Assessments of physical damage to land and buildings in the greater Christchurch area due to earthquakes have almost been completed. Whilst complex insurance claims have yet to be settled, those claims for settlement offers which have been made and accepted are now moving forward to the re-build and repair stage.
The extent of the damage and value of each claim obviously varies, but as a rule damage with a repair value of under $100,000 has been, or is being, assessed by EQC whereas anything over this $100,000 threshold has been assessed by the insurance companies themselves. The volume of damaged properties required to be assessed and the complexity of issues required to be considered has, in some cases, resulted in the preparation of scope of works/repair proposals which are inadequate. If these inadequate scopes are implemented, the potential for below standard building work increases. This would leave all parties involved – assessors, Project Management Officers (PMO’s), designers, builders and property owners – open to potential future liability.
Constructing a new building, or repairing an existing one can be a complex process and most building owners are unaware that they are responsible for ensuring that any works done to their building comply with the New Zealand Building Code (which forms part of the regulations in the Building Act 2004). It is critical, if you are a building owner that work on your building is carried out in accordance with the Code. Building work must be done to this standard to protect current and future owners.
Those tasked with completing damage assessments, repair scopes and repairs must understand and consider the implications of the above requirements. The Building Act sets out rules and duties for building owners and managers. Section 17 of the Act requires that all building work whether building consent is required or not, complies with the Building Code.
The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has prepared a guideline for property, building and home owners in Canterbury, titled “Rebuild with Confidence”. The MBIE booklet gives an overview of the repair/rebuild process and is available at www.dbh.govt.nz.
The repair of earthquake damaged buildings is very similar to the repair of water damaged buildings, the process is detailed, difficult and time consuming with the attendant cost implications. It is essential for building owners to comply with the requirements of the Building Code and to obtain a Building Consent. The Council are promoting the use of Section 112 of the Building Act as a way of speeding up the consent process. This approach, in our view, is not in the interests of building owners.
The Building Amendment Act 2013, yet to receive assent, includes provisions which will further protect consumers including mandatory written contracts for residential building work over $30,000. While this legislation is welcomed, owners of earthquake damaged buildings are currently wondering whether they will be exposed as a result of poorly executed Canterbury earthquake repairs. Time will tell if the errors of the past, which arose from poor design and construction decisions, are currently being repeated and whether a new era of leaky and creaky buildings will emerge?
This article also featured in the Canterbury Tales – a publication from the Canterbury Westland Branch of the New Zealand Law Society. Click here to download the full publication.