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Apartments and shared property

If you live in an apartment or townhouse, or have shared ownership of some part of your residential property, you’ll need to prepare differently for the effects of a natural disaster compared to people living in a stand-alone house.


  • 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 disaster.
  • 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, from having a common interest in a roof, floor or party wall between two separately-titled houses, to owning a share in an apartment building.

Some types of shared property ownership arrangements include:

  • Fee-simple: where each owner owns their own unit and land, but may also have shared arrangements with other properties through easements (a right agreed between a landowner and another party to use part of the landowner’s property for a particular purpose) or other legal interests (for example, a party wall, shared access ways or drainage).
  • Unit title: where each owner owns their principal unit and has a shared interest in the common property (for example, stairs or a lobby area). Specific arrangements, such as insurance, are governed by a body corporate under the Unit Titles Act 2010.
  • Cross lease: where the owners jointly own the land and each owner leases a flat on the land from the joint owners under a long-term lease. Specific arrangements are set out in a memorandum of lease.
  • Company lease: 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.

There are many details to consider as the owner of shared property:

  • 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.
  • If a property has previously suffered damage from a natural disaster, or you believe it may have, you can contact us to see what information is available (for example, historical records, previous claims). Providing this information can take up to 20 working days.

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 are required to 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.

Insuring shared property

It’s important to understand how your shared property is insured before you need to make a claim for natural disaster 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. There were a number of claims arising from the Canterbury earthquakes where owners of shared property had different insurers, different levels of damage and varying levels of insurance cover (ranging from no cover at all to indemnity value, specified sum insured and full replacement).

Toka Tū Ake EQC provides automatic natural disaster insurance for homes and land as EQCover, so long as the home is privately insured with a policy that includes fire protection. Land cover from EQCover comes from the home policy.

This page, natural disaster insurance explains what is covered by EQCover and how to check your private insurance.

Natural disaster insurance explains what we cover and how to check your private 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, including repairs to shared structural parts of the building, such as foundations, party walls and roofs 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 - Toka Tū Ake EQC may cover the whole building or only the residential part. See page 13 of the EQCover Insurers’ Guide.
  • 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(link is external)

Our Multi-unit buildings page has information about how Toka Tū Ake EQC settled Canterbury claims for earthquake damage to properties with shared ownership.

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 a disaster.

This might include:

  • purchasing sufficient insurance cover
  • ensuring the regular maintenance schedule takes natural hazards into consideration (for example, includes maintenance of retaining walls)
  • 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 natural 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 Toka Tū Ake EQC, 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(link is external)

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.

You can read general information on building safety in earthquakes(link is external) on MBIE’s building website.

Make your own natural hazard preparations

Know what you can do to make your home or building safer.

Some work might be restricted because it affects other owners or the building as a whole. For example, you might want to change or secure ceiling tiles in the hallway outside your unit, but first require approval from the body corporate or other management structure.

Our Tenants page has information on how to make your rental safer, specific actions to discuss with your landlord, and contents insurance.

Our Homeowners page has information about natural hazards and more ideas for making a 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. Something as simple as a bottle falling onto a benchtop or floor and breaking can cause significant damage because of the liquid it contains. Heavy benchtops may move off their base, potentially injuring residents or damaging other property.

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.