Wellington apartment owner Michael Cummins is facing a $400,000 earthquake strengthening bill effectively "wiping out" his retirement plan.

His situation is echoed across the capital as hundreds face sleepless nights, losing their home, and are on the brink of "financial disaster".

They live in buildings that have been deemed earthquake prone, meaning they have a rating of less than 34 per cent of the New Building Standard.

Many owners in Wellington have just seven and a half years to get their buildings strengthened because they're on main thoroughfares and in a high-risk seismic area.

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Those in multi-owned residential apartment buildings say the legislation is being used as a "blunt instrument".

Owners are over-capitalising their homes, using tax-paid income and savings to comply, and say they're funding public safety outcomes even though their buildings are not used by the public.

Many simply can't afford the bill and want more help than what they see as an exclusive loan scheme from the Government.

In 2010 the estimated cost to strengthen the entire building where Cummins lives at 80 Kent Terrace was $600,000, making the average cost to each apartment owner about $40,000,

But an engineer advised the body corporate to hold off, as new incoming legislation would result in the standards changing.

The Grandstand apartment building on Kent Terrace in Wellington. The building has been found to be earthquake-prone and will cost $4 million to fix. Mark Mitchell
The Grandstand apartment building on Kent Terrace in Wellington. The building has been found to be earthquake-prone and will cost $4 million to fix. Mark Mitchell

That legislation, combined with the failed Basin Reserve flyover bid and Former Hawkins Group companies going bust, held up the project for years.

By the time owners received a costing for a detailed design last year, the bill for strengthening the building had risen to about $4m. Add to that, things such as deferred maintenance and the final bill is about $6m.

The building, after strengthening, would be worth only about $13m.

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"It just doesn't make sense", Cummins told the Herald.

His share of the cost amounts to about $400,000, wiping out his retirement plan.

Meanwhile, he said others in the same position are already past retirement age but have continued to work to help cover the cost.

"It actually got so stressful for one couple in here that they moved out, basically this was their nest egg for retirement. They've tried to sell but they can't even sell it to redeem anything out of their investment.

"With the exception of maybe three owners in the building, all of the owners are just ma and pa people."

Cummins is "over" the emotional side of the situation and just wants to get what he can for building owners.

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His preference is to go ahead and strengthen the building but the problem is at least four owners have already indicated they can't afford to do that.

Their banks won't lend them the money and they aren't owner-occupiers, which excludes them from the Government's loan scheme designed to help those who can't afford this strengthening without assistance.

This month the body corporate will vote on whether to pursue putting the building up for sale, as is, to see what owners can get for it and walk away.

Building and Construction Minister Jenny Salesa says the Government's loan scheme to finance strengthening is for owner-occupiers. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Building and Construction Minister Jenny Salesa says the Government's loan scheme to finance strengthening is for owner-occupiers. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Mel Johnston, who is the body corporate chair for another apartment block in Wellington, is facing an almost identical set of circumstances.

After that building was deemed earthquake-prone in 2010, an initial strengthening estimate cost came back at $30,000 per owner.

But that cost has since devastatingly skyrocketed to $240,000 each.

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If they went ahead with the strengthening work, the apartments would sell on today's market for just over $400,000.

"We started out with a genuine belief that this was the right thing to do but now we're looking at this group of people for whom this is going to be a financial disaster, Johnston said.

"It's been a huge burden for us as an owner group and after eight years of hard work it's depressing to be in the situation that we're in when we don't have a viable path ahead."

Inner City Wellington, a residents' association, has identified 40 earthquake-prone multi-owned residential city apartment buildings, affecting about 880 households.

President Geraldine Murphy recently addressed a select committee in support of a petition asking for the House of Representatives to review the earthquake-prone building provisions in the Building Act 2004 because they are unfair.

"Keeping people safe from harm when disasters strike is important, but if how we do that is by ruining the lives of more people than will be saved, and forcing apartment owners out of their homes, then we must think again."

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Wellington-based National list MP Nicola Willis endorses the call for an independent review of the impacts the legislation's having on apartment owners. Photo / Mark Tantrum
Wellington-based National list MP Nicola Willis endorses the call for an independent review of the impacts the legislation's having on apartment owners. Photo / Mark Tantrum

Last year the Government announced a loan scheme to help people find the money to strengthen their buildings, but it's only available to owner-occupiers.

Building and Construction Minister Jenny Salesa said it was targeted at those in genuine hardship, who couldn't afford to remediate their buildings without assistance.

"The loan is not available to residential property investors because investment in residential property is essentially a commercial undertaking - if the owner is unable to raise the finance to strengthen the building, they have the option to sell their property."

MBIE has received only 19 expressions of interest in the loan to date.

Salesa said the Government considered several options when developing a support scheme and the loan was considered the fairest for taxpayers and provided broad access.

She said it was possible the Government may review this scheme after implementation.

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Wellington-based National list MP Nicola Willis endorsed the call for an independent review of the impacts the legislation was having on apartment owners.

She understood that when Cabinet originally agreed to the changes, the average cost for owners was estimated to be about $25,000 each.

"If that is the case, it does change very much the context for these decisions and it's a materially different set of facts.

"It's also a balancing act; we can't lose sight of the fact New Zealander's want to live in cities and buildings where people are safe from the impact of a major earthquake."