New framework for managing earthquake-prone buildings

The new Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act has created a new framework for managing earthquake prone buildings (EPBs). The key difference is that the system for the strengthening of EPBs now prioritises particular geographic areas, categorising NZ into low, medium and high risk. National timeframes for strengthening EPBs are set relative to the location and level of seismic risk.

Further, Councils will no longer develop individual policies for managing EPBs – there is a move towards national consistency, including a national, publicly accessible register of EPBs.

Before the Act takes effect, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is developing guidance . This includes an ‘EPB methodology’, set by the Chief Executive of MBIE, which describes how Councils can identify potentially earthquake-prone buildings, including a profiling tool, and cites the latest engineering guidelines for carrying out seismic assessments.

MBIE are also developing other regulations to support the system, such as:

  • Criteria for exemption for the requirement to remediate EPBs;
  • Criteria for when a substantial alteration will trigger earthquake strengthening;
  • Guidance for Councils when considering whether to allow strengthening, without also requiring accessibility and fire safety upgrades.

In our experience, the requirement to carry out extensive remediation to EPBs is often a contentious one, with many landlords feeling the squeeze of projected remediation costs. While there is a tangible benefit both through reducing the risk to health and safety of the occupants of the building and members of the public, and protecting the asset, many owners have previously felt the cost of strengthening outweighs the risk to health and safety or of serious damage. The categorisation of NZ into low, medium and high risk should counter this criticism somewhat.

MBIE advises that public consultation on the new regulations and EPB methodology will take place later this year, so to the extent any building owners have strong views about when they should be exempt from a requirement to remediate, or from associated upgrades typically required such as fire safety, keep an eye out and be sure to make a submission to MBIE.

 

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