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New framework for managing earthquake-prone buildings

Last updated: 12 December 2016

The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act 2016 (the Amendment Act) contains major changes to the current system for identifying and remediating earthquake-prone buildings under the Building Act 2004. Building owners, territorial authorities, engineers, building users and communities can use this information to understand the implications of the new legislation.   

Consultation on regulations and methodology

The Amendment Act is expected to come into effect on 1 July 2017. Proposals for the regulations and a methodology to identify earthquake-prone buildings have been developed. Once in effect, these will collectively support the implementation of the Amendment Act. The proposals for the regulations and the methodology are currently being consulted on, with consultation starting on 2 September and closing on 10 February 2017.

Have your say: Earthquake-prone building regulations and methodology

Key changes – at a glance

The new framework for managing earthquake-prone buildings draws on lessons learned from the Canterbury earthquakes, the findings of the subsequent Royal Commission, and public submissions. It aims to:

  • establish a more effective and nationally consistent framework for identifying and remediating earthquake-prone buildings
  • better target those districts, buildings and parts of buildings that pose the greatest risk
  • provide improved information for territorial authorities (e.g. local councils), building owners, engineers and the public
  • strike an appropriate balance between protecting people from harm in an earthquake, the cost of strengthening or removing earthquake-prone buildings and impacts on heritage.
Diagram: New framework for managing earthquake-prone buildings.
Figure 1: New framework for managing earthquake-prone buildings

It means that:

  • central government provides more leadership and direction for managing earthquake-prone buildings
  • Territorial authorities no longer have to develop individual policies for doing this (as they have done for the past decade since the Building Act 2004 was introduced). However, they will still be responsible for administering the Act’s requirements in their district. 

Structure

These changes are achieved through extensive changes to the Amendment Act, along with:

  • a new suite of regulations, ensuring the legislation is more responsive to risk
  • a new document called the Earthquake-Prone Building methodology (EPB methodology) that describes how territorial authorities can identify potentially earthquake-prone buildings, includes a profiling tool, and also cites the latest engineering guidelines for carrying out seismic assessments
  • a new national register of buildings that are earthquake-prone (EPB register) and information on their earthquake ratings.

The Government has developed proposals for the regulations and EPB methodology, and people have an opportunity to provide their feedback through the consultation process.

View the proposals and information on how to provide a submission on the MBIE Corporate website

Diagram: Structure of the new system for managing earthquake-prone buildings.
Figure 2: Structure for the new system

What this should achieve

Better identification and targeting of buildings according to risk:

  • New Zealand will be divided into three seismic risk areas – high, medium and low – based on the seismic hazard, or ‘Z’, factor (this factor is used when designing buildings for a particular location)
  • Targeted timeframes based on these seismic risk areas: for territorial authorities to identify potentially earthquake-prone buildings; and for building owners to strengthen or demolish buildings determined to be earthquake prone
  • Clarification that parts of buildings can be earthquake prone (which can be important; eg for falling hazards such as parapets)
  • Defining a new category of ‘priority buildings’ in high and medium seismic risk areas (these include schools, emergency service facilities and certain hospitals, and certain parts of unreinforced masonry buildings on busy thoroughfares, and can involve the identification of buildings on strategic routes) and requiring these to be identified and strengthened in half the time
  • Excluding certain buildings from the system where applying the provisions would be impractical or excessive or both (e.g. farm buildings, stand-alone retaining walls, fences, some monuments, bridges and tunnels).  Most residential buildings will continue to be excluded.
  • Giving owners of certain earthquake-prone buildings the ability to apply to their territorial authority for an exemption from the remediation requirements (this is intended to apply where the consequences of failure of the affected building are low; e.g. for low-use rural churches).
  • Giving owners of the most important heritage buildings (those listed as Category 1 or on the National Landmarks list) the ability to apply to their territorial authority for up to 10 years longer to remediate.

Improved public information and further triggers for upgrading:

  • Establishing a national, publicly accessible register for earthquake-prone buildings
  • Requiring EPB notices to be placed on buildings that are earthquake prone
  • Disclosing earthquake ratings on EPB notices and on the EPB register
  • Introducing a new requirement to remediate when building owners carry out ‘substantial alterations’ to earthquake-prone buildings

Greater national consistency:

  • A new legislative structure as outlined earlier, with territorial authorities no longer developing individual policies for managing earthquake-prone buildings
  • A clarified definition of an earthquake-prone building in the Building Act, and introduction of the EPB methodology to make it easier for territorial authorities to identify potentially earthquake-prone buildings and to determine whether buildings are earthquake prone.

Seismic risk areas

Timeframes

Timeframes to identify, strengthen or demolish earthquake-prone buildings.
Table 1: Timeframes to identify, strengthen or demolish earthquake-prone buildings

Notes to the table:

  • The timeframes for territorial authorities to identify potentially earthquake-prone buildings (in accordance with the EPB methodology) apply from the date the Amendment Act provisions take effect.
  • Once a territorial authority notifies a building owner that their building is potentially earthquake prone the owner has 12 months to provide an engineering assessment or advise otherwise. They can apply for a one-time extension of up to 12 months in certain circumstances.
  • Once a territorial authority determines that a building is earthquake prone and notifies the building owner, the owner must strengthen or demolish the building within the given timeframe.

What it will mean for different people

Territorial authorities

Territorial authorities' roles and responsibilities include:

  • actively identifying potentially earthquake-prone buildings in their district within the relevant timeframes using the EPB methodology, including any priority buildings in high and medium seismic risk areas (identifying certain priority buildings is likely to require some formal consultation with local communities)
  • reporting regularly to MBIE on their progress in actively identifying potentially earthquake-prone buildings (timeframes for this vary by seismic risk area – annually for high, every two years for medium and every three years for low)
  • managing any building they identify through business-as-usual activities if they receive information that triggers concern about its earthquake resilience (e.g. from a building consent application or proposed change of use)
  • considering whether engineering assessments for buildings conform with the requirements of the EPB methodology
  • determining whether or not a building is earthquake prone (in accordance with the EPB methodology)
  • making decisions on applications for exemptions from remediation requirements for certain buildings, and extensions of time for the most important heritage buildings
  • issuing notices for buildings determined to be earthquake-prone, updating the EPB register, and enforcing system requirements
  • managing existing earthquake-prone buildings that have been issued with notices requiring remediation work before the new provisions come into force. This includes deciding on any applications from owners to extend their existing remediation deadlines (after considering the Act’s transitional provisions, the particular circumstances and any MBIE guidance).

Building owners

Owners of newly-assessed earthquake-prone buildings

If the local territorial authority advises a building owner that their building is potentially earthquake prone, owners will need to provide an engineering assessment to their territorial authority within 12 months. Owners will be able to apply for an extension of up to 12 months in particular circumstances (for example, if there are not enough suitably qualified people to carry out engineering assessments).

If an owner fails to provide an assessment or notifies the territorial authority that they do not intend to provide an assessment, the territorial authority must proceed as if the building has been determined to be earthquake prone (the EPB notice issued will be in the form that is prescribed for the lowest category of earthquake rating).

Owners of existing earthquake-prone buildings

Owners of buildings already identified as earthquake prone and issued with a notice requiring remediation work (an ‘old notice’) can expect their territorial authority to replace this with a new ‘EPB notice’ once the new provisions take effect.

Existing deadlines from old notices will be preserved, unless:

  • applying the relevant deadline under the new system, from the date of the EPB notice, results in a shorter deadline, in which case the shorter deadline will apply (see scenario B in the table below)
  • the owner is given a shorter period within which to complete work under the old notice than the period that is relevant to the building under the new system and the owner makes a request to the territorial authority to have the longer period applied retrospectively to the date of the old notice (see scenario C in the table below)

Examples

A building has already been identified as earthquake prone, the territorial authority has issued the owner with an ‘old notice’ and it has set a deadline for remediation work.

This notice is still in place when the new earthquake-prone building provisions take effect. The territorial authority replaces the old notice with a new EPB notice dated 1 June 2017.

The building is in a medium seismic risk area and is not a priority building. The relevant timeframe for completing remediation work under the new provisions is 25 years.

The remediation deadline on the building’s new EPB notice depends on when the old notice was issued and the old timeframe, as shown in these three scenarios.

Case study of timeframes for earthquake-prone buildings requiring remediation. Table 2: Case study of timeframes for existing earthquake-prone buildings with notices issued requiring remediation work

Building users and communities

Public awareness of the earthquake risk of buildings will be improved through the new EPB notices. The EPB register will also make information on EPB buildings more accessible.

Local communities in high and medium seismic risk areas may also have some further involvement once the new system takes effect, as territorial authorities may need to formally consult with them about some aspects relating to certain priority buildings.

Engineers

Suitably qualified engineers will continue to carry out engineering assessments on buildings. 

Engineers will need to be familiar with the EPB methodology as this will contain the engineering assessment requirements for buildings identified by territorial authorities as potentially earthquake prone.

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: