Earthquake-prone buildings

There are new rules around the definition of earthquake-prone buildings and the requirements for them to be seismically strengthened.

The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act, which came into effect 1 July 2017, brings more direction from central government and less reliance on individual territorial authorities developing their own policies. TA’s still hold the responsibility for administering the law in their area, however.

A building is defined as earthquake-prone “if it will have its ultimate capacity exceeded in a moderate earthquake, and if it were to collapse, would do so in a way that is likely to cause injury or death to persons in or near the building or on any other property, or damage to any other property.

The provisions do not apply to individual family homes, but do apply to residential buildings that are at least 2 storeys and:

  • house three or more household units, or
  • are used as a hostel, boarding house etc. 

Among the changes:

  • A publicly-accessible and searchable register of earthquake-prone buildings is being developed.
  • A new document has been developed, EPB methodology – The methodology to identify earthquake-prone buildings. This sets out how TAs and engineers can identify, assess and make decisions on potentially earthquake-prone buildings.
  • The threshold for defining an earthquake-prone building remains, with amendments including that it can apply to parts of buildings. (An earthquake-prone building is often referred to as one that is less than 34 % of the new building standard.)
  • EPB notices, which show earthquake ratings, must be placed on earthquake-prone buildings.
  • New Zealand has been divided into 3 seismic risk areas – low, medium and high – based on the seismic hazard factor (‘Z’ factor).
  • Based on these risk areas, timeframes have been set for TAs to identify earthquake-prone buildings and for owners to strengthen or demolish them:
    – in high-risk areas (such as Wellington) buildings must be assessed within five years and upgraded within 15 years
    – in medium-risk areas (such as Hamilton or Nelson) buildings must be assessed within 10 years and upgraded within 25 years 
    – in low-risk areas (such as Auckland) buildings must be assessed within 15 years and upgraded within 35 years
    – 10 years can be added for registered heritage buildings
    – low-risk, low-usage buildings can be exempted
  • A new category of priority buildings in medium and high-risk areas will be defined. These buildings – schools, emergency facilities etc. – must be identified and strengthened in half the time
  • There are particular requirements around securing unreinforced masonry building parapets and facades. You can find details on MBIE’s building performance website.

BRANZ has developed an online resource around seismic resilience.

MBIE has produced a short video introducing the system for managing earthquake-prone buildings.