Building Amendment Act updates

We bring you up to date with the new Building Amendment Act 2013. Find out what is and isn't allowed, and where you can source more information.

Construction workers looking at renovation house plans
ARTICLE Patricia Moore

Alterations to legislation are often missed. We bring you an overview of the new Building Amendment Act 2013. Find out what you can achieve with or without building consent, and where to go for more information.
The announcement, in late November last year, that the Building Amendment Act 2013 had been passed into law, was accompanied by a statement from Maurice Williamson, the Minister of Building and Construction, who said it would lead to a more productive, efficient and effective building industry. The aim is to ‘build right first time’.
The amendments have been designed to make exemptions easier to use and to clarify the type of work exempt from requiring a building consent, identify who can carry out that work, and outline any other conditions that may apply.
renovated hallway with skylights
Many changes to the Act became law immediately; others will come into force over the months ahead. These include new consumer protection measures that allow for greater transparency between consumers and building practitioners, through good information and written contracts, and reduce the potential for misunderstanding between the parties.
A number of the changes to the Act affect home renovators and DIY experts, and given that it can make pretty complicated reading, we asked BRANZ industry technical advisor Tom Edhouse and Jason Reu, manager of Manukau Building Consultants, an Auckland Council business unit, how those changes can impact on a project.
While the Act is basically much the same – it now has a new numbering system and has been divided into three parts depending on who can carry out the work – amendments to Schedule 1 of the Building Act 2004 effectively mean a greater range of projects can be carried out without consent, says Tom.
More low-risk work, such as general repairs, maintenance and replacement is exempt from building consent and there have been changes regarding demolition of detached buildings. Existing outbuildings, such as carports, greenhouses and sheds can be repaired and replaced without building consent.
Given the enormous amount of information the amendments have generated, Tom recommends home owners check out the guidance brochure released in March by The Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (‘Building work that does not require a building consent’, 3rd edition 2014, available for download as a PDF).
renovated house with attic roof structure to provide empty attic space
At over 100 pages this is an extensive guide to building work that does not require a consent, and outlines not just what can be done, but also gives clear, illustrated examples, he says. “For instance you can remove a window and replace it with another in the same or different material, but you can’t change the position or the shape of that window.”
“Plumbing may be moved around within an existing bathroom or kitchen but you can’t add an additional fixture without consent.”
Schedule 1, which covers exempt building work, now comprises three sections.
The first contains work anyone can do – including home handy-persons; the second deals with sanitary plumbing and drainlaying which must be carried out by people authorised under the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Act before it can be considered exempt, and the third covers building work requiring input from a chartered professional engineer.
The Building Act and the Building Code, which sit under the Act, are quite clear and we should expect consistency of application and interpretation across the country, says Jason. But he adds, there can be variances on interpretation for exempt building work; his advice is, when you’re not sure whether a consent is necessary, talk to the experts at your local council customer service centre. “All building work, whether a consent is required or not, must comply with the Building Code and any other Acts – including the Resource Management Act.”
“There is also nothing stopping you from applying for a building consent for exempt building works if you wish to ensure your designers and builders are designing and building in a code-compliant manner.”
Jason says it’s very important to understand the requirements of the different district plans and their importance when designing proposed building work. “In many respects these determine where and what you can build as a permitted activity. There are likely to be restrictions around height and distances in relation to boundary.”
And, he says, look out for other potential considerations within district plans, and network utility operator requirements.
“Considerations like protected trees, site coverage restrictions, building over drains, and houses or buildings people want to renovate that are lodged with the historic places trust, are some examples of what to look out for.”
“Any non-conformance to the various District Plans throughout the country would likely trigger the need for a resource consent.”
Site coverage restrictions apply in most urban areas and many require maximum ground coverage, often including deck, of 35%, says Tom (not necessarily applicable in Auckland because of tighter densities).
“Many also have daylight restrictions so if you’re talking a loft conversion it may well go through daylight planes. You basically draw an envelope over the top of the site governed by the council’s light plane requirements and those are usually in the district plan.”
An example is Waitakere City’s Height in Relation to Boundary Rule, which aims to avoid buildings on one site physically dominating another site. Effectively the taller the proposed building is, the further away from the boundary it must be to ensure that sunlight and daylight access is not reduced.
This is where the math comes in; to comply with the Height in Relation to Boundary Rule, a building should be designed to fit within a ‘building envelope’.
renovated loft room conversion with steel spiral staircase
To determine this, Council looks at ‘recession planes’, lines that proceed at an angle from the horizontal, typically measured from any point 2.5m vertically above the natural ground level along site boundaries.
The angle of the recession plane may vary according to the compass orientation of the site boundary or be specified by the territory authority. The proposed building must wholly sit below this recession plane at all points along each boundary.
Seeking professional advice is advised, particularly when the ramifications of nto doing so are considered. Penalties for work carried out without consent have increased and can be substantial, says Tom, and there can also be repercussions if long-term plans involve selling the property.
“To get a Certificate of Acceptance at a future stage it may be necessary to convince the local territorial authority that the extension or alteration complies with the Building Code.”
The scope of Schedule 1 of the Building Act (exempt building work) has changed dramatically over the past four to five years, and it’s well worth reading on what building work is exempt before embarking on designing the next project around your home, says Jason.
And you may be surprised by the cost of consents for small projects, he says.
“Because you need to evidence how you are going to meet the requirements of the Building Code, and the input required by the Building Consent Authority to validate your designs and carry out inspections, consents for small work proportionally cost a lot more than new-build consents.”
Flouting the rules can be costly. “My advice to people is always to engage good professionals at an early stage,” says Jason. “They know their District Plans and the Building Code requirements and they’re there to help you work through any issues.”

You might be interested in reading: The renovation consent process.

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This article by Patricia Moore featured on page 91 of Issue 011 of New Zealand Renovate Magazine. New Zealand's first and only magazine solely dedicated to home renovations.


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