Knowledge of necessary consents is usually (and thankfully) left in the hands of your designer or builder.
But it still pays to understand what you can and can’t do.
A building consent makes sure you’re knocking together something that won’t topple over or leak – it ensures your plans conform to the Building Code. Consents are administered by your local council, and you’ll need one to provide proof your design is up to scratch.
If council isn’t satisfied, your application will be rejected and your reno will be dead in the water until you can prove otherwise.
What you’ll need
Your best bet is to leave the applications to your designer or builder, they’ve seen it all before and know the process. At the very least you’ll need to provide four separate things to the council:
- Proof of ownership: We’re not sure why you would renovate otherwise, but you need to prove you own the place.
- Detailed drawings: The initial sketch plans won’t have enough information for the council to give it the “yay” or “nay”.
- Specifications of material or building systems: You need the nitty gritty details of the things getting installed, these specs might be included in the final drawings from your designer.
- Memorandum from licensed building practitioner: This lengthy form identifies what work is restricted building work, a description of it, who’s doing it, and links it back to the plans and specifications.
That’s the bare bones. On top of that, there might be extra requirements based on the type of work you’re proposing. These might be calculations to show the building will cope with the proposed changes, or if it’ll stay standing if you’re in a specific high wind zone.
Do you even need it?
If your reno doesn’t involve any restricted building work, you might not need to go down this track. Things like ripping out the old kitchen and replacing it like for like with a new one should sail through. New regulations came into effect last year that reduced the scope of what work needs building consents.
There’s an online resource (buildit.govt.nz) that can show you if your project will need one.
What definitely needs it?
If your job is major and structural, go in assuming you’ll need to apply for a building consent. A new woodburner seems innocuous, but it’ll be subject to the consent process. Same goes for a fancy tiled shower rather than a plug-and-play unit you buy from a plumbing supplier. Plumbing and drainage changes can sneak through, but installing an additional bathroom or toilet will put you over the line.
It’s a pricey business
You’ll get charged a fee based on the total cost of the project. These fees tend to run into the thousands for big projects. Be sure to budget for it at the beginning of your job.
Once issued, a building consent is valid for 12 months, but you can apply for an extension. If you don’t apply for it, the consent will be reneged and you’ll start the process again. You have two years to complete the job from the date of issue.
Can you do that?
Your council has rules in place to stop you constructing things on your property willy-nilly.
The district plan contains all the rules you need to comply with. They cover what you can use your home for, through to size and shape of any buildings. If your design breaks them, your reno could be scuppered. However, you can still apply for resource consent and if approved, things will look rosy again.
It’s easy to look up your district plan online. Type “[your local council] district plan” into a search engine and it’ll bring up a link that’s relevant to you. Most have an interactive map that’s colour coded so you can see how your property is zoned. If you live in the suburbs, it’s likely “residential”. From there you can look up the rules for that property type in the plan.
What’s in the plan?
The rules all depend on your council and the zoning of your property. There are some common threads across councils. These include:
- Site coverage: Just because you own the section doesn’t mean you can cover the whole thing with a giant house. There’ll be a maximum percentage of ground that your dwelling can cover. This could impact the size of an extension.
- Special trees: While that pōhutukawa might block your view, be sure to check you can knock it over to extend the deck. Some native trees are protected while others are marked as notable, or heritage, and you won’t be able to touch them.
- Building height: The overall height will be restricted. There’ll also be a restriction known as a “recession plane”. This is an angle from your boundary you can’t build above. That means you can’t build a high-rise right on the edge of your land and block your neighbours’ sun.
- Closeness to boundary: At the front, sides and back of your property, there’ll be rules to stop you from building too close to the boundary. Often the front of the property needs to be further back from the road, but the sides of the house can extend a bit closer to the edges.
- Permeable surfaces: A good portion of the property surface should be permeable, which means there’s suitable drainage on site and rainwater doesn’t run into the stormwater drains. The percentage required will be clearly marked out. So, your reno plans can’t include a total lawn replacement with a concrete slab.
- Heritage buildings: Some areas or buildings may be deemed historically important and will have restrictions to the work you can do to them. That might impact your grand plans. Restoration work can be intricate and expensive to undertake too.
Permitted Boundary Activity
If your design oversteps the rules by getting too close to the boundaries or is outside the recession plane, you can try to get it over the line by applying for a Permitted Boundary Activity. Often, you’ll need to get approval from your affected neighbours, which isn’t guaranteed – it might negatively impact their investment after all.
If you find yourself on the wrong side of some of the other rules in the District Plan, you’ll need to apply for a resource consent. If you don’t, you’ll be building an illegal structure and can face criminal prosecution when you’re caught out.
Your easiest route is to stay within the rules. It’s a good idea to peruse these restrictions so you can temper your plans before you even contact a designer in the first place.
Most councils aim up to 20 working days to turn around your consent applications (should everything be OK). If there’s a bit of go-between to sort out any required information, it’ll take longer.