12 May 2015

Payout for quake-risk properties unlikely

9:08 am on 12 May 2015

The government is all but ruling out a large-scale payout for Wellington property owners who cannot afford to bring their buildings up to the earthquake code.

Nick Smith during caucas run 5/5/15

Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Owners facing bills of hundreds of thousands of dollars have been appealing for government assistance.

Proposed changes to legislation on earthquake strengthening buildings have been largely lauded as a good move by those in areas deemed low risk under the new system.

Those places, including Auckland, now have 35 years to strengthen their properties.

But in Wellington, classified as high risk, the situation for owners would not change.

Inner City Association chair Geraldine Murphy said property owners still only had 15 years to do the work, and many could not afford to and could not get a loan.

"If you don't have enough equity in your property, you won't be able to get a loan," she said.

"If you're a retiree, [if] you don't have an income stream, if you don't have any savings apart from what you've saved for your retirement, you can't find the finance."

Ms Murphy said the government needed to help, with either low-interest loans or tax breaks for people who had exhausted all other options.

'Modest' help targeted at heritage buildings

But Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith said it was the owners' job to pay.

"If there is to be any government financial support it will be modest, and it will be targeted at heritage buildings," he said.

"There is no shortage of people who are lining up wanting taxpayers money to meet their obligations to ensure that their buildings are safe.

"That responsibility rests with the building owner."

Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Milford said many small to medium sized businesses would have no choice but to knock down their buildings at the 15-year deadline.

He said they did not want a handout - just a hand up.

"They're not saying look, give us the money for nothing," he said.

"What they're doing is saying find a method for us to be able to finance the work that needs to be done. Help us get this work done in such a way that allows us to stay in business."

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown Photo: SUPPLIED / WCC

Property Council chief executive Connal Townsend said it was time the government helped commercial owners meet the timeframes it had set.

He said without government assistance they had three choices: try to sell up without doing the work and probably take a loss, demolish and start again, or do nothing.

"The third option is really the nasty one, which is lock up and walk away," he said.

"It would be pretty ghastly to think of key streets in Wellington with derelict buildings because the owners could not afford to strengthen."

The city's mayor Celia Wade-Brown said owners of empty buildings being strengthened received a rates remission and there was a small amount of money from the heritage fund to help.

But she said it was still not enough to fix the buildings and agreed central government needed to come up with some money.

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