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 therefore 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.

Building consent

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.

Note that

  • 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.

Building consents are required for most work including

  • fencing/barriers around swimming pools and around spa pools that are not exempt
  • retaining walls over 1.5m (no surcharge)
  • retaining walls any height where there is an additional load or burden on the retaining wall other than the ground it is retaining eg vehicles, etc
  • decks over 1.5m high
  • pergolas with a roof
  • free-standing non-habitable buildings larger than 30m2
  • plumbing and drainage work including replacing hot water cylinders
  • relocation of buildings
  • new buildings
  • heating including fireplaces
  • ventilation and air-conditioning systems (commercial)
  • large dams (4 or more metres in height and holding more than 20,000m3 of water or other fluid).

Apply for a building consent

Exempt building work

Some building work may fall under exempt building work – recognising that the building work is low risk.

As the homeowner or building owner you are responsible for

  • determining if your building work is exempt work or you need a building consent
  • making sure that the exempt work meets the building code and other relevant legalisation - in particular the district plan

In some cases exempt building work needs to be carried out, supervised, designed or reviewed by a professional such as a

For more details, information and examples check the publication on building work that does not require a building consent.

Note 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.

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.

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 you may be able to apply for a discretionary exemption. Talk to us first before you apply.

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

  • drawings
  • specifications
  • photographs.

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

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).

The licence classes cover

  • design
  • carpentry
  • roofing
  • external plastering
  • bricklaying or blocklaying
  • foundations
  • site.

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.

These records

  • 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.

Owner-builder exemptions

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.

Once you’ve provided your declaration with your building consent application this will be publicly available on the property file. This information will be attached to any Land Information Memorandum for the property so that future owners are 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.

Design work

The design work of the restricted building work relates to building parts that are critical to the structural integrity and weathertightness of the building. We recommend you engage a LBP to do this work for you, unless you are technically competent to design restricted building work.

If you’re using the owner builder exemption for design work, you must supply the completed documentation with your consent application; including

  • plans and specifications of the house to the same level of detail and compliance as that required of a licensed designer, registered architect or chartered professional engineer
  • any other documentation required by the BCA in relation to your building consent application (refer to the residential checklist [PDF, 81 KB] for details required)
  • a statutory declaration.

If you’re using a designer to design the restricted building work they must provide their certificate of design work with your consent application, including

  • plans and specifications of the house to the same level of detail and compliance that a licensed designer, registered architect or chartered professional engineer needs to provide
  • any other documentation relevant to the building consent application
  • a certificate of design work issued by the designer.

Construction work

You’re responsible for ensuring that the

  • work complies with the approved plans and specifications
  • construction work complies with the Building Act and building code.

Changing your mind on doing your own work

You can change your mind on who is doing your building work. This may happen when

  • you want to stop using the exemption condition – ie you don’t want to do the work any longer yourself and employ a licensed building practitioner to complete the work
  • start using the exemption condition – ie
    • part way through the construction you may decide to end the employment of the licensed building practitioner and intend to finish the job yourself as an owner-builder, or
    • part way through the work you decide to employee a licensed building practitioner to carry out particular parts of the construction.

If any of the above apply and you didn’t supply an owner-builder declaration with your consent application, you’ll need to provide a completed owner builder declaration to Council.