Skip to main content

On this page

Find out whether your building is earthquake prone, how you can get financial support to strengthen it and guidance for carrying out the work.

Why heritage buildings matter

From community hubs to hotels, clubs and commercial buildings, heritage buildings are part of the daily interaction of diverse New Zealand communities. They keep our history alive, tell the stories of our past and give perspective for today. They add to the visual appeal and character of our towns and cities.

Although strengthening heritage buildings can be a complex process, requiring resource consent and compliance with a range of regulations, it also has wide benefits. Earthquake strengthening:

  • ensures the safety of your building’s users
  • protects your investment
  • retains a piece of NZ heritage for future generations.

Find out if your building is earthquake prone

The Government introduced a nationwide policy in July 2017 to make the management of earthquake-prone buildings consistent across the country and ensure people using these buildings have access to key information.

Working out the seismic resistance capacity

A building is considered earthquake-prone if an engineer calculates its seismic resistance capacity as less than 34% of the new building standard (NBS).

When engineers give significantly different seismic assessments, Engineering New Zealand recommends they work together to reach consensus. If they cannot agree, then Engineering New Zealand offers a Seismic Assessment Reconciliation service.

Seismic Assessment Reconciliation service (Engineering New Zealand)

Your local council’s role

Your council will consider the engineering assessment for your building and determine if all or part of it is earthquake prone. If the council confirms your building as earthquake-prone, it will:

  • give your building an earthquake rating
  • issue you with an earthquake-prone building notice that you must display on your building
  • add your building to the earthquake-prone national building register.

Register of earthquake-prone buildings (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment)

The notice will outline the timeframes for bringing your building up to the required building code. You will need to consider the options for your building and make a project plan. The guidance below will help you.

We recommend you contact your local council to find out more about its process for assessing earthquake-prone buildings.

List of council websites (Local Government New Zealand)

Decide what to do with your earthquake-prone building

This section will help you make a decision about your earthquake-prone heritage building — whether to sell it, do nothing, or strengthen it. If you decide to strengthen it, learn how to develop a plan and solutions for dealing with strengthening hazards.

If your building is not formally defined as earthquake prone there are still many benefits in strengthening it. These include protecting your investment and retaining a piece of New Zealand heritage for future generations.

Develop a strengthening plan

If you are decide to go ahead with a seismic strengthening project, you’ll need a plan that defines:

  • what you want to achieve
  • why you want to do it
  • how you will fund the project.

If you need help scoping your project, contact Heritage New Zealand.

Heritage New Zealand

We also recommend discussing your building’s requirements with your local council as it can take action if you do not strengthen your building within the specified timeframes.

Next, you will need to engage building professionals to develop a plan and designs for your building.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has an online course for building owners setting out the process you will need to follow if your council identifies your building as having the potential to be earthquake prone.

MBIE’s online courses (Building Performance)

Strengthening issues and solutions

The most common hazards posed by earthquake-prone buildings are:

  • non-structural street canopies
  • unreinforced masonry parapets
  • unreinforced masonry balustrades
  • unsecured façade elements
  • unreinforced masonry gable end walls
  • unreinforced brick masonry walls
  • unreinforced brick masonry chimney stacks
  • unreinforced masonry building (general)
  • unreinforced or shallow foundations
  • heritage materials.

Consult a structural engineer for the best solution if your building has any of these common hazards.

Other options — demolish, sell, do nothing

1. Demolish your building

If you decide to demolish all or part of your building, you will need to contact your council to discuss your plans as demolition is likely to need resource consent. If your building was constructed pre-1900, then demolition will also require an archaeological authority from Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

Sell your building

You may decide to sell to your building without doing any strengthening work. Potential buyers are likely to ask for engineering documentation and advice. The more information you can give buyers, the easier it will be for them to decide whether to buy.

Do nothing

If you decide not to do anything you may be putting the safety of building occupants and passers-by at risk. You may also find it hard to:

  • insure your building
  • raise finance against your building
  • attract and retain tenants
  • attract buyers.

Regulations and legislation

Below are listed some of the Acts and regulations you need to know about when you are considering or carrying out seismic strengthening. We recommend you also get your own legal advice for your project.

The Building Act 2004 and 2016 Amendment Act

The Building Act 2004 sets out the rules for the construction, alteration, maintenance and demolition of new and existing buildings throughout New Zealand.

A building, or part of a building, is considered earthquake prone under the Building Act if:

  • it will have its ultimate capacity exceeded in a moderate earthquake (calculated by an engineer and given as a percentage of the new building standard — %NBS), 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 Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) administers the Building Act 2004.

The council where your building is located is responsible for permitting building activities through the building consent process as well as a range of other building-related responsibilities.

Building Act 2004 (Building Performance)

The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Act 2016 (the Amendment Act) established a nationally consistent system for identifying and remediating earthquake-prone buildings. The Amendment Act took effect on 1 July 2017.

Introduction to the system for managing earthquake-prone buildings (Building Performance)

New system for managing earthquake-prone buildings (Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment)

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014

This Act is important for earthquake-strengthening projects as it:

  • provides for the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero, which identifies New Zealand’s significant and valued historical and cultural heritage places
  • makes it unlawful for anyone to modify or destroy, or cause to be modified or destroyed, all or part of an archaeological site without first getting the authority of Heritage New Zealand.

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 (New Zealand Legislation)

Heritage New Zealand

Resource Management Act 1991

The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) is New Zealand’s main piece of legislation setting out how we sustainably manage our environment.

Under the RMA, local councils are responsible for deciding how to manage the effects of land use and for preparing district plans to help carry out their functions under the RMA.

Historic heritage is a considered a matter of national importance under the RMA. Decision-makers must work to recognise historic heritage and protect it from inappropriate use, development, and subdivision.

Talk to your council about any district plan requirements relating to your building. For example, if your building is included in the district plan heritage schedule, you may need resource consent for a seismic strengthening project.

Councils in Aotearoa (Local Government New Zealand)

Resource Management Act 1991 (New Zealand Legislation)

Hurunui/Kaikōura Earthquakes Recovery Act

The Government amended the Building Act in February 2017, after the Hurunui/Kaikōura earthquakes in 2016.

The amendment addresses the risk to public safety from buildings with unreinforced masonry (URM) on certain streets in these areas: Wellington City, Hutt City, Marlborough District and Hurunui District Council. It was considered these areas faced a higher earthquake risk after the Hurunui/Kaikōura earthquakes.

If you own a building in one of these areas, you can check the streets affected in the Hurunui/Kaikōura Earthquakes Recovery (Unreinforced Masonry Buildings) Order 2017.

Hurunui/Kaikōura Earthquakes Recovery - Unreinforced Masonry Buildings - Amendment Order 2018 (New Zealand Legislation)

Your council will also notify you if you need to secure the parapets and facades on your building.

Developing designs and getting consents

Complex seismic strengthening projects are likely to involve several stages in the design process.

Structural and architectural design is an important part of your application for resource and building consents. The designs will need to meet all consent requirements, including those from the district plan and building code. Special heritage requirements can also apply if the building is listed as a heritage structure.

Your architect or engineer can provide advice on the best process to follow for your project.

Getting an archaeological authority

Heritage New Zealand regulate the modification of archaeological sites. If your work affects an archaeological site, you must get an authority from Heritage New Zealand before you begin.

Getting an archaeological authority (Heritage New Zealand)

Getting resource consent

Your project may need resource consent to confirm it is permitted under your council’s district or regional plan. Sometimes consent comes with conditions — such as requiring design modifications to meet requirements — which might add cost or time to the project.

Resource consent (Building Performance)

Getting a building consent

Most earthquake-strengthening projects will need a building consent to confirm the proposed work complies with the Building Code. You must get a consent from your council before you can begin any physical work on your building.

Your architect, engineer or project manager will confirm if your project needs a building consent and can apply for one on your behalf. Talk to your council if you are still unsure your project needs a consent.

As a building owner, you are responsible for:

  • deciding if your building work is exempt
  • making sure any exempt building work complies with the Building Code.

You could face heavy penalties if you carry out building work without a consent when a consent was required.

Applying for building consents (Building Performance)

Funding sources for heritage buildings

Heritage New Zealand National Heritage Preservation Incentive Fund

The National Heritage Preservation Incentive Fund encourages the conservation of nationally significant heritage places. The fund is administered by Heritage New Zealand.

The fund is open to private owners and prioritises heritage places of national significance where conservation work is planned and could be improved through extra funding.

In general, if your building is on the New Zealand Heritage List, you are eligible for Heritage New Zealand funding.

National Heritage Preservation Incentive Fund (Heritage New Zealand)

Regional Culture and Heritage Fund

We administer the Regional Culture and Heritage Fund (RCHF). It provides grants for not-for-profit organisations (including councils) that own buildings which are used for art gallery, whare taonga, museum, performing arts, or heritage purposes.

Funded projects can be for heritage or newer buildings, and include seismic strengthening, renovating, restoring, adding to, or constructing buildings.

The projects must be focused on improving the existing building stock or adding new buildings to our arts, cultural and heritage infrastructure.

Regional Culture and Heritage fund

Kānoa – Regional Economic Development & Investment Unit

Kānoa – Regional Economic Development & Investment Unit aims to lift productivity potential in the provinces by:

  • enhancing economic development opportunities
  • creating sustainable jobs
  • enabling Māori to reach their full potential
  • boosting social inclusion and participation
  • building resilient communities
  • helping meet New Zealand’s climate change targets.
  • The fund is administered by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Kānoa – Regional Economic Development & Investment Unit

Local council grants and incentives

Some local councils provide grants or incentives such as rates rebates for heritage building projects. Contact your local council to find out what they offer.

Local Government New Zealand

Lottery grants

Lottery grants may provide funding for seismic assessment reports and earthquake strengthening work for community and heritage buildings. Privately or commercially owned buildings do not qualify for these grants.

Lottery grants (Community Matters)


Finding project professionals

Seismic strengthening projects, particularly when they involve heritage buildings, are complex. They need input from professionals with the right experience, knowledge and qualifications.

This section will help you find the right engineer, architect, builder and other tradespeople, and provides guidance on preparing tenders.

Find an engineer

Your engineer should:

  • be a Chartered Professional Engineer (CPEng) whose main area of practice is structural engineering, with an emphasis on seismic strengthening
  • have experience with buildings using similar materials and construction to your own building — both in assessing them and structurally strengthening them
  • have professional indemnity insurance
  • be a member of a professional engineering organisation that helps them maintain competency in structural engineering and meet current industry standards.

You can get help to find the right engineer for your project from Engineering New Zealand (formerly IPENZ) and the Association of Consulting Engineers New Zealand (ACENZ).

How to find an engineer (Engineering New Zealand)

How to engage a consulting engineer (ACENZ)

Find an architect

Not all seismic upgrade projects will need an architect. For example, some minor internal structural projects can be completed without one.

However, if the strengthening work is likely to disturb your building’s heritage fabric, then we recommend you choose a heritage architect or an architect with experience of heritage projects. They will help ensure your structural solution protects or enhances heritage features.

The New Zealand Registered Architects Board (NZRAB) has an online directory of registered architects. Your architect must have a practising certificate and meet the requirements of the NZRAB They cannot do architectural work without these.

New Zealand Architects Register (NZRAB)

Find an architect (NZIA)

Find a builder and other tradespeople

If your project is managed by an engineer, architect or independent project manager, you can get them to find and secure the required building professionals.

Otherwise, you will need to engage a licensed building practitioner (LBP) if you are going to undertake restricted building work on a residential building.

For commercial buildings you can choose to use a LBP, but this is not a requirement. You can find a list of LBPs in the public register.

Licensed Building Practitioner register

You can also check the New Zealand Certified Builders Association (NZCB) or the Registered Master Builders Association (RMBA) for a list of certified or registered master builders.

Find a builder (New Zealand Certified Builders Association)

Find a builder (Registered Master Builders Association)

Tenders, proposals and contracts

Once you have selected a list of potential building professionals, you will need to arrange tenders, quotes and contracts before any work starts.

Invite each of them to submit a tender providing an estimated cost for your project.

The Building Performance website provides information on tenders, quotes and estimates, and contracts.

Tenders and quotes (Building Performance)

The next step is to set up a written contract. This will:

  • define each professional or tradesperson’s roles and responsibilities
  • outline the scope of work, fees and any other costs they will charged.

Contracts for your building project (Building Performance)