Last updated: 21 March 2016
Before you start any building work, you'll need to work out whether or not you will need a building consent. Find out what building work is exempt under the Building Act, when you need to involve your council, and when to call in the experts.
All building work done in New Zealand must comply with the Building Code, and a building consent is often needed. Building work that is considered 'low-risk' is exempt from needing a consent in certain circumstances under the Building Act.
Commercial and multi-unit building work will also need careful planning and may have additional requirements.
Your council can tell you about any district or regional plans that may require you to get resource consent or other permits.
Work requiring consent
The following list is a summary of building work that will need a consent, but you should always check with your local council to confirm.
- structural building - including additions, alterations, re-piling and some demolitions
- plumbing and drainage where an additional sanitary fixture is created (some repair and maintenance may be exempt)
- relocating a building
- installing a woodburner or air-conditioning system
- retaining walls higher than 1.5 metres (3.0 metres in rural area if designed by a chartered professional engineer)
- fences or walls higher than 2.5 metres, and all swimming pools and their associated fences
- decks, platforms or bridges more than 1.5 metres above ground level
- sheds greater than 30 square metres in floor area (sheds between 10 and 30 square metres will still need the help of an LBP or engineer or must use lightweight material in accordance with Acceptable Solution (B1/AS1)
- some earthworks
Failing to have a consent
You are breaking the law if you carry out building work that is not exempt and do not have a building consent. You may be fined up to $200,000 and, if work continues, a further fine of up to $20,000 for every day or part day during which the offence continues.
Your council can also issue you a notice to fix for carrying out building work without consent., including instant fines of up to $1000. They can remove the building work if it is dangerous or insanitary.
Work that doesn't require a consent
Schedule 1 of the Building Act exempts low-risk work from requiring a building consent – it was last updated in August 2020 to introduce a new batch of building consent exemptions.
Building performance has an easy-to-use tool that lets you know whether your next project requires a building consent, or could be classed as exempt building work.
Alternatively, you can view the full list of building work that does not require a building consent on the Building Performance website.
Carrying out exempt work
Some exempt building work can be carried out by anyone, while others need the help of a Plumber or Drainlayer, Licenced Building Practitioner or Chartered Professional Engineer. As a building owner, you are responsible for:
- deciding whether or not your building work is exempt
- making sure that any exempt building work complies with the Building Code.
You may want to contract a building practitioner for some types of work – even if you don't need a consent.
You can still choose to apply for a building consent, even if building work is exempt. Your local council must process your application.
On completion of any exempt building work, the altered building must comply with the Building Code to at least the same extent as it did before the building work was undertaken.
If you are not sure if your proposed work is exempt, you should get advice from someone with the appropriate building knowledge and expertise.
You should also seek advice if you are considering building work that is close to load-bearing walls.
People who can give you advice include:
- Building consent authority (typically a district or city council), as they have extensive building control expertise and planning expertise and information about exemptions and building consent processes (they may charge a fee for this)
Chartered Professional Engineer
Registered Building Surveyor
Licensed Building Practitioner – check they hold the relevant licensing class before seeking advice
Registered Certifying Plumber or Drainlayer
Independent qualified person (IQP)
You may need to pay a building consent authority or other adviser for their advice.
Involving your council
If the scope of your building work is marginally beyond the scope of a particular exemption, you can apply to your local council for a discretionary exemption.
This means your council can use its discretion in deciding whether your project needs a building consent. You should talk to your council before you make the application to see if it is a possibility.
If you are a building owner, you must apply to your council for a certificate of acceptance if you do not obtain a building consent because building work has to be carried out urgently.
Exemptions are not retrospective. If you carry out unconsented building work which was not covered by an exemption in the legislation in force at the time, you need to apply to your council for a certificate of acceptance.
Provide your council information
When you complete any exempt building work on your property, you can consider notifying your council and providing it with any relevant documents. This includes:
This could avoid possible issues when on-selling your property, and enables your council to update your property file. You might avoid any confusion when potential purchasers check council’s records and discover that the records do not align with what is seen on site. (Note that councils may charge for providing this service).