Understanding the Whats & the Whys
If you’re starting on a new build project here are the essentials of what you need to know.
The Building Act 2004
All building work needs to meet certain requirements to help keep buildings safe, healthy and durable.
The purpose of the Building Act is to
- regulate all building work
- provide for licensing of building practitioners
- promote accountability of stakeholders involved in building work
- set the standards required for building work.
This is to ensure that
- people using buildings are safe and don’t endanger their health
- buildings are suitable for anyone to use, no matter their mobility
- people can escape safely from the building in the event of a fire
- buildings are designed and constructed to comply with the building code.
Responsibility for the Act falls under the Ministry of Building, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). Their Building Performance website has information on the Act, New Zealand Building Code, and other essential building information.
You can’t undertake any building work that needs a building consent without getting written approval from a Building Consent Authority.
A Building Consent Authority (BCA) will grant a building consent if your proposed building work meets the requirements of the New Zealand Building Act, Building Regulations and Building Code.
- a building consent can’t be issued retrospectively for work already completed – for any work completed without a building consent you can apply for a certificate of acceptance or you may be asked to demolish the work done
- if you make changes to the design while you are building, you’ll need to apply for an amendment to your consent, which can cause delays and additional cost for processing the changes to your consent
- as the owner it is your responsibility to ensure inspections happen – therefore check that they are being carried out if you have delegated this responsibility to a builder, architect or project manager.
You need a building consent for most work including
- 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.
You can apply for a building consent here.
Exempt building work
Some building work may not need a building consent. This exempt building work recognises that the building work is low risk and has conditions to help manage risk.
All building work must still meet the requirements of the building code and other relevant legislation.
For more details and information check out the following
- how to check if my building work is exempt
- information on building work that doesn’t need a building consent on MBIE’s website
- guidance on exempt building work.
When deciding if your work is exempt or needs a building consent, be aware that
- if your new building work has cooking facilities or a toilet you must get a building consent
- plumbing work is not covered under exempt work
- any electrical work still needs a registered electrician and certificate of compliance
- a sleepout must have a smoke alarm and a source of potable water available for use
- exempt building work is not retrospective – if you carried out non exempt unconsented building work after 31 March 2005 you will still need to apply for a certificate of acceptance
- you can have a notice to fix issued for non-compliant building work.
Even if your work is exempt, for your own piece of mind you can still either apply for a
- building consent, or
- discretionary exemption where your building work doesn’t quite fall under exempt building work but is still low risk work and will comply with the building code.
If you are unsure however on whether your building work is exempt – contact us or ask advice from other industry professionals with the relevant knowledge and expertise.
Adding information to your property file
Consider letting council know about any exempt work you complete on your property. This can then be added to your property file, avoiding potential issues when you sell your property. Provide any relevant documents, including
You can use our form to request to file record of exempt building work [PDF, 110 KB].
Any reports of this type received by us will be placed on a property file as a public record only. This won’t be reviewed by us for technical accuracy or for compliance with the building code. Council does not accept
- any liability for the content of the third party report, or
- responsibility for the accuracy of the third party report.
Restricted Building Work (RBW) is design and building work that is critical to make a home structurally sound and weathertight. This work can only be carried out or supervised by a Licensed Building Practitioner (LBP).
LBP licence classes cover
- external plastering
- bricklaying or blocklaying
Some of the trade classes can overlap, allowing an LBP to carry out or supervise more than one class of work. There are also professionals and trades who are automatically treated as LBPs, such as
- registered architects and chartered professional engineers (CPEng) treated as design LBPs
- licensed or certified plumbers or gasfitters treated as licensed for certain work.
You can search for an LBP on the LBP website.
LBPs carrying out restricted building work must supply you with either a
- Certificate of Design Work (COW) – to submit with your consent application, or
- Record of Work (ROW) – to provide with your application for a code compliance certificate at the end of the project.
They can’t contract out of this obligation - these are a legal requirement.
- provide assurance that the work covered in them are completed or supervised by a competent person, and
- make it clear who has accountability for the work carried out.
Where more than one LBP is involved with the design of your building work then
- the supervising LBP is responsible for the design and the COW where the work is under supervision of another LBP
- each LBP needs to supply a COW for their part of the design that is restricted building work.
You are responsible for including all COWs and ROWs for all restricted building work on your project.
Any owner-builders or ‘do-it-yourself’ builders (DIY) can apply for an owner-builder exemption.
This allows you to
- carry out restricted building work on their own homes, or
- use a friend or family member to either assist, or undertake the work on their behalf.
The owner-builder exemption only allows you to carry out restricted building work if you have not carried out restricted building work on a different house or dwelling within the previous three years. This condition helps ensure that unlicensed builders do not use the exemption as a loophole to get around the Licensed Building Practitioner scheme.
You will still need to obtain any necessary building consent and meet the requirements of the building code before starting work. Undertaking the work yourself will need a certain level of building knowledge. You can check and compare your skills to the following documents
All owner builder work must be declared on a statutory declaration form to show you meet the owner-builder criteria. Your declaration is legally binding and must be witnessed by a Justice of the Peace or a solicitor.
Your declaration will be publicly available on the property file and will be attached to any Land Information Memorandum for the property. This allows future owners to be aware that the design or construction of the dwelling has been undertaken by an owner builder.
As an owner builder you can do all or part of the design work and/or construction work. Or you can have friends and family undertake the building work on your behalf – so long as they aren’t paid. If you are paying someone to do the work, they must be
- suitably licensed, and
- submit the relevant paperwork to Council on completion of the work.