Regime to address earthquake-prone buildings now law

Friday 20 May 2016

Authors: Jane Holland, Tim Clarke, Grace Stacey-Jacobs and Justin Maloney

​​​​​​​​​​​​​Significant amendments to the Building Act 2004 (Building Act) which introduce procedures for addressing earthquake-prone buildings (EPBs) have now been enacted.  

The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act 2016 (Amendment Act) introduces a number of changes to the Building Act that will have wide-ranging implications for territorial authorities (or local councils), building owners, building users and insurance firms. The changes will come into force in two years' time on 13 ​May 2018 (or as determined otherwise by Order in Council). 

We have previously reported on the progress of the Bill and the select committee's interim report seeking further public consultation on significant proposed amendments to the original Bill. 

The changes introduce a risk-based framework to enforce national timeframes and procedures for territorial authorities (or councils) to address earthquake-prone-buildings. The Amendment Act also clarifies the definition of, and criteria for, earthquake-prone buildings and provides for a national earthquake-prone building register.

The changes will apply to any commercial or residential building which has two or more storeys and is either a hostel, boarding-house, or other specialised accommodation, or contains three or more household units. 

Key aspects of the Amendment Act

Identifying potentially earthquake-prone buildings

Local councils will be required to apply an EPB methodology (to be determined by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) in order to identify potential EPBs. An EPB is a building or part of a building which will have its "ultimate capacity" exceeded in a moderate earthquake or, if the building were to collapse, would be likely to cause injury or death, or damage to any other property (i.e. less than 33% NBS (New Building Standard)).

Risk zones for strengthening based on the Z factor​

The Amendment Act requires that the identification and remediation of EPBs is based on the seismic hazard factor (the "Z" factor) that is applied to various locations throughout New Zealand which reflects that location's earthquake hazard. In terms of the main centres, Auckland is a low seismic risk area, Tauranga and Hamilton are medium seismic areas, and Wellington and Christchurch are high seismic risk areas.

The timeframe for councils to identify potential EPBs varies depending on the Z factor. Councils have five years to identify EPBs in areas of high seismic risk, 10 years in medium risk areas and 25 years in low risk areas. Even shorter timeframes apply to "priority buildings" in medium and high seismic areas, such as hospitals, buildings used to provide emergency response services, schools and universities.     

Determining earthquake-prone buildings

If a building is determined to be a potential EPB, the council will require the owner to complete an engineering assessment of the building within 12 months of receiving notice. The engineering assessment must comply with EPB methodology and will be used to determine if it is in fact earthquake prone.  If it is, the council will determine the earthquake rating based on the degree to which the building meets the requirements of the building code (%NBS). 

Once a building is determined to be an EPB the council will issue an EPB notice, requiring the owner to carry out necessary seismic work. The council has the ability to implement certain safety measures, including: putting up hoardings, warning members of the public not to enter the building or issuing notices restricting entry to a building.

Building owners can apply for exemptions and owners of heritage buildings may also apply for extensions of time to complete seismic work. Transitional provisions will apply for building owners who are issued with an EPB notices prior to the commencement of the Amendment Act.

Deadline for completing seismic work

The timeframe in which building owners of EPBs must complete seismic work, again will depend on the seismic risk of the area. Building owners will have:

  • 15 years in an area of high seismic risk,

  • 25 years in an area of medium seismic risk, and

  • 35 years in an area of low seismic risk.

Shorter timeframes will apply to priority buildings in medium and high seismic areas.  

If an owner of an EPB does not complete seismic work within the applicable timeframe, or is not proceeding with reasonable speed in light of the deadline, the council can apply for a court order authorising the council to carry out seismic work on the building.

The Amendment Act also imposes restrictions on the council's ability to issue building consents for alterations to EPBs unless specific criteria are met. 

Health and safety

WorkSafe's position statement (December 2013) on the interplay between the Building Act and health and safety legislation remains applicable under the new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. Specifically, WorkSafe will not take health and safety enforcement action in relation to the structural integrity of the building against a person conducting a business of undertaking (a PCBU) if the Building Act has been complied with. 

We discussed this position statement in more detail in a previous update​.


This publication is necessarily brief and general in nature. You should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this publication.

For more information
  • Jane Holland

    Partner Auckland
  • Tim Clarke

    Partner Auckland
  • Rachael Brown

    Partner Wellington
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