Senior Wellington journalist Georgina Campbell's fortnightly column looks closely at issues in the capital.
Earthquake-prone buildings in Wellington that remain a risk to people's lives seven years after their strengthening deadlines have expired are making a mockery of the rules.
Wellington City Council (WCC) has finally started court action over the situation and is trying to take possession of buildings so it can carry out seismic work and bill the owners.
There are currently two of these cases before the courts and they mark the first time a council has applied for such an order. It's about time.
The court's decision will set a precedent for territorial authorities across the country.
The buildings, 43 Ghuznee St and the former Adelaide Hotel, were both meant to be strengthened by the end of 2013. They are heritage buildings, making demolition a near impossible option.
There are eight buildings in Wellington with expired strengthening deadlines, but the council sees these two as the most risky.
The property on Ghuznee St, the Toomath's building, was so bad the council abruptly cordoned it off last year to protect the public.
It's one of six earthquake-prone buildings on Ghuznee St alone.
The idea that a council can take over your building, strengthen it to the tune of millions of dollars, and charge you the bill, even after you've said you can't afford the work, is probably quite alarming to building owners.
Committing an offence and being liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $200,000 is also on the table for those who break the rules.
WCC's approach as a regulator is to work with owners to get their buildings strengthened in time and only intervene as a last resort.
But working with building owners for seven whole years after the deadline to no avail feels a little too lenient.
It's also uncharted territory for territorial authorities and, for one like WCC in particular, the burden is huge.
Strengthening earthquake-prone buildings is not a cheap exercise, let alone the legal fees and resource associated with a council obtaining such a court order.
The owner of the former Adelaide Hotel, for example, estimates it will cost $6 million to strengthen the building, following which it would only be worth about $2.5m.
WCC is under enough financial pressure as it is.
Councillors are working out how to reduce a forecast 23 per cent rates increase next year while maintaining the council's commitments to the Let's Get Wellington Moving transport project, investing in water infrastructure and dealing with other resilience issues.
The council will struggle to pay the cost of earthquake-strengthening its own buildings in Te Ngākau Civic Square, let alone other people's. The bill to strengthen the central library will cost up to $179m.
Earthquake-prone buildings are everywhere in Wellington, in fact there's about 570 of them.
A building, or part of a building, is earthquake-prone if it is likely to collapse and cause injury or death, or damage to another property, in a moderate earthquake.
The issue is a serious one. It is literally a matter of life or death.
That's why no one is above the rules when it comes to earthquake safety, especially in a city like Wellington.
Unfortunately, there's a growing number of people who seem to think otherwise.
Last year KiwiRail literally took down earthquake-prone building notices from the city's central train station.
KiwiRail did this based on independent engineering advice, which led it to believe the building was no longer earthquake-prone after strengthening undertaken in 2015.
That's not how the system works. Councils act as regulators and are responsible for determining whether a building is earthquake-prone, assigning a rating and issuing a notice.
KiwiRail doesn't get to decide, that's the council's job and the council wasn't satisfied.
The notices ended up being put back on the building.
There will be more people who don't manage to meet the legal requirements, whether that's due to affordability issues, leaving it to the last minute or the difficulties of navigating heritage rules.
Some will have made legitimate efforts to strengthen the building in time and if discretion means the building is strengthened a year after the deadline expired, then so be it.
But an example needs to be set of those owners who have a blatant disregard for the rules.
They are rules which will be tested in the coming decade, with 468 strengthening deadlines due to expire in Wellington City over that time. The expiry dates peak in 2027, when there are 215 deadlines.
To be clear, the deadlines expiring do not change how risky the buildings are. They will be just as potentially deadly now as they will be in seven years' time.
The rules need to have teeth to ensure these buildings are strengthened sooner rather than later.