25 Jul 2013

Owners want tax breaks for quake work

4:52 am on 25 July 2013

The owners of some Wellington inner-city apartment buildings say they want the same Government help to strengthen their buildings that might be available to commercial premises.

The Wellington Inner City Association says the 6.5-magnitude earthquake on Sunday left the occupants of dozens of apartment buildings worried there could be an increase in the level to which buildings have to be strengthened.

Spokesperson Geraldine Murphy says owners are in limbo as they wait for changes to the building code. "People need certainty and they need it quite quickly so they can actually get under way."

Proposals from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment go to Cabinet's Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee on 31 July and to the full Cabinet after that.

One is a suggestion that 15,000 to 25,000 old buildings be brought up to 33% of the building standard required for modern construction.

The Property Council has warned building owners may abandon their properties if they can't afford to strengthen or rebuild them and has said Government help such as tax breaks might be needed.

Ms Murphy says if tax breaks are considered to help offset the cost of strengthening work in commercial buildings, she hopes residential buildings receive them.

Anthony Briscoe says if apartment buildings with Historic Places Trust listings must be maintained for the public good, then the public should help pay to strengthen them against quakes.

Mr Briscoe lives in a 1931 brick building with a Historic Places classification which was strengthened in 1999 to two-thirds of the then building code requirements. It now is at about 20% of the current requirements.

He says strengthening work being considered now would cost him more than $100,000 and wants the Government to help fund it through tax breaks. He says the building came through Sunday's big quake with no damage.

Connal Townsend, chief executive of the Property Council, said owners have three options for their buildings; demolish and rebuild, strengthen the building or board it up and walk away.

He said owners may board up buildings if they cannot afford to fix them, as was common in the US city of Detroit after the 2008 financial crisis, and this would be a blight on cities.

Mr Townsend told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme it is possible pressure from tenants and others may require even higher standards, which some building owners will struggle with.

Cost of dangerous buildings too high, says survivor

A Lincoln University lecturer who was injured in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake says the Government must have the courage to require strengthening of dangerous buildings.

Lincoln University senior lecturer Dr Ann Brower was crushed in a building collapse in Colombo Street during the devastating 6.3 earthquake on 22 February 2011.

Dr Brower told Morning Report either property owners pay for repairs now, or passers-by in the future will pay with their injuries when the buildings collapse in a severe earthquake.

"They're asking the public to subsidise these dangerous buildings, not so much with money but in our lost legs and lost lives and pain. Subsidising dangerous buildings with human pain is not a bargain that I'm willing to sign up to. "