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Earthquakes and Boundaries

There’s been some discussion in The Press this week about boundaries, and what happens when they move after an earthquake.  When you see pictures like this one you can understand why…

Here’s a letter to the editor on Wed, Sept 8, from Ross Elliot:

“Can someone urgently inform us what happens to property rights when there is a considerable lateral shift of a large tract of land in an earthquake.

If the boundaries remain as recorded with the land information registry, there will be enormous disruption where fences, roads, buildings etc will not be where they should be.

If the boundaries move with the land (the sensible, but perhaps not a legal solution) then there will be a horrendous task in re-surveying revising the boundaries.  Then there will be really awkward cases where a property or a legal access has only (!) been partly displaced by the shift.

If legislation is not in place to cover the situation, I fear the legal minefields that lie ahead.”

Ross Elliot, Motueka.

And here’s a response from Don Grant, the Surveyor-General published Fri, September 10.

“Ross Elliot asks what happens to property rights when land shifts in an earthquake (Sept 8).  While the assets they own might have moved, in most cases the boundaries will have moved a corresponding amount.

While the small number of properties bisected by the fault trace might need more careful consideration by surveyors, the majority of property boundaries are not materially affected.

If a fence or wall was on the boundary before the earthquake, it is reasonable to assume that it is still on the boundary afterwards.  Therefore, wholesale re-survey of boundaries should not be required.

Landowners rebuilding fences or buildings that are close to the boundary will often need to get a surveyor to confirm the position of the boundary, but this is usually a good idea anyway.

The positions of boundaries are based on physical evidence in the ground – mainly survey marks, including boundary pegs.  Surveyors re-establishing boundaries also consider other evidence, where relevant, such as the relationship of fences and buildings to the boundary.

As was found after the 1987 quake in Edgecumbe, the best solutions for re-establishing boundaries are based on evidence, common law and common sense with little need for intervention by the courts.”

Don Grant, Surveyor-General, Land Information New Zealand, Wellington.

And here’s my comments:

We certainly expect to see a shift of considerable distance when measuring long distances in Canterbury.  This will be most apparent when measuring across the fault (you can see more aerial photos here).  However, when measuring old survey lines in a local area (as we’d normally do for a survey), we don’t anticipate finding significant differences when comparing the new measurements with the old ones.  The exception to this being in areas where the ground is subject to liquifaction, or other instability.

Following the earthquake there has been a re-survey of Christchurch City vertical benchmarks (to assist in repairing broken infrastructure).  There’s also a preliminary re-survey of horizontal marks being carried out, which is intended to be the basis of a more rigourous re-survey of trigs in Canterbury.

Hopefully we’ll see some results from these surveys (and the implications) shortly.

In terms of a typical property survey, we’ll be giving extra attention to errors that we find when locating old survey marks, to determine if it’s normal or due to the quake.

If you’ve got any queries about your boundaries give us a call: 03 366 3959.

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