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Council’s ‘messy’ concerns as earthquake-prone deadline looms

As deadlines draw nearer for owners to fix earthquake-prone buildings, Masterton’s Mayor Gary Caffell says things “could get quite messy”.

Forced demolition, fines, hoarding buildings, and convicting non-compliant building owners are just some of the routes that could be explored under the Building Act.

At last week’s Masterton District Council Infrastructure and Services Committee, councillors and staff discussed what will happen when the remediation due date passes for dozens of earthquake-prone buildings.

Masterton District Council building control services manager Shane Taane said the outcome is an “unknown at this stage”.

He said many other councils are “watching to see what everyone else is doing”.

“That’s not really a good position.”

In the Masterton district, three earthquake-prone buildings are approaching their remediation date in the next 24 months: the Masterton Municipal Buildings, the Regent 3 Cinema building, and the Shoe Clinic building.

All other buildings need remediation from 2029 onwards.

“Central government has this kind of view that local government will do something about it, but it’s really a void,” Taane said.

“Basically, the Building Act says they shouldn’t be used if they are dangerous.

“If the owner does nothing, we could decide to take action, but it is our own cost if we do that.”

Taane said the easiest path would be to hoard the buildings that are not remediated by the deadline.

Currently, about 80 Masterton buildings are on the Earthquake-Prone Building Register, a majority of them in the central business district.

Masterton Mayor Gary Caffell said: “So the potential is this could get quite messy”, to which Taane replied: “Yup, could do.”

According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment [MBIE], councils have the power to take action if building owners fail to undertake seismic work within the required timeframes.

MBIE states councils can issue a $1000 infringement fee if a building owner fails to complete seismic work by the deadline.

Building owners who fail to complete seismic work within the time frame on an EPB notice can be fined up to $200,000, if convicted.

Councils can also apply to the District Court for an order allowing them to carry out seismic work that has not been completed to deadline.

Under the Building Act, the owner of the building is liable for the costs of the work, and the council can recover the costs from the owner.

The amount recoverable could also become a charge on the land on which the work was carried out.

At the committee meeting, Taane said the council is currently taking an approach that educates and works with non-compliant building owners.

Currently, a quarter of Masterton’s earthquake-prone buildings [EPB] are not displaying the required notice.

This opens the building owners up to a $1000 infringement fee, and a $20,000 fine if convicted.

– NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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