The new requirements are the latest in a series of reforms intended to restore sagging confidence in the building industry. If you’re a homeowner, you now need to hire a "licensed building practitioner" (LBP) to carry out or supervise "restricted building work" - broadly classified as anything that’s structural or affects the weather-tightness of your home.

It's your responsibility as the homeowner to check that the people you employ are licensed. If restricted work isn’t done or supervised by an LBP, you and the builder could both face fines of up to $20,000. But you'll only be liable for a fine if you knowingly employ an unlicensed builder.

Main changes

The Department of Building and Housing (DBH) says the changes have two main aims:
  • To ensure "critical" building work is carried out or supervised by competent people - that is, LBPs
  • To ensure LBPs are held to account if their work isn't up to scratch

"Critical" work - aka "restricted building work" - includes the design and construction of a house's primary structure from the foundations to the roof. It also includes the design and construction of components that prevent external moisture damage – such as external cladding, flashings and seals.

If you're building a new home, you’ll have to hire an LBP to design it and an LBP to build it or supervise construction. Registered architects are automatically deemed to be LBPs. For renovations affecting the house's structure or weather-tightness, you’ll also need an LBP.

In general, the changes won't affect routine maintenance and repairs if you're simply replacing like with like. You'll still be able to maintain your house and make minor alterations. Work that doesn't need a building consent also won't be considered "restricted".

But some relatively small-scale building work will be caught. The installation of a new door or window may be "restricted" work if it affects the structural stability of an external wall. Similarly, installing a skylight may be "restricted" if it affects the structural stability of the roof – for example, if the rafters have to be cut or altered.

However, there’s no definitive list of "restricted" work and it's ultimately up to local councils to determine whether something falls into this category. If a builder tells you the work isn’t "restricted" and you're in doubt, you'll need to get an answer from the council. 

Tape measure

DIY exemption

DIYers who build or renovate their own home can claim an exemption from the restricted building work provisions. The exemption means DIYers can do restricted building work without being supervised by an LBP.

The DIY exemption is available since the Building Amendment Bill (No 3) was passed. The bill has been controversial because it also contains changes reducing councils' future liability for building faults and shifting more responsibility on to builders and consumers. These changes could leave consumers worse off as they will have to shoulder a greater share of the risks without the back-up of adequate consumer protection measures (such as effective dispute resolution and mandatory home warranties).

For more on the DIY exemption see www.consumerbuild.org.nz.

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