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Building permits

Why do I need a building permit?

Your home renovation must meet basic requirements for health, safety and structural soundness as set out by the Building Code of Australia. Beyond this, the permit process makes sure that your plans are in line with other local government requirements, such as planning regulations, environmental or heritage requirements.

When do I need approval?

Generally, approval is required for renovations that involve changes to the structure or shape of your home. This includes new additions, reconfiguration of internal space by moving or removing walls, new window and door openings or installing structures such as carports and pergolas. Electrical and plumbing approvals may also have to be obtained.

The good news is that some repairs and renovations may not require approval. Most state governments have introduced rules that allow minor internal changes and some minor external changes without needing approval. Some examples include painting, cabinet installation, replacement of existing windows and doors (provided the opening remains the same size). In brief, work that does not entail changes to structures or systems.

Talk with your builder or check with your local council or private building certifier to be sure. It is also important to find out if you need approval to demolish an existing structure such as a garage, shed or porch, or to cut down a tree on your property.

What do I need to get approval?

The specific requirements depend on your local council or building certifier and the type of work you are planning. For simple interior projects, a scale floor plan will often be adequate. For larger projects involving additions, decks or major structural renovations, a full set of working drawings and a site survey may be needed. If your plan requires a minor amendment, you may be asked to supply additional information. Your local council or building certifier can tell you exactly what’s needed.

Before a permit is issued, your plans and drawings are reviewed by the local authority or building certifier. After the work begins, one or more inspections will be carried out to ensure in the building work complies with the approved plans. There may also be separate electrical and plumbing inspections.

Who should get the permit - me or my builder?

As the homeowner, you are legally responsible for obtaining any building permits required. However, your builder can look after this on your behalf. Your contract should specify which permits are required and who will get them.

What happens if I don't get a permit?

If you carry out a renovation project that requires a approval without having one, your local authority or building certifier can issue a ‘stop work’ order, which remains in effect until you obtain a permit. If the work doesn’t meet the requirements of the Building Code of Australia and the council rules, you may be required to redo the work at your own cost. In worst case scenarios, you could be forced to remove the addition. This could happen if you building work does not meet council’s codes or is not undertaken by a professional builder. In some states and territories, councils can issue ‘on the spot’ fines. In the worst case scenario, you could find yourself in court.

Working without a required permit may also affect an insurance claim arising from the renovation. Before any work begins on your home, check with your insurance representative who can explain exactly what is needed to ensure continuous and adequate coverage, both during and after the renovation.

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