Applying for building consent

LIZ MCDONALD
Last updated 12:35 04/12/2013
Construction generic
Kirk Hargreaves

PERMISSION REQUIRED: While house builders are often expert at consent applications, the owner is ultimately responsible.

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The home building's not finished till the consent is signed off, as LIZ McDONALD writes.

By law, you need building consent from your local council if you're building a new home or doing anything more than minor alterations to an existing one.

You also need a consent - previously called a permit - to build or alter fireplaces, some decks, swimming pools, garages, car ports, retaining walls, and anything to do with drainage or plumbing. Relocating a house and some earthquake repair work will also need consent.

Check with your council if in doubt as to what needs consent and what doesn't.

The consent process is meant to ensure the planned work leaves dwellings safe, earthquake and fire resistant, with adequate sanitation, within their legal boundaries, and weathertight. It is designed to protect a house's occupants as well as any future owners and occupants, and preserve neighbours' rights.

As an owner, you are responsible for making sure any work done on your property is done within the law and complies with the Building Code.

You need to get your consent before work starts - councils won't issue them retrospectively and you'll be left with something illegal if you go ahead regardless.

You can be made to alter or pull down work done without consent, and the law also lists some nasty fines for breaching the regulations.

In a few cases, a council may issue a certificate of acceptance if work done without consent is within the Building Code. There are only a few exemptions to the need for a consent - mainly in rare cases such as when emergency work needs to be done.

What's involved?

You, your architect, designer or builder can apply for a building consent. This involves submitting detailed plans with an application form.

These days many councils, including the Christchurch City Council, are moving to electronic rather than paper-based processes.

And of course, there'll be the necessary fees.

These fees range widely according to how big the project is and how much work it involves for the council, but even for a minor alteration it will be a few hundred dollars.

You are entitled to have your application processed within 20 days, as long as all the details are provided, although many authorities are struggling to meet this requirement, especially since the Canterbury earthquakes. It is worth noting, though, that councils stop their clock each time they need more details or clarification, so bank on longer than a month.

Sometimes the application will require other consents or authorisations, such as a resource consent, neighbours' consent, or a consent to connect to the council's utility systems.

Anyone whose building consent application is declined can apply for a ruling from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

A building consent has a time limit: normally work needs to start within six months although extensions can be applied for.

At the end of the work, the project will be inspected by a council inspector, and a compliance certificate will be issued to say things have been done correctly. If there is a problem, a notice to rectify will be issued.

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In many cases, getting approval requires a series of inspections during the building process to look at things which will eventually be covered, such as wiring, plumbing, insulation, excavations for foundations, and framing, bracing and reinforcing.

A copy of the plans and other relevant paperwork need to be kept on site until the final sign-off is obtained.

If you change your mind about a project before it starts, you can cancel the consent and some fees may be reimbursed.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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