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A Common Sense Framework for Managing Buildings Post Emergency

A Common Sense Framework for Managing Buildings Post Emergency

A Common Sense Framework for Managing Buildings Post Emergency

Thursday 3 October, 2019

The Building Amendment Act 2019 (Act) was enacted on 17 June 2019 and comes into effect in December.  The Act was introduced because the Canterbury and Kaikoura earthquakes highlighted gaps in existing legislation for managing buildings after an emergency, in particular, the need to better manage the transition from civil defence emergency management powers to business as usual powers under the Building Act.

The Act provides a framework for managing buildings after an emergency and investigating building failures.  Territorial Authorities and the MBIE are given increased powers with the aim of improving the system for managing buildings after an emergency and investigating building failures, to learn from these failings moving forward.

Legislation Amended

The Act amends the:

  • Building Act 2004;
  • Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings Amendment) Act 2016;
  • Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002; and
  • Search and Surveillance Act 2012.

Improvements to managing buildings after an emergency

These provisions:

  • Allow the Minister for Building and Construction, or a territorial authority acting with the Minister’s approval, to designate areas for the emergency management of buildings if a state of emergency or transition period is in force;
  • Introduce new powers (exercised by territorial authorities, or persons acting under the Minister’s guidance, e.g. a police constable, when it is not a state of emergency or transition period, in which case the civil defence emergency management person is responsible) to manage buildings during and after an emergency event. This includes entry to a building for the purposes of:
    1. Directing an evacuation;
    2. Implementing a cordon, closing streets;
    3. Restricting entry to buildings;
    4. Inspecting and placing notices and signs prohibiting, or restricting, the use of a building;
    5. Carrying out urgent and long term works to reduce or remove a risk.
  • Clarify the timing and use of these powers to reflect the extended timeframes needed to manage buildings after an emergency;
  • Introduces decision making requirements for heritage buildings which requires a ministerial decision and consultation with Heritage New Zealand before works are carried out;
  • Clarifies how to recognise personal and property rights including criteria governing the use of powers, ensuring relevant parties are adequately consulted before decisions to undertake works are made, and an appeal process.

All of this means that where the powers are being exercised by territorial authorities, they can:

  • Demolish buildings, or carry out works to buildings where the buildings pose an immediate risk to life, or risk of damage or disruption to neighbouring buildings, or public places;
  • Require damaged buildings to be repaired or demolished on a case by case basis, as appropriate;
  • Require building owners to provide information, such as detailed engineering assessments, to help determine the risks posed by buildings.

These powers must be reviewed by the territorial authority exercising them every 90 days to determine if they are still necessary. The idea behind this is to create minimal restrictions on the ability of an owner/occupier to continue to use and occupy its property and that those restrictions should not be for longer than is reasonably necessary.

Investigative Powers

MBIE is given powers to investigate significant building failures that could have, or did, result in serious injury or death in order to learn from these failures and to prevent further occurrences. These powers include:

  • Entering the site;
  • Taking samples and evidence from the site;
  • Requiring information or documents from any person;
  • Publishing a report detailing their findings.

Impact on building owners and occupiers

If an area is designated for emergency management, this decision must be publicly notified, meaning owners and occupiers can check the status of the building.  Written notice must be given to owners and occupiers as soon as reasonably practical following the start of an investigation on building failures.  Building owners can be required to reduce or remove posed by their building, on a case by case basis.


For assistance with questions relating to this article, please contact Kate James.