Wellington building owners get a sticker shake-up

KATIE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 19/08/2012

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Wellington Council staff are ready to rumble with the owners of earthquake-prone buildings who do not display the legally required yellow stickers that alert visitors to the risks they face entering the premises.

The warning comes after council staff spotted a number of confirmed earthquake-prone buildings failing to display the notices. The stickers must be displayed prominently or the owner faces a $5000 fine.

About 470 buildings in the city have been confirmed as earthquake-prone, which means they rate at less than 34 per cent compliance with the building code.

Once a building has been found to be earthquake-prone, it can be issued with a yellow sticker, setting out a timeframe for either strengthening work or demolition.

The length of time depends on the level of risk, the building's use, and the number of people who use it.

Buildings can be red-stickered, requiring immediate closure, if the deadline passes without any work being done, or the structure is damaged in a way that causes danger.

The owners of any building with a yellow sticker are legally required to display it in a prominent place.

Council seismic activity manager Steve Cody said staff members out issuing new notices in the past week had noticed some buildings failing to display the signs. "It's something I'm looking into at the moment. It's a concern for me if people are starting to remove notices."

He would not say which buildings had been spotted failing to comply, and said no fines had been issued yet.

Most owners complied, and it was only recently that a problem had arisen, so before resorting to fines the council would give owners the benefit of the doubt that they did not intentionally remove the signs, he said.

"They should be reading the notices, and if they do remove or deface them intentionally, then obviously there's going to be potential legal action."

The council did not have staff dedicated to checking that buildings were displaying the signs, but built environment portfolio leader councillor Iona Pannett said the public had a right to know the state of any building they were entering, so no more than one warning would be acceptable.

"I would be very concerned if people were consistently taking these signs down . . . if people want to get rid of them they need to strengthen their buildings."

Council spokesman Richard MacLean said fines would be considered for repeat offenders. But warnings would be the first step, given the potential size of the fine and the need to prove intentional removal of the sign.

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This was similar to warnings issued in the first few days after a car registration expired. "The same sort of leeway applies."

One building correctly displaying the notice is St Mary of the Angels church in Boulcott St. The church has been given a 2027 deadline and the parish has just finalised plans to strengthen the building.

Parish priest Father Barry Scannell said visitors to the church had not been fazed by the yellow sticker. "The people of Wellington realise we're in a city that is obviously prone to earthquakes . . . I don't think it makes a difference to them at all."

He said it was important to warn people of the environment they were entering, and to show people the church was actually responsible for righting the situation.

- Sunday Star Times

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