Market forces putting property owners under more pressure to quake strengthen than the law

Market forces putting property owners under more pressure to quake strengthen than the law

Market forces are pushing commercial property owners to meet higher earthquake strengthening standards than required by law.

Tenants, bankers and insurers are often putting more pressure on property owners to upgrade their buildings, than the local authorities enforcing the Building Act.

Under the Act a building is deemed earthquake-prone if it is below 33% of the new building standards (NBS), and is likely to collapse causing injury, death or damage to other property.

Yet large corporates, national organisations and government agencies in particular, are only leasing buildings that come closer to meeting the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering recommendation that buildings should be strengthened to at least 67% of NBS.

Bell Gully partners, David Friar and Tim Clarke, and senior associate Belinda Green, have just released a report on the issue. They say:

“In many cases, tenants are requiring buildings to be upgraded to a much higher standard than 33% NBS, and in some cases even requiring 100% of NBS.

“We are seeing some tenants requiring landlords to carry out earthquake strengthening work at the time that a lease is renewed or a new lease is entered into.

“Some tenants are also vacating earthquake-prone buildings while negotiating with a landlord for further work to be completed.”

The Property Council’s Wellington Branch president, Mike Cole, says the caution stems from company/agency directors being wary of being held liable for not meeting health and safety standards.

WorkSafe can take action under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, if building owners or occupiers don’t take all practicable steps to manage hazardous objects, including components attached to buildings such as ceilings, verandas, or glass.

The cost

Seismic strengthening can cost more than replacing a building.

Cole says the Public Trust building in Wellington was sold for a little over $1 million after the Wellington quakes, despite having a Government Valuation of $6.1 million.

He believes the owner will spend $8 to $10 million strengthening it to a standard higher than 33% of NBS.

Grant Young of Bayleys Commercial in Wellington says building owners are under pressure to mitigate their risk profiles to keep bankers and insurers happy.

Put simply – if building owners can’t secure tenants, their income streams dry up and their abilities to repay their bank loans are hampered.

Young says tenants are also taking a financial knock in the post-quake environment, paying more to lease buildings with higher levels of seismic strengthening.

Accordingly, smaller private businesses are opting to lease buildings that meet lower standards.

While this has been the trend in Wellington, Young says it has spread to other parts of the country within the last year or so.

Supreme Court ruling

Young and Cole support a Supreme Court decision released in December, that ruled locally authorities cannot require building owners to strengthen buildings to more than 33% of NBS.

The case arose after the Christchurch City Council adopted a policy in 2010, requiring building owners to strengthen existing buildings to 67% of NBS.

Cole says the Court’s ruling has given building owners some breathing space.

He says pin-pointing a percentage to which NBS need to be met is not always the best way to ensure a building is safe.

Young adds the cost of strengthening a building to 67% of NBS, compared to 33%, is huge.

He says the law is in a reasonably sensible position where it is.

The Bell Gully report writers say meeting 33% of NBS coincides with the standard outlined in the Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill.

This gives building owners certainty about the standard they need to meet.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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Christchurch taught us that most building will be damaged to such an extent that demolition is likely for even 67%NBS buildings. These are not buildings that caused loss of life but people escqaped safely but the damage is uneconomic to repair.
34% is prudent to ensure public safety. but the emphasis should be on the bits that fall off and protecting the public, rather than building strength.
Commercial Tenants need to be educated as to the actual risks especially in areas such as Auckland and Northland where actual risk of an earthquake is low and the NBS artificially high anyway. Volcanoes and tsunami are more likely in these areas.
Protect heritage buildings if you want but generally we should be building in saftey not expecting resiiance from not new buildings.
 
 

How high were chch buildings to the code? ie this was an unknown fault. Though I tend to agree, buildings only need to be able to stand a certian level of EQ without structural issues, after that they only need to be strong enough for people to get out of. I think Victoria Uni has done a building a few years back that can be dismantled 'easily" so it can have bits replaced, not sure how good an idea that is in an economics sense, I assume it cost a lot more to do that and teh numbers stacked up.  PS Tenants get to make the choice.  Also who pays the EQ levy and insurance costs? tenants or the landlord, ie is it the insurer behind the scenes?

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