Know your stuff: Exempt Building Work, Part 1

Posted: 31 May 2017

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Checking if you need a building consent is an important step in any building project. If a building consent isn’t issued and was required, the council may issue an infringement notice or seek to prosecute the homeowner (with possible heavy fines), who is then likely to want answers from you.
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The homeowner has the ultimate obligation to obtain all required permissions and consents – they can do this themselves, or get someone to do it on their behalf.

Carrying out work without first obtaining a building consent is a common failing the Building Practitioners Board (the Board) often sees, and takes into consideration when acting on complaints against LBPs. We want to help make sure you don’t make this mistake.

This article will introduce exempt building work and some of the common and measurable exemptions.

Section 41

Under the Building Act (the Act), all building work requires a building consent, unless it is covered by sections 41 and 42A of the Act. Work covered by section 41 is known as exempt building work which means it doesn’t require a building consent.

Section 41 recognises that a number of things considered ‘building work’ are low risk. It allows for a list of building work that doesn’t require a building consent under Schedule 1 of the Act. If your building work isn’t covered by an exemption you must make sure there is a building consent before you begin work.

All building work must comply with the Building Code, regardless of whether a building consent is required.

Schedule 1

Schedule 1 lists the items of exempt building work. If you’re working outside of those items listed, you need to obtain a building consent before beginning work. Here we give some generalised examples – always refer to Schedule 1 for the details of what’s exempt and what’s not:

Exemption 3 – Single-storey detached buildings not exceeding 10 square metres in floor area

You’re able to build some single-storey detached buildings like sheds, cabins or sleep outs with a net floor area (total usable floor area within the enclosing walls) of less than 10 square metres without a building consent. There are exceptions, for example, it cannot include any sanitary facilities.

If the building has a net floor area of more than 10 square metres or it does not meet the details of the exemption, it will need a building consent. This structure also cannot be closer to the boundary or any residential building than its total height. In this case, you’ll need a building consent.

Exemption 20 – Retaining walls

A retaining wall does not require a building consent if it is retaining less than 1.5 metres of ground and does not support a surcharge. A surcharge is an additional load on the land, such as a car park or driveway, a slope or a building (Schedule 1 guidance provides more detail).

Exemption 21 – Fences and hoardings

You can build a fence or a hoarding up to 2.5 metres above the supporting ground without a building consent. However, you still need to comply with requirements of the Fencing Act 1978 for boundary fences and, in many cases, with district plans. This may mean a resource consent is required if the fence is above 2.0 metres in height.

Exemption 24 – Decks, platforms, bridges, boardwalks, etc

Building work in relation to a deck, platform, bridge, boardwalk or the like does not require a building consent as long as it is not possible to fall more than 1.5 metres from that surface.

You’ll still require a safety barrier where there is a potential fall of 1 metre or more, but no consent would be required given the above.

Next time…

The next article in our Exempt Building Work series will cover off some of the more complex, common exemptions.

Until then, you can read detailed guidance about exempt building work, including practical examples.

Building work that does not require a building consent

Please note that this guidance will be updated to include exemption 21A Means of restricting access to small heated pools.


1) Which of the following statements is true?

a. All building work must have a building consent
b. All building work must comply with the Building Code
c. All building work must have a building consent and comply with the Building Code

2) If I want to build a fence at the rear of my property, how high can I build without needing to obtain a building consent?

a. 1 metre
b. 3 metres
c. 2.5 metres
d. 1.5 metres

3) I am building a 15 square metre detached sleep-out for my son, do I need to obtain a building consent?

a. Yes
b. No, you can start right away

4) I want to build a retaining wall down one side of my property which will be only 1 metre high, what else should I look out for if I don’t want to get a building consent?

a. Whether any additional load will be weighing on the retaining wall, such as a driveway
b. Whether I had a building consent to build my house
c. Whether my neighbour will grow plants on my nice new wall

Check your answers

This information is published by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Chief Executive. It is a general guide only and, if used, does not relieve any person of the obligation to consider any matter to which the information relates according to the circumstances of the particular case. Expert advice may be required in specific circumstances. Where this information relates to assisting people: