A burden or a boon?
Owning a piece of New Zealand’s history may be a dream come true for some property owners, but it could be a nightmare for others. Whether ownership of a heritage building is a boon or a burden to you will depend on how your plans fit within the rules and whether you make the most of incentives available to heritage building owners.
In this article, we outline some things you need to think about when owning or buying a heritage building.
Defining a heritage building
The term ‘heritage building’ usually refers to a property on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero.
Anyone can apply to list a building, but Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga makes the final decision on whether that building is significant enough to be included. All heritage buildings are categorised according to their heritage values. ‘Category 1 Historic Places’, for example, are places of special or outstanding historical or cultural significance, while places categorised as ‘Wāhi Tapu’ are places sacred to Māori. The full list of existing heritage buildings and places can be found here.
Listed buildings, however, are not the only ones that may be subject to special protections. Councils can recognise the heritage values of any building in their district plans. Property owners (or potential owners) should take care when checking whether a building is protected by a district plan as the rules may not necessarily use the words ‘heritage building.’ A building described as ‘a site of interest’, as being of ‘special character’ or in similar words may also be protected.
The status of a heritage building is not affected by its condition. Even buildings in need of serious repair could have heritage status. Also, there is no rule that a building must be of a certain age to be considered heritage; do not rely on age as the sole indicator of a building’s status. The best way is always to check the list and the district plan.
Effect of heritage status
If you own a heritage building, you must be cautious when dealing with your property. These buildings come with greater restrictions aimed at preserving their historic values. For example:
- You must operate within district plan rules and seek council consent where necessary: Being on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero does not automatically protect a building. Instead, some relevant restrictions can be found in the local district plan. The scope of these restrictions could range from the removal of interior fixtures, to exterior design changes and/or to demolition.
Related bare land of potential archaeological interest or notable trees may also be protected in this way. Even where your proposed work is approved, the council may impose conditions requiring that the work be carried out in a manner in keeping with the building’s heritage or overseen by experts. Obtaining a consent and meeting such conditions can significantly increase your project’s cost and timeframe.
- You must seek special authorisation from Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga where work on or use of a heritage building may affect a pre-1900 archaeological site or land subject to a heritage order: Importantly, this authorisation is in addition to any council consents. While heritage orders can be found in the district plan, authorisation for disturbing pre-1900 archaeological sites is required regardless of whether that site is recorded. Again, the authorisation may come with conditions.
- Overseas buyers may need Overseas Investment Office consent before buying a heritage property: Property with a listed heritage building or subject to a heritage order is likely to be ‘sensitive land’ under the Overseas Investment Act 2005.
On the bright side, owning a listed heritage building also comes with benefits designed to encourage history preservation and enhance the character of the area. For example, you may be entitled to:
- Funding or other assistance: There are grants available to assist with the costs of preserving heritage buildings, such as the National Heritage Preservation Incentive Fund. Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga also offers wider support services to heritage building owners, including advice on alterations and consent processes, and
- Fee waivers: Some councils are willing to waive consent fees for work involving heritage buildings.
As changing the status of a heritage building can be difficult and failing to work within the rules can result in criminal prosecution, it is essential that you have all information upfront before buying or working on a heritage building.