Earthquake-Prone Buildings – Building Act Amendments on the horizon

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Earthquake-Prone Buildings – Building Act Amendments on the horizon

New changes to the Building Act could see earthquake risk warning signs stuck on your building, as property owners are given up to 15 years to complete strengthening work. This could even apply to many residential unit complexes.

The Building (Earthquake-Prone Buildings) Amendment Bill has commenced its first reading in Parliament. It is important to note this bill is in its early stages, and has yet to be referred to a select committee for public submissions and revisions.

This Bill will amend the Building Act 2004 to give effect to reforms announced in August 2013 to manage earthquake-prone buildings. It will introduce a process by which buildings are assessed for seismic capacity and, following assessment, earthquake-prone buildings are remedied by their owners a certain time limits.

Within five years of the amendments coming into force, Councils across the country will need to assess buildings within their territory for seismic capacity. A building will be considered “earthquake-prone” if:

  • it’s ultimate capacity would be exceeded by a moderate earthquake; and
  • if the building were to collapse in a moderate earthquake it would be likely to cause injury or death to persons in the building, or damage to property.
  • It is unknown at this stage what the definition of a “moderate earthquake” will be; this will be determined by regulations issued in the future.

    These earthquake assessments are wide in their application, but note there is an exemption for certain types of residential buildings. If a residential building is two or more storeys, and contains three or more household units, then it will fall within the scope of the Act, but any residential buildings of only one storey, or fewer than three household units, will be exempt. So when you are buying a unit in a multi-storey complex of three or more units, this bill could well apply to you. Apartment-dwellers beware!

    If a building is determined to be earthquake-prone, Council will issue a Seismic Work Notice requiring the owner of that building to bring it up to strength within 15 years of the determination. This Seismic Work Notice must be prominently displayed on or near the building, meaning that your building could essentially have warning notices on it. Council can also issue orders that a building be fenced off and entry prohibited.

    Owners will be able to obtain their own engineering assessment of their building, and use this to challenge Council’s decision if a building was originally found to be earthquake-prone.

    Check with Fortune Manning for further developments as this bill moves through the Parliamentary process.