Wellington granted powers to force landlords to assess buildings and share results
Wellington City Council has been given emergency powers to force recalcitrant landlords to assess their buildings for earthquake damage and share the findings.
On Wednesday Acting Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee granted an application from Wellington mayor Justin Lester, creating a "local transition period", conferring special powers on recovery manager Mike Mendonca.
For the next 28 days the council can legally force building owners to obtain assessments of the strength of their buildings and share it with the council.
Landlords will foot the bill for the assessment and Lester said he expected the council may also wish to peer review the reports "which would not come at a cost to the council".
The powers were brought forward in emergency legislation passed unanimously in Parliament on November 29.
While the council would have the power to require assessments be conducted where a state of emergency was declared, because Wellington adopted a "business as usual" approach after the November 14 earthquake, a law change was required.
Lester said he was not aware of particular instances where landlords were refusing to provide information about their buildings.
"A couple have been difficult, but I'm not going to name names," Lester said.
"We asked for these powers so there's not going to be any problem."
He also declined to say how many buildings were of concern.
The buildings did not represent danger to the public walking nearby. All of the buildings in question were currently closed to the public "and we want to understand why," Lester said.
"There are a few buildings where we want to make sure we go through a process with. Some didn't perform well in [the] 2013 [earthquake] and again in 2016.
"We want to weed out buildings that aren't safe and we want to make sure the city's safe. The vast majority of private landlords take their responsibility very seriously."
Lester said there was "an arguable case" for the council to have the powers to compel landlords to conduct assessments, however the powers needed to be proportionate.
Wellington City Council has already ordered the destruction of one building on Molesworth St and the Reading Cinema carpark on Tory St is also likely to be pulled down.
Brownlee said he granted the powers because it appeared a "handful" of building owners appeared reluctant to obtain assessments.
In the absence of a state of emergency being declared the "business as usual" mechanisms were not enough.
"I understand there might be a handful of building owners reluctant to obtain or provide their building assessments – the transition period will allow access to powers to obtain building assessments."
Connal Townsend, chief executive of the New Zealand Property Institute said while generally building assessments should be the property of building owners, the organisation had been supportive of the new powers compelling landlords to share information in emergency situations.
"I cannot imagine why people would want to hide away from their public safety obligation. I've just got no idea."