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Exempt Building Work


The Building Act has always acknowledged that you don't need a building consent for everything. The (old) 1991 Building Act had Schedule 3 attached and the (current) 2004 Building Act has Schedule 1 attached. These schedules are simply entitled: "Exempt Building Work"

This sounds like good news - you can do some stuff around the house without a building consent, which is obviously a good thing - especially nowadays when getting a building consent can be quite a challenge. But before getting too relaxed, there is a very important point to make:

The current (2004) Building Act states very plainly at section 17: "All building work must comply with the building code to the extent required by this Act, whether or not a building consent is required in respect of that building work"

It is pretty much impossible to overstate the importance of that sentence. It means you cannot escape the obligation to build in accordance with the building code. The fact that you did not need a consent is not license to build any old how.

The old Act had the identical stipulation at section 7, so this has been the law since 1992 ish.

So if you build your little deck out the back, confident you are fine because no consent was need to understand the building code well enough to build to it even though no Council inspector is going to be checking.

Stuff you did not need a consent for over the ages

The pendulum swing

The old days: The people involved in writing the 1991 Building Act were visionaries, revolutionaries and dreamers. At least, they were extremely optimistic. I know this because I listened to them preaching to an auditiorium filled with builders in 1991 about the Brave New World that was about to dawn. In this world, design and construction were to be controlled by skilled and responsible designers and trades people rather than via heavy handed supervision by local and central government. It may seem contradictory that the pendulum started way over on the “everything needs a consent” side – but perhaps that was because getting a consent was supposed to be easy. Anyway, that’s where it started – there is almost nothing you can do without a consent. Specifically, you needed a consent if the proposed works involved ” alteration or replacement of anything necessary for compliance with the provisions of the building code.”

Since pretty well everything on a building is necessary to comply with one or more of the 35 building code clauses......there is not much for Do It Youselfers to play around with of a weekend.

The middle period: Wellington rewrote the whole thing again and introduced the new one in 2004. This moved the Exempt works to Schedule 1 (where they remain). And the authors gave the pendulum a big shove in the other direction by saying you could now (without a consent) get to work on “...replacement with a comparable component or assembly in the same position...” (under the guise of repairs and maintenance.)

Wow! How cool is that - we can replace entire bits of cladding under that escape clause, can't we? Well, yes, you could - for four years, between 2004 and 2008. This was bad time - people doing "targeted" repairs to leaky homes legitimately, without a building consent, which means no independent monitoring or any records. Bad, bad, bad.

The later years: Building surveyors nagged at central government all this time (bad, bad, bad) until eventually they listened and the pendulum swung back again in March 2008: if the bit you want to "repair" has failed prematurely, then now you need a consent to fix it. That is, they placed some serious limits on what can be done in the name of "repairs and maintenance". This is (from society's point of view) a Good Thing - independent monitoring of such repairs is preferable to no monitoring, isn't it?

The most recent changes: These date from December 2010 and are horrendously complicated. They have had to make numerous specific exemptions, for example they had to make it clear you do not need a building consent to install underfloor insulation. The good news is the Department of Building and Housing produced a book (yes, a 60 page book) to "explain" what it all means. So if you are reading this now and want to know what you can do today without a consent, it is essential reading.

Some downloads, if you want to read the originals:

1) Current 1/7/92 - 24/8/2004

2) Current 24/8/2004 - 15/3/2008

3) Current 15/3/2008 - 16/10/08

4) Current 16/10/08 - 1/4/10

5) Current 7/7/10 - 31/12/10

6) Current 23/12/10 -

DBH Publication