Apartment owners face huge bills

Wellington apartment owners are shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars for earthquake strengthening, with fears that costs could rise even more.

Inner-city dweller Sue Glyde said she and six other owners faced a bill of $120,000 each to bring their pre-1962 apartment complex up to scratch.

"At least one person has said it could result in bankruptcy. We hope it doesn't come to that, but it could. It's a significant challenge for both owners and body corporates."

Safety was a major driver for the project, Glyde said. Engineers had found the complex was "significantly below" the national earthquake-prone building threshold of 33 per cent of new building standard.

While they had up to 15 years to address the issue, the apartment owners wanted it dealt with, as the apartments would be difficult to sell in the building's current state.

Neil Cooper, president of a body corporate chairpersons' group, said some residents were being hit with massive bills. "It's happening everywhere."

The situation was especially hard for people who had retired and had their money tied up in their apartments.

Owners were also faced with an uncertain playing field when it came to earthquake strengthening, Cooper said.

The Building (Earthquake-prone Buildings) Amendment Bill, currently before Parliament, maintains a national earthquake-prone building threshold of 33 per cent of new building standard. However, the Wellington City Council recently told a select committee it wanted to be able to set higher standards for some key buildings.

Examples included key heritage buildings, or those on important routes. Under the city council's policy, pre-1976 buildings assessed as earthquake-prone - less than one-third of new building standard - must be upgraded or demolished within between 10 and 20 years.

Buildings used for residential purposes are excluded from the policy unless they are two or more storeys high and have three or more household units.

That means the policy doesn't apply to most Wellington homes but it can affect apartments or blocks of flats.

Wellington city councillor Andy Foster said the costs of earthquake compliance were becoming an issue for some owners.

The council was offering help in the form of advice, rates relief if owners had to move out for repair work, and potential rates rebates.

Any future changes to local earthquake codes would only happen after community consultation, Foster said.

"We're not imposing this for no reason. If there's a major event and our buildings are not up to code, people could be killed."

Wellington Inner City Association chairwoman Geraldine Murphy said the issue affected a raft of people in a wide range of financial situations.

The Government should consider financial assistance, considering the public good involved in earthquake strengthening, she said.

The Dominion Post