Earthquake risk buildings

How they stand up in court

  • David C. Hopkins KRTA Limited, Wellington, New Zealand
  • Garry R. McKay Works Consultancy Services, Wellington, New Zealand
  • R. Bruce Shephard Works Consultancy Services, Wellington, New Zealand


The power to classify buildings as earthquake risk has been available to local authorities since 1968. Through provisions in the Local Government Act, local authorities could require owners to strengthen or demolish buildings so classified. Authorities throughout New Zealand have progressively taken up these powers and many unreinforced masonry buildings have been demolished or strengthened. Relatively few owners have challenged the local authority's classification and it took until 1989 for a Council's ruling to be challenged in the District Court. During that year, three cases were heard, and the authors as members of a statutory panel of experts, were called upon to assist the judges. The experience provided a valuable, if long delayed, learning experience for the Courts, local authorities building owners and engineers. The Council's ruling was upheld in only one of the three cases.

This paper describes each case and draws attention to some engineering and procedural aspects which contain lessons for those involved in future applications. The main lessons for engineers include the need for adequate preparation and presentation for the standard of proof required by the court.


"Earthquake Risk Buildings. Recommendations and Guidelines for Classifying, Interim Securing and Strengthening". New Zealand National Society for Earthquake Engineering, December 1985.

District Court Judgment. Reference MA: 54/86. “Wellington City Council vs Port Building Limited”.

District Court Judgment. Reference MA: 555/86. "Wellington City Council vs Port Nicholson Holdings Limited".

District Court Judgment. Reference MA: 189/88. "Blenheim Borough Council vs J G Orchard Partnership".

How to Cite
Hopkins, D. C., McKay, G. R., & Shephard, R. B. (1991). Earthquake risk buildings. Bulletin of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering, 24(2), 107-115.