10. Interior alterations to existing non-residential building

Restaurant interior

A building consent is usually not required for internal alterations to a non-residential building (eg shop, office, library, factory, warehouse, church, or school).

What the law says

Subject to section 42A of the Building Act, Schedule 1 exempts the following from a building consent:

Building work in connection with the interior of any existing non-residential building (for example, a shop, office, library, factory, warehouse, church, or school) if the building work:

(a) does not modify or affect the primary structure of the building; and
(b) does not modify or affect any specified system; and
(c) does not relate to a wall that is:

(i) a fire separation wall (also known as a firewall); or
(ii) made of units of material (such as brick, burnt clay, concrete, or stone) laid to a bond in and joined
(iii) together with mortar; and

(d) does not include sanitary plumbing or drainlaying under the Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Drainlayers Act 2006.

Guidance on the exemption

This exemption allows internal alterations to non-residential buildings; eg fit-outs of commercial properties. It does not apply to residential buildings, including communal residential buildings such as hotels, retirement villages, camping grounds, prisons and hospitals.

If your proposed building work either modifies or affects the primary structure of the building or any specified system (eg sprinklers, fire alarms or smoke detectors), then you will need a building consent.

In addition, your building work must not relate to a wall that is a fire separation wall (firewall) or a masonry wall (ie made of blocks joined together with mortar).

For example, if you want to cut an opening through a firewall to install a fire door, this does not meet the exemption conditions in subclauses (b) and (c)(i) and will need a building consent.

Because non-residential buildings are often complex, we recommend that you seek advice from people with experience in the building industry such as registered architects, registered building surveyors or chartered professional engineers if you are not sure whether or not this exemption applies. If you are still unsure, we suggest you talk to your local building consent authority (your local city or district council).

Walls and partitions near fire safety systems

Installing new non load-bearing walls and partitions close to sprinkler heads, smoke or heat detectors may affect the effectiveness and compliance of these fire safety systems (which are specified systems). This type of building work will almost certainly require a building consent.

Examples where this exemption could apply

The owner of a clothing store decides to do an internal fit-out which includes new shelving, clothes racks and simple low partitions. The proposed building work will not affect any existing specified systems and it meets the other requirements of this exemption. Therefore, a building consent is not required.
A restaurant owner proposes an alteration that includes redecorating, new seating areas and an extension to the bar. As this building work does not affect or modify the primary structure or any installed specified systems (including firewalls), a building consent is not required.

Examples where building consent is required

The owner of an office building proposes to install a fire door in a firewall that separates an escape route. As the building work affects and modifies an existing specified system, a building consent will be required.
A commercial property owner wants to install some simple full height partitioning. This will involve relocating several fire sprinkler heads. As this building work is a modification to a specified system, a building consent will be required.
A developer has built the shell only of a new commercial building for several retail tenancies. One of the tenants wishes to fit out her retail space: this includes installing full height partitioning and counters for customer service. As this is the first fit-out of a new building, the building work is considered to be new and not an interior alteration to an existing non-residential building. Therefore, the proposed building work is outside the scope of this exemption and will require a building consent.

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: