Heritage covenants

Protecting historic heritage through a heritage covenant is an efficient and effective way to ensure that the historic heritage values of a property, building or site are protected and preserved for future generations.

Heritage covenants can arise in several ways:

  • Through the request of an owner to ensure long term protection of their property
  • A condition of a resource consent, overseas buyer purchase or Crown land disposal
  • A condition of a grant under National Heritage Preservation Incentive Fund

Each covenant is unique as are the historic heritage values that it seeks to protect. Therefore it depends on the agreed provisions as to the operation of the covenant itself. These FAQs aim to provide some guidance as to heritage covenants under the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014.

What is a heritage covenant?

A heritage covenant is a legal agreement between the land owner and Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga about how the heritage values will be protected. The land owner retains ownership and the covenant is registered against the title, usually in perpetuity. 

What can be protected?

Heritage covenants can be agreed over a variety of different types of historic places such as private homes, archaeological sites, commercial buildings, public buildings, farm buildings and other sites of significance to Māori. A place does not have to be entered on Rārangi Kōrero/the List in order to be covenanted.

How long does the covenant process take?

As these are unique to each property, this is a hard question to answer. Sometimes they can take less than two months; other times, due to the negotiation and discussion involved it can take up to a year. 

What protection can a covenant offer?

A heritage covenant is usually permanently registered against the land title and places conditions on the management and use of the place or wāhi tapu. These restrictions will operate to protect the historic place for the future and are legally binding on all subsequent owners. A heritage covenant is therefore a very important mechanism for long term heritage protection. Covenants can be unregistered in certain circumstances and can be for a defined number of years.

Oruawharo Homestead
List No. 1048
The Category 1 historic place Oruawharo Homstead, Takapau has a covenant registered over it.

What can I do if there is a covenant registered?

In general, you can still enjoy the historic heritage that you are seeking to protect. If it is a building, then you can continue to live in our use the building; if it is a archaeological site then you can continue to access it; if it is a wāhi tapu then you can also continue to access it – provided that the provisions of the covenant allow for this.

You can also perform maintenance and repairs to enhance your enjoyment of the historic heritage values. There are some activities that require consent from Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga prior to undertaking, for example subdivision, restoration, relocation or additions. This consent will not be unreasonably withheld, however we will consider the effects on the heritage values and work with you to see if there is a way to provide for your plans and the heritage values.

You can also request some specialist technical advice and assistance if you wish to undertake any modifications or changes to the building. Talk to your regional office to learn more.

What can’t I do if there is a covenant registered?

You cannot destroy or permit the destruction of the historic heritage that is protected under the covenant. You also cannot undertake an activity that will undermine or adversely affect the historic heritage values of the building, place or site.

As above, where an activity may affect the historic heritage values, then prior consultation and consent may be required with Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga staff prior.

What if I sell the land?

When we partner with an owner to protect historic heritage values through a covenant, that protection is in perpetuity, unless the provisions say otherwise. This means, new owners are subject to the restrictions in the covenant.

Can I vary or cancel a heritage covenant?

There is an ability to vary or cancel a heritage covenant by agreement between the parties. However, this is very rare and it would need to be considered by our Board and Māori Heritage Council as to whether this is in the best interests of safeguarding the property's long-term conservation.

For more information on heritage covenants or for a specific inquiry, contact our legal team.

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