Watch out homeowners, DIYers and contractors alike – changes to building consents could save homeowners up to $18 million in costs and are expected to result in 9000 fewer consents each year.
As at 31 August 2020, additional consent exemptions to the Building Act 2004 came into force. These exemptions make low-risk building improvements – such as sheds, carports and sleepouts – far more accessible to homeowners and, by extension, provide opportunities for contractors. These changes are aimed at aiding the construction and building sector in enhancing productivity by removing two key hindrances: consent processing times and cost.
Prior to 31 August 2020, the consent exemptions included more discrete building works such as the construction of single-
storey structures less than 10 sq m; the replacement of windows, non-structural doors and walls; general alterations, including maintenance and removal; insulation and moisture barriers; shelters, shades and carports not exceeding 20 sq m; and fencing and hoardings.
So what’s new? Most of the additions are expansions on existing exemptions. However, there have been new categories added, such as permanent outdoor fireplaces and ovens, short-span bridges on private land, and pipe supporting structures.
TWO BROAD CATEGORIES
The new exemptions can be split into two broad categories: those that require professional oversight or involvement, and those that do not. These professionals are licensed builder practitioners (LBPs) and chartered professional engineers (CPEs).
The following structures must have been designed or reviewed by a CPE or been carried out or supervised by an LBP:
- Single-storey detached buildings – these include sleepouts, sheds and greenhouses. All buildings are to have a maximum floor area of 30 sq m. Kitchen and bathroom facilities are not included in the exemption and any plumbing work still requires consent. Therefore, self-contained structures will require consent. It is not yet clear whether a self-contained unit would require consent for the entire structure or just the plumbing element
- Ground-floor awnings – up to 30 sq m
- Ground-floor verandas and porches – up to 30 sq m
- Carports – up to 40 sq m
- Ground-mounted solar panel arrays – between 20 and 40 sq m in an urban zone
- Single-storey pole sheds and hay barns in rural zones
- Short-span bridges – if they do not span a road or rail area and cannot be accessed by the public.
The following are now exempted from consent and do not need professional oversight:
- Single-storey detached buildings constructed out of lightweight materials – maximum floor area of 30 sq m with a design that complies with the technical requirements of the Building Code 2004 as specified in B1/AS1; lightweight materials, such as light timber or steel framing and cladding, must be used to be eligible for the exemption
- Permanent outdoor fireplaces or ovens – maximum height of 2.5 m, and with a maximum cooking surface of 1 sq m. Additionally, the fireplace must be at least 1 m away from any legal boundary or building. It will also be imperative for homeowners to check with local government for any restrictions on lighting open fires, as this may be a prohibited activity
- Ground-mounted solar panel arrays – up to 20 sq m and in an urban zone, and no restrictions on size in rural zones
- Small piping supporting structures – as long as they are wholly on private land and they are only carrying water
- Flexible water storage bladders – 100 m from any legal boundary or building and for either irrigation or firefighting purposes and up to 200,000 litres in storage capacity.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
There will be a reduced cost for homeowners and no wait time. The exemptions are intended to improve how councils allocate their resources within the consenting framework. By reducing workload, resources can be focused on processing more substantive applications, speeding up the process for other projects as well. This gives professionals more authority and will create more opportunities.
WHY ARE THERE CHANGES?
The Government has actioned these additions so these structures can be built for less without unexpected holdups resulting from the building consent process. Additionally, it will help to improve productivity of the building and construction sector, supporting the Covid-19 recovery.
CONSENT – WHERE DOES THE OBLIGATION LIE?
It is the homeowner’s obligation to check whether a consent will be required for the work envisioned. The new consent exemptions do not require council inspections. However, it is critical that all exempted works meet the requirements of the Building Code 2004, and other relevant legislation such as the Resource Management Act 1991, the Electricity Act 1992 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
In essence, the new consent exemptions shift a small degree of liability from local councils to LBPs, CPEs and other professions involved in any of the works.
The opportunity for errors to be picked up by the council during the consenting process has vanished. This removes any accountability for any works carried out under the new exemptions. Therefore, it will be vital for any professional performing, supervising, designing or reviewing any exempted work to ensure they do so in compliance with the relevant standards.
This is a good time for professionals to review the exhaustive Exemptions Guidance (www.building.govt.nz/assets/Uploads/projects-and-consents/building-work-consent-not-required-guidance.pdf) provided by the Government. For contractors and homeowners, ensure you have clear contracts (including with any CPE/LBP) and keep accurate records.
Additionally, people looking to purchase a property should be cognisant of the fact that there is a higher potential for non-
compliant building works to be present.
These are the most exhaustive additions made to the Schedule 1 building consent exemptions since their conception. They are a well-overdue and much-needed expansion of the previous consent exemptions.
Homeowners, contractors and local councils are all set to benefit from an expedited process and reduced costs. So long as professionals and homeowners ensure they are complying with the relevant requirements, the risks that stem from the removal of council involvement should be minimal.
Disclaimer: this article is not a substitute for specific professional advice on any matter. No warranty or guarantee whatsoever is given as to the accuracy of any information contained in this article, nor is any liability accepted for any actions taken based on this information.
By Stuart Robertson and Stephanie Collins