Sunday, July 22, 2018

Frank Newman: Exempt building projects

It became national news when the Dunedin City Council required a tree house to be removed because it did not meet the Building Code.  

Essentially the problem was that council staff were covering their own butts by applying their regulatory powers rather than going out on a limb and making a common sense decision to apply the exemptions available in Schedule 1 of the Building Code.

Part 1 of Schedule 1 of the Building Act list those items that can be done without a building consent.  It's a long list with lots of ifs, buts, and maybes, but here's a rough summary.

The follow work is exempt:

  1. General repair, maintenance, and replacement where the replacement is like-for-like and in the same position, and where the change does not affect structural integrity.
  2. Any work where the local authority has granted an exemption. More on that later.
  3. A single-storey detached building with a floor area no more that 10m2, that does not have a toilet or cooking facilities.
  4. Unoccupied detached buildings that house fixed plant or machinery and are entered only on intermittent occasions - or is used only by people engaged in building work (e.g. a builders’ shed).
  5. Tents, marquees, and similar lightweight structures no bigger than 100m2 that are up for less than 1 month.
  6. Pergolas.
  7. Awnings no greater than 20m2.
  8. Enclosing porches and verandas no greater than 20m2.
  9. Carports no greater than 20m2.
  10. Shade sails not exceeding 50m2.
  11. Retaining walls less than 1.5m high (but a consent is required if the ground behind the wall is expected to carry additional weight, like machinery).
  12. Fences (excluding swimming pool fences) and hoardings no higher than 2.5 metres (so the ones they put really high to avoid graffiti will need a building consent unless the council grants an exemption),
  13. Dams (excluding large dams), pools (excluding swimming pools), and tanks under a certain size and height.
  14. Decks, platforms, bridges, boardwalks, less than 1.5m above ground level.
  15. Height-restriction gantries.
  16. Temporary storage stacks.
  17. Private household playground equipment, providing it is no higher than 3m above ground level at the highest point.
  18. Repair or replacement of an outbuilding  not intended for human habitation, providing it is single story and the footprint remains the same . These include buildings such as carports, garages, greenhouses, machinery rooms, sheds, private swimming pools and farm buildings.
  19. Stand-alone interior fit-out of commercial buildings.
  20. Closing in an existing veranda or patio where the floor area is no more than 5m2.
  21. Work carried out by network utility operators or other similar organisations.
  22. Demolition or removal work where the building is no more than 3 storeys.
The Department of Building and Housing has produced a very handy guide which is available from - search for "building-work-consent-not-required-guidance".  For the definitive word have a look at Schedule 1 of the Building Act.

Number 2 on the above list is the one relating to exemptions granted by a local council. Consenting authorities have wide powers of discretion to exempt situations where there is uncertainty as to whether a building consent is required, or where there is no practical benefit in obtaining a building consent. In general terms, the exemptions are likely to be for work that complies with the building code and unlikely to endanger people or pose a threat to any other building.

In 2011 the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment found many councils were not using their exemption powers and they were concerned that many people were being required to obtain building consents when they should have been exempted from having to do so. That still seems to be the case today.

Best practice requires every local authority that acts as an "independently accredited building control authority" to have available for members of the public some plain English guidelines that clearly state what work is exempt from a building consent and how the public are to go about gaining an exemption. Unfortunately few councils have such guidelines in place.

Frank Newman, an investment analyst and former councillor on the Whangarei District Council, writes a weekly article for Property Plus.

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