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Apartments and shared property

How to prepare for a natural hazard event if you live in an apartment or townhouse, or have shared ownership of some part of your residential property.

  • Find out about your property ownership type, any insurance requirements, and how any insurance held by you and other shared property owners might cover you in the event of a natural hazard event.
  • Work with other owners and tenants to prepare your shared property and ensure an active body corporate or other management structure is in place.
  • Make your own preparations, including reducing internal fit-out hazards and getting to know your neighbours.

Types of shared property ownership

Shared ownership can vary widely. Some types of shared property ownership arrangements include:

  • fee-simple
  • unit title
  • cross lease
  • company lease.

See Understanding the types of ownership on the Settled website(external link) to find out more about fee-simple, unit title and cross lease ownership. 

Company lease is where a multi-unit building is owned by a company and each owner has the right to use a unit, through ownership of particular shares in the company. Specific arrangements are often set out under the company constitution and the owner’s occupation licence, although arrangements may be different from building to building.

Things to consider as the owner of shared property

Clarify your ownership arrangement

Seek legal advice to help clarify the nature of your ownership arrangement in the shared property and your rights and obligations, including how you will insure your property.

If you don’t already have one, you or your lawyer can order a copy of the Certificate of Title(external link) for your property from the Land Information New Zealand website to confirm the type of property interest you have.

Check if the property has had a claim for natural hazard damage

Check the Natural Hazards Portal(external link) to see if the property has had a claim for natural hazard damage in the past. If a property has previously suffered damage from a natural hazard event, or you believe it may have, contact us to see what information is available. Providing this information can take up to 20 working days.

Insuring shared property

It’s important to understand how your shared property is insured before you need to make a claim for natural hazard damage.

If the owners of shared property each have different types of insurance (or no insurance at all) and there is damage to the shared property, it may complicate any claims for the cost to repair that damage. 

NHCover provides natural disaster insurance for residential homes and land. You automatically have NHCover for your home and land if you have a current private insurance policy for your home that includes fire insurance (and most do).

See our About natural hazards cover page to find out more about natural disaster insurance.

Some of the complexities around insurance of shared property include:

  • reaching agreement with all parties about the level and type of insurance cover
  • understanding how cover is applied to each dwelling and any shared areas, and establishing the extent of each owner’s insurance cover
  • determining who will pay for damage not covered by insurance
  • reaching agreement with all parties about repairs, and how and when those repairs will be carried out
  • where a building is a mix of commercial and residential, insurance cover can be more complicated.

Depending on the type of shared ownership, you may be required to have your property insured in a particular way. Check with your lawyer, your insurance broker (if you have one) and/or your insurer.

Owners generally need to insure their own contents, regardless of whether the building insurance is combined or separate.

You’ll find lots of helpful information for both owners and renters of unit titles on MBIE’s Unit Titles website(external link).

Our Slopes and retaining walls page includes information about land structures that may be shared.

Working together to prepare for natural hazards

It’s important owners and tenants of apartments and shared property are aware of natural hazards and involved in preparing and planning for them.

This might include:

  • purchasing sufficient insurance cover
  • ensuring the regular maintenance schedule takes natural hazards into consideration
  • identifying and agreeing improvements to make the property safer, when those improvements should be carried out and how they should be funded
  • agreeing a plan with all owners for how you will respond to a disaster (for example, looking after vulnerable residents and identifying alternative accommodation)
  • identifying who will coordinate the insurance recovery following an event (including making a claim and working with Natural Hazards Commission Toka Tū Ake, private insurers and all owners to get the claim settled and the property repaired). Having an active body corporate or other management structure in place is a good idea to help ensure a consistent approach to settlement and to ensure everyone is kept informed.

It’s worth getting to know your neighbours – being on good terms can make a big difference in preparing for, during and after a natural disaster. It might also make it easier to avoid or resolve disputes. Ask your council for information about local community groups.

You can read more about how a body corporate makes decisions on MBIE’s Unit Titles website(external link).

Extra steps to reaching agreement

If multiple owners find it difficult to reach agreement, you may need mediation or dispute resolution services.

Provisions for resolving disputes might be part of your ownership arrangement, for example:

  • set out in the memorandum of lease document of a cross-lease property
  • contained within the Unit Titles Act 2010 for certain scenarios.

Your lawyer, body corporate coordinator or building manager might be able to advise you of your options.

Check your apartment building is up to standard

If your shared property is an apartment building, you’ll need to know about the strength of the building, including what percentage of the New Building Standard (NBS) it meets.

Your Body Corporate secretary or manager or your local council may have this information. If not, consider engaging an appropriately qualified professional such as a structural engineer to provide advice on the strength of the building and how it might perform in the event of an earthquake.

Councils must assess buildings that have two or more storeys and include three or more residential units to determine how susceptible they may be to earthquake damage. If your apartment building is listed on a council register as 'earthquake prone' it may require strengthening in the near future to bring it up to the required NBS, which could be costly. Consider getting advice on your obligations from appropriately qualified professionals such as a structural engineer and lawyer.

Read information for owners of potentially earthquake-prone buildings(external link) on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) building website.

Make your own natural hazard preparations

How to make your building or home safer.

Is your interior fit-out safe?

Apartment buildings may be designed to move during an earthquake. This may mean you need to take particular care with your interior fit-out, and find ways to limit damage. For example, heavy hanging light fittings may swing in a wide arc during an earthquake and cause damage to themselves or anything in their wake. 

You could make your unit or apartment safer by making some of the following improvements:

  • putting catches on cupboard doors
  • storing heavy items down low
  • securing pictures and mirrors adequately
  • removing caster wheels or replacing them with locking caster wheels, so furniture won’t move easily
  • securing or replacing heavy furniture or benchtops
  • ensuring you have a strong table or bench you can get under in an earthquake.

Large furniture and appliances has the information you need about securing these items.