A building or a part of a building can be considered as earthquake-prone (EQP) if the condition of part of or the whole building and the ground on which it stands were to collapse and 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 way earthquake-prone buildings are identified, assessed and managed changed when the Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act 2016 came into effect on 1 July 2017. This is determined by the Territorial Authority (Council) of the district in which the building is situated.

The primary objective of identifying earthquake prone buildings is to protect people from harm. New Zealand is categorised into three seismic risk areas high, medium and low. These areas are used to set time frames for identifying, strengthening or removing earthquake-prone buildings. Selwyn District is in the high seismic risk area.

The Act applies to commercial buildings and some residential buildings. Residential buildings are only covered under the Act if they:

  • comprise two or more storeys and three or more household units, or
  • are used as hostels, boarding houses or other types of specialised accommodation.

The Act does not apply to:

  • farm buildings
  • stand-alone retaining walls
  • fences
  • statues and other monuments that cannot be entered
  • wharves
  • bridges
  • tunnels
  • storage tanks.

All earthquake-prone buildings in New Zealand are listed on a centralised national register. This means individual councils no longer need to have a register, but they are working with NZ Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment to transition to the new system and provide information for building owners.

This system identifies categories of importance based on risk of harm to the public. Those listed as priority buildings require urgent strengthening, and include:

  • hospitals and other buildings used by emergency services
  • buildings likely to be needed in an emergency as an emergency shelter/centre
  • education buildings occupied by at least 20 people (including early childhood centres, schools, private training and tertiary institutes).

Earthquake-prone buildings are not considered any more dangerous than they were before being identified, so business can continue as normal. What it does do is provide a timeframe for shoring up buildings to make sure they are as safe as possible during future earthquakes.

Council’s responsibilities

  • Identify priority category earthquake-prone buildings by 1 January 2020
  • Identify non-priority earthquake-prone buildings by 1 July 2022
  • Issue earthquake-prone building notices in accordance with section 133AP of the Building Act 2004
  • Once Council identifies a building as potentially earthquake prone, it must advise the building owner
  • When a building with multiple unit titles is deemed earthquake-prone, the owner of each title will be issued with a separate earthquake-prone building notice.

Building owner's responsibilities:

  • The owner must provide to Council an engineering assessment meeting the requirements of the EPB methodology or further information to show that the building is not earthquake prone within 12 months of receiving an earthquake-prone building notification
  • Where appropriate assessments have already been carried out an engineering assessment will not be required
  • For a Council issued priority category earthquake-prone building notice the owner must:
    • display the earthquake-prone building notice in a prominent place in the building, and
    • complete remedial work or demolish the building within 7.5 years of the date of the original notice
  • For a Council issued non-priority category earthquake-prone building notice - the owner must:
    • display the earthquake-prone building notice in a prominent place in the building, and
    • complete remedial work or demolish the building within 15 years of the date of the original notice.

Earthquake-prone building notices explained

  • Orange and black striped border – buildings with an earthquake rating of 0% to less than 20% or where no engineering assessment has been provided and the earthquake rating has not been determined.

If the building has an earthquake rating of less than 20% the risk of failure under seismic load is approximately more than 25 times the risk of failure for buildings that are 100%NBS

  • White and black striped border – buildings that have an earthquake rating of 20% to less than 34%.

The risk of failure under seismic load is approximately 10–25 times the risk of failure for buildings that are 100%NBS.

  • Orange border – buildings that were given a section 124 notice before 1 July 2017, where the earthquake rating is not known.
  • Orange and white striped border – buildings or parts assessed as earthquake prone but owners exempted from carrying out seismic work. Exemption notices must be attached in a prominent place on or adjacent to the building.

Heritage listed buildings identified as earthquake-prone

Heritage buildings are covered by the earthquake strengthening provisions of the Building Act 2004 in the same way as other buildings. Owners of heritage listed buildings are encouraged to work with Council’s heritage experts to achieve practical outcomes that preserves both public safety and the building’s heritage.

Council has access to grants which may assist with repairs and maintenance or pay for a conservation plan to provide guidance on the best way to strengthen a heritage building without compromising the heritage values.

For further information regarding a heritage listed building/structure please contact the Duty Planner via heritagefunds@selwyn.govt.nz or 03 347 2868.

Buying/selling/altering an earthquake-prone building


An earthquake-prone building can be bought or sold.

The new owner will become responsible for the seismic strengthening, therefore it is recommended that purchasers undertake independent investigations prior to purchasing a property that is likely to be earthquake-prone.

Buildings being altered may require additional upgrade work carried out on them in additional to strengthening work in respect of provisions relating to means of escape from fire and access and facilities for people with disabilities (refer s133AT of the Building Act 2004 for details).

Disputing the earthquake-prone classification

The classification of a building as earthquake-prone can be challenged. Building owners will need to produce their own engineers report in order to challenge the initial seismic assessment (ISA) result.

If an engineer has already carried out structural engineering design work on the earthquake affected building, it is likely that the same engineer should do an ISA review because of their existing familiarity with the building. Council will review the initial ISA based on further information you supply.

If you are still unhappy with Council’s decision you can ask the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to make a determination on whether your building is earthquake-prone.

Exemptions and extensions

Building owners can apply for an exemption or extension under certain circumstances.

Application can be made for an exemption from strengthening works for an earthquake-prone building that is:

a)  used infrequently

b) poses a low risk of injury to people and damage to other property in the event of an earthquake.

An application can be made for a 10 year extension to complete strengthening works for an earthquake-prone building that is:

a) a Category 1 listed building, or

b) on the National Historic Landmarks list.

Send your application in writing with reasoning to justify your request to earthquakeprone@selwyn.govt.nz.

Consultation

We are currently engaging with the community in relation to strategic routes and thoroughfares associated with earthquake prone buildings.

Buildings identified on transport routes of strategic importance in an emergency will be prioritised to ensure public safety for access via the following criteria:

  • High pedestrian areas ( people not in vehicles)
  • Areas of high vehicular traffic ( people in motor vehicles/on bikes)
  • Potential for part of an unreinforced masonry building to fall onto the identified thoroughfare

You can have your say via our Council website during the consultation period between 28 January 2019 to 1 March 2019.

Building owners actions after an earthquake

Building owners need to develop their own internal policies and procedures. All tenants must be aware of these processes and know what to do prior to an event.

Anyone running a business is required by law to provide a work environment that is without identifiable risks to health and safety. The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 does not set a minimum standard, rather it says that all practical steps are taken to remove or minimise the risk from identified hazards.

Following a significant seismic event, Council recommends building owners/operators get buildings assessed for potential structural damage that may have been caused by the earthquake.

The following four-step approach will help you work out if buildings are safe.

1. Initial assessment

  • Initial assessment by owner/operator. If this finds significant issues/damage then further assessment is required.
  • You should hire a chartered professional engineer if there is any doubt.
  • If there is any concern about the structural integrity of the building, do not enter. Seek professional chartered engineering advice and guidance and advise occupants that the building is not to be occupied and move to step.

2. Engineer inspection

  • Chartered engineer inspects key elements of the building structure. This may include invasive techniques. It is recommended that the same engineer/engineering company does this for continuity and familiarity of the building.
  • Buildings are not to be occupied until the engineer declares that it is safe to occupy.

3. Check building systems

  • Once the engineer has declared the building safe to occupy, organise an inspection of building services and systems by suitably qualified professionals/Independent Qualified Person, e.g. fire protection, electrical, water, lifts, heating and air conditioning, or security.
  • If any services/systems are damaged, you may not be able to occupy the building until they are fixed.
  • Any other damaged areas identified as needing repair are also remediated in this stage.
  • A final check is done to ensure that the building is safe to occupy in accordance with building warrant of fitness and building code regulations and policies.

4. All clear to occupy

  • Building is cleared and fit to reoccupy.