Have you outgrown your house, but you don’t want to move? An extension or renovation is a great way to update your home, but it’s important to know what your obligations are in terms of council approval.
The council approval process can seem overwhelming and confusing at first, so here are a few tips to get you started.
What do you need council approval for?
Projects that need council approval varies between councils, so it is essential to check with your council before you start.
A good rule of thumb is that internal renovations generally don’t need council approval unless they involve structural changes but most external renovations, extensions or building work will. Sometimes even seemingly small projects like a deck or a new fence may need approval depending on your council.
Projects that almost always need council approval include significant extensions, any project that involves substantial excavation or filling and new freestanding buildings like granny flats or studios.
There are significant differences amongst councils regarding the construction of carports, decks, sheds, fences, pergolas, retaining walls and water tanks. Some have height or size restrictions, often there are rules about how close to the property boundary you build without approval.
Sometimes special conditions apply to special buildings or specific areas. Heritage Listed buildings need approval for almost anything, including painting. Special requirements may apply in environmentally sensitive areas and bushfire prone areas.
What does the process involve?
The approvals process varies from council to council, but they generally all require the following:
- Start by contacting your local council to confirm the policies, procedures and associated fees
- Engage a professional draftsman or architect draw up your plans
- Get your plans certified by a Building Certifier. This assures the council that the plans comply with the Building Code of Australia
- Appoint someone to be your Principal Certifying Authority (PCA). This can be the same person who certified your plans, they are responsible for signing off that the construction has been done as per your plans. They will also provide an Occupation Certificate once the construction is complete.
Handy hints for hassle-free approval
- Be patient. Approvals can take up to six months or even more.
- Contact the council yourself. Don’t rely on the advice of neighbours friends or even contractors about whether your project needs approval.
- Be prepared. If you have been diligent and ticked all the right boxes, your application will be easier to process.
- Communicate with the council regularly during the preparation of the documentation before lodgement. Following lodgement of your application, be proactive about meeting requests for more information.
- Hire professionals. Your council will be more confident in your application if a professional has done the drawings, provided certifications, etc. An architect or builder will often be able to help facilitate the approvals process.
- Budget. Fees will apply at various stages of the process, make sure you have included them in your budget.
- Avoid making changes to the plans once they have been approved. Alterations to approvals can be costly and cause delays mid-project.
- Ask questions. If you are unsure about something, always ask. It is better to know beforehand than receive a fine or have to undo something later.
- Get started before the approval expires. Once you have your approval, there will be a specified period in which the works must commence. If the approval expires, you will have to go through the process again.
Your council website is a great place to start. Most councils have information for home renovation projects, including faqs on their website.