A major cause of damage to commercial property buildings in the Kaikoura earthquake is a failure to comply with non-structural, seismic restraint guidelines, the Insurance Council of New Zealand says.

The restraints hold air conditioning structures, fire sprinklers, telecommunication and electricity systems, lighting and ceiling support systems, which can collapse and threaten life and property.

"We believe many buildings have had these systems installed and do not comply with New Zealand standard guidelines for their installation," said chief executive Tim Grafton.

"There is a strong focus on engineering sign-off of structural elements in buildings, but there is little or no monitoring or thorough inspection of the non-structural elements.

"Following the Canterbury earthquakes, a significant amount of the commercial property damage was due to the failure of these non-structural seismic restraints. It was also a significant cause of the damage to the BNZ building on Harbour Quays in 2013 following the Seddon earthquakes.

"As a result, the Insurance Council submitted twice to Parliament's Local Government and Environment Select Committee on the issue in 2014 and 2015 to draw attention to the problem. We hope that following the most recent earthquakes there will be renewed attention brought to the issue," he said.

The Insurance Council submission to Parliament suggests territorial local authorities require non-structural seismic restraints as part of building Warrant of Fitness inspections. These are also matters that should be certified as complaint by engineers on completion of new buildings, he said.