, retaining walls, fences and monuments are excluded.

Under the Amendment Act, certain types of earthquake-prone buildings that are considered a higher risk are called ‘priority buildings’. The ‘priority buildings’ category applies in high and medium seismic risk areas. The seismic risk areas are based on the seismic hazard (Z) factor set in New Zealand Standard 1170 and the map is indicative only.

A map of the seismic risk areas is available on the MBIE Corporate website.

Priority buildings are considered higher risk, because of their construction, type, use or location. Councils will need to consult their community to help identify routes with priority buildings.

Priority buildings must be identified, strengthened or demolished in shorter time frames than other buildings. The two tables below shows the time frames.

Seismic risk areaTAs must identify potentially earthquake-prone buildings within:Owners must strengthen or demolish earthquake –prone buildings within the timeframes below (from the date the EPB notice is issued):
Priority Other Priority Other
High 2.5 years 5 years 7.5 years 15 years
Medium 5 years 10 years 12.5 years 25 years
Low N/A 15 years N/A 35 years

When the council identifies potentially earthquake-prone buildings, building owners will be required to commission an engineering assessment on their building within 12 months from the date the council notice is issued.

If the building is confirmed as earthquake-prone then the owner must take action within the relevant time-frame to strengthen or demolish their building. Depending on their circumstance, they may be able to apply for an extension or an exemption from this requirement.

“The aim is to strike an appropriate balance between protecting people from harm in an earthquake, the impacts on heritage and the costs of strengthening or removing earthquake-prone buildings,” says John.

“We will be working with councils and engineers over the coming months to help them with the transition to the new system, and providing information for building owners.”

Managing earthquake-prone buildings has more information.

This information is published by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Chief Executive. It is a general guide only and, if used, does not relieve any person of the obligation to consider any matter to which the information relates according to the circumstances of the particular case. Expert advice may be required in specific circumstances. Where this information relates to assisting people: