New Zealand: Buying and developing property

Doing Business in NZ

"Haere mai" is Māori for welcome and New Zealand is one of the most open economies in the world. But there are rules and regulations that will apply, and we are familiar with them.

This "Doing Business in NZ" publication is designed to provide the prospective investor with an introductory guide to the New Zealand legal framework as it applies to business. The information provided was accurate at the time of publication, and will be updated regularly. But it should not be relied upon as a basis for making business decisions as circumstances, business conditions, government policy and interpretation of the law may change.

We recommend that you seek advice specific to your needs before making any decisions and will be happy to assist.


New Zealand uses the Torrens land registration system under which most parcels of land have their own titles showing dimensions and location, and recording ownership and other interests affecting the land. The government guarantees the accuracy of titles, which can be searched by the public for a nominal fee.

Chapman Tripp provides a full title searching service.

The primary attraction of the Torrens system is that dealings can be conducted in reliance on a single title, rather than on a succession of title deeds. New Zealand has converted almost all titles, plans and instruments into an electronic format, allowing real-time searching and electronic registration of all land title and surveying transactions.

Under New Zealand law, buildings and other improvements permanently attached to the land form part of the land itself and pass with ownership of the land, unless the current owner and a purchaser agree otherwise.

Contracts for sale and purchase of land

To be enforceable under New Zealand law, a contract for the sale and purchase of land must be in writing and signed by the parties involved or their authorised agents.

Once signed, an agreement for sale and purchase becomes legally binding on all parties. It can, however, be made subject to conditions which protect the seller or buyer.

Common conditions are:

  • the buyer raising finance
  • the buyer being satisfied with valuation, local authority information relating to the land, engineering reports and building reports, and
  • the buyer being satisfied with the title.

Where a real estate agent is engaged by a seller to effect a sale, commission is payable by the seller, typically at a rate of 4% of the purchase price up to NZ$250,000 and 2% thereafter (plus GST). There is no stamp duty.

Dealings with land are registered electronically against the title.

Resource Management Act and district plans

The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) is New Zealand's principal statute relating to the use of land, water, minerals, the coast, air and physical resources. The Act aims to promote "sustainable management of physical and natural resources". The Act also seeks to maintain and enhance New Zealand's "clean, green" image.

The RMA has major implications for industrial projects and property developments. A new development may require a number of consents under the Act before it can go ahead.

Controls on development are administered by locally elected government authorities and are expressed through a range of publicly notified plans. These include regional plans, regional coastal plans and district plans. Plans set out rules for activities in various locations or 'zones". Parties seeking consent to proceed with a development must follow the procedures set out in the relevant plan, and this may involve public participation through the public notification of the consent application.

Privately owned land may be designated in the district plan as being required by the government for a public work, which may result in the land being acquired by the government (compulsorily if necessary). The current market value of the land would be paid as compensation.

Building works

The Building Act 2004 is designed to regulate and control building work and the use of buildings. Every new building and most substantial alterations or additions to existing buildings will require a building consent. Multiple-use approvals are available for group home builders who build homes throughout New Zealand using the same or similar plans.

On completion of works, a code compliance certificate will be issued, provided compliance with the building consent has been satisfied.

Allied to the Building Act is the Building Code. This sets criteria to ensure buildings are safe, sanitary, have adequate means of escape and, in the case of public buildings, have access and facilities for disabled persons. Existing buildings, which are being altered, may require upgrading in the course of the alterations in order to comply with these criteria as nearly as is reasonably practicable. Buildings considered earthquake prone may also be required to be upgraded.

The Act imposes restrictions upon occupation of a building where public areas of that building are subject to building works for which a code compliance certificate has not yet been issued.

Stratum estates

The Unit Titles Act 1972 allows titles to be issued for parts of buildings, for example an apartment or industrial park. The Act provides for a body corporate (comprising the unit owners) to be established, with a set of rules governing the use and maintenance of the building. The body corporate is tasked with insuring the building and controlling and maintaining the common areas. The unit owners pay a body corporate levy to cover its expenses. Before buying a unit, the body corporate secretary will issue a purchaser a certificate setting out the vendor's body corporate liabilities, which pass to the purchaser.

Barriers to buying land

In general, there are few restrictions on the purchase of land in New Zealand unless that land falls within one of the regulated categories under the Overseas Investment Act 2005. For a detailed discussion of the screening regime, refer to the chapter on Overseas investment regime. There are restrictions on the sale of land held by government agencies, which will need to be resolved before any sale to a private party (whether local or overseas) can proceed.

Māori land claims

Land claims by Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, are governed by the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975. Under the Act, grievances are heard by the Waitangi Tribunal which can then make recommendations to the government regarding the resolution of those grievances.

Recommendations for the return of land to Maori are generally applicable only in respect to land owned by the Government or state-owned enterprises. Privately owned land is not subject to return to Maori ownership unless the title to the land has been specifically endorsed to that effect (and even then, current policy is not to exercise that right). If it was exercised, the current market value would be paid.


Access to and rights to prospect, explore and mine New Zealand's extensive petroleum and mineral estate, including coal, are governed by the Crown Minerals Act 1991 and Minerals and Petroleum Programmes issued under it.

All petroleum, gold, silver and uranium existing in land (including under the sea) is the property of the Crown. No person may prospect or explore for, or mine, Crown-owned minerals without an appropriate permit.

The Minerals Programmes govern the policies and procedures applicable to the management of Crown-owned minerals, coal and petroleum. Their purpose is to promote the responsible discovery and development of resources that contribute substantially to our economy, consistent with the efficient allocation of permits, the Crown obtaining a fair financial return and having due regard to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. By and large, a permit will be awarded to the person most likely to effectively prospect, explore or develop the resource in accordance with the permit obligations and good practice.

Return to the Crown is assured through a royalty regime, although there is provision in the Act for the Crown also to participate in any given permit and thus derive a fair financial return through that avenue. The current policy is, however, not to exercise this right.

All transfers of or other dealings with a permit interest require the consent of Crown Minerals to be effective.

More information is available at:

We make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information provided but it should not be relied upon as a basis for making business decisions as circumstances, business conditions, government policy and interpretation of the law may change.

The information in this article is for informative purposes only and should not be relied on as legal advice. Please contact Chapman Tripp for advice tailored to your situation.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.