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The building process

Do you need a building consent?

Basic building, such as laying a patio or installing kitchen cupboards, does not require a building consent. But many more complicated household projects do. If you are considering building or plumbing work, you should talk to your council to be sure. Work that does not require a consent is set out by the Building Act 2004 (Schedule 1).

Examples of work that does require a building consent:

  • Structural building - additions, alterations, re-piling, demolition
  • Plumbing and drainage (except the repair and maintenance of existing components)
  • Relocating a building
  • Installing a woodburner or air-conditioning system
  • Retaining walls higher than 1.5 metres
  • Fences or walls higher than 2 metres, and all swimming pool fences
  • Swimming pools
  • Decks, platforms or bridges more than 1 metre above ground level
  • Sheds greater than 10 square metres in floor area
  • Some earthworks also require a building consent (check with your council)

Examples of work that doesn't require a building consent:

  • A patio or deck at ground level
  • Garden trellis less than 2 metres high
  • Installing kitchen cupboards
  • A small garden pond
  • Maintenance of your house, for example, replacing spouting or a piece of weatherboard
  • Building a small garden shed

Find out about the site

If you are considering building, you can ask your local district or city council for a project information memorandum (PIM). A PIM is a report about a building proposal on a specific site.

PIMs are useful for clarifying, at an early stage, what will be involved in a project.

A PIM will tell you how your project will be affected by legislation other than the Building Act, for example, if you will need a resource consent, or if your project is affected by any council bylaws. It will also tell you about any special features of the land, such as erosion or the presence of hazardous materials, the details of any stormwater or wastewater systems relating to or near the site, and whether you will need to pay a development contribution.

If you choose not to apply for a PIM separately, your application will be treated as an application for both a PIM and a consent. To get a PIM you, or your representative, need to apply to your council. You will need the address and legal description of the property, and details about the kind of building you propose.

A PIM will be issued within 20 working days and councils will charge a fee for this service.

Building consent - your founding document

No physical work can begin on your project until you have a building consent (and all other required authorizations, such as a resource consent).

A BCA issues a building consent if your detailed plans show that the finished building would comply with the Building Code. The consent gives approval for you to carry out building work, in accordance with the plans and specifications you submitted in your consent application.

If you build without a building consent, you may be liable for a fine and may have difficulty selling the building in the future or even getting insurance.

A building consent lapses if the building work does not start within 12 months, unless you make arrangements with your BCA. If the consent has lapsed and you want to do the work, you will have to re-apply for a consent.

From the date the consent is granted, you have 2 years to complete your building work, unless you agree otherwise with your BCA. At the end of the 2 years (or at the end of the period agreed with your BCA), the BCA must decide whether to grant a code compliance certificate or refuse to sign off the work.

IMPORTANT: Your building consent authorises you to build what is detailed in your plans. If you make changes to the plans - including changing the materials used - you will need to inform your BCA and have the consent amended. Failure to do so will delay your project at inspection time and could mean you can’t get a code compliance certificate. Because amending a consent involves time and money, it is worth making sure you get the design right before you apply for a consent.

Applying for a building consent

You, or a representative such as your builder or architect, apply for a building consent by filling in an application form and supplying necessary information.

The application form lists each section of the Building Code and asks you to show how your project meets the relevant requirements. The building consent authority will also ask you for construction drawings, specifications and other necessary information to support your application.

The amount of information required will depend on the complexity of your building project. As a minimum, you are likely to need to include a recent certificate of title and detailed plans showing the site, the foundations, drainage and bracing.

Fees for issuing a building consent vary, and there will be some government levies included. The Building Act specifies that applications be processed within 20 working days.

The process for amending a building consent is the same as for the initial application.

Inspections

Once you begin building, an official from your BCA will inspect your project regularly to ensure the work meets the appropriate standards.

The inspection requirements for your project will normally be specified in your building consent, but typically they will cover the foundations, framing and insulation, plumbing, drainage, cladding and flashings, and the finished building.

Without regular inspections there may not be enough information on record to issue a code compliance certificate at the end of the project, for assurance that the work has been done to the appropriate standard. By the time you finish the project it is likely to be too late. For example, the framing can no longer be checked without removing all the interior linings.

Builders and installers usually arrange inspections relevant to their work, but property owners are ultimately responsible. Usually at least 1 day’s notice is required to arrange an inspection. You should check that your builder or installer is doing this.

If any of your building or plumbing work is not approved, you will be issued a notice to fix detailing what must be done and by when.

Generally, gas and electrical work is not inspected. Any work must be done by a licensed professional and, on completion, they will give you a signed energy work certificate. You will need the energy work certificates to get a code compliance certificate.

Final sign-off - code compliance certificate

A code compliance certificate (CCC) is issued after the final inspection of the finished building project. A CCC confirms that the BCA is satisfied the completed project meets the appropriate standards.

CCCs are important. When you sell your property, having a CCC shows the buyer that the building or renovations were done properly. If you build a house or unit for the purpose of selling it immediately (ie, act as a residential property developer) the Building Act prohibits you from selling the property without a CCC.

A CCC will be issued after the final inspection, if the building has been built in accordance with the approved plans. That’s why it is important that, if you think you’re going to change your plans in any way during the project, you advise your BCA and amend your building consent first. If your property does not pass the CCC inspection, the BCA will issue a notice to fix, specifying what must be done and by when.

In addition to having completed the building work correctly, to get a CCC you will need to supply all the relevant energy work certificates and ensure that fees and development contributions have been paid.

CCC applications are compulsory and the responsibility of the homeowner. Where building owners have not submitted an application for a CCC within 2 years from the date the building consent was issued, the BCA will follow this up with the owner (unless you have agreed an extension with your BCA, which you would normally do at the time of your building consent application). In the first instance, you should apply to the BCA that issued the building consent. The Act says the application must be considered within 20 working days.

Ongoing maintenance requirements

For most domestic building projects, the CCC is the end of the inspection process. However, if your house has a cable car, it will need regular, ongoing monitoring for safety reasons.

If this applies to you, your BCA will issue you a compliance schedule with your CCC. The schedule will specify how often the cable car needs to be inspected, by whom, and your obligation to inform the council.

Councils can issue a notice to fix to you for failing to obey a compliance schedule.

Certificate of acceptance

Councils may decide to issue certificates of acceptance when work has been done without a building consent, or in certain specific circumstances when a CCC can’t be issued.

This could be because urgent work was needed to protect lives or property and there was no time to get a consent, or the private BCA (ie, a BCA that is not a council) that issued the consent is unable or refuses to issue a CCC.

A certificate of acceptance confirms that, to the extent an inspection was able to be carried out, the work complies with the Building Code.

Certificate of acceptance applications for unconsented building work can only be made if the work was done after 1 July 1992 (the date building consents were introduced). The worth of a certificate of acceptance to the homeowner and a potential buyer will ultimately depend on the extent to which the work can be inspected. In many circumstances, a complete inspection of the work will be impossible and the certificate will specify only the elements of the building that can be approved.

It remains a serious offence to build without a building consent and this may result in court action.

Applications for a certificate of acceptance should be processed in 20 working days. Your council may decide not to issue a certificate of acceptance.