When Do I Need Building Approval?

Jun 2, 2020 | Body Corporates, Commercial and Industrial, Hospitality, Retail

Let’s face it; nobody likes paperwork. And the prospect of plowing through mountains of red tape to get building approvals is about as appealing as queuing outside Coles for toilet paper at the height of COVID-19.

However just as we adapted to following social distancing rules, business owners are also happy to abide by building regulations – especially if they understand why they’re essential.

In the coming months, life will go back to normal, and we’ll all start picking up the major renovation and repair jobs that COVID put on pause.

So it’s a good time to start thinking about why and when you need building approvals, and how to get them.

What are building approvals?

In a nutshell, building approvals are permissions, granted by a licensed building certifier, for you to carry out a specified program of works on a property.

Or, in plain English, it’s a piece of paper letting you do the work you want to do on your property.

Before going any further, let’s take a step back and think about why you might need permission to demolish a building, or install a fence, swimming pool or deck. After all, whether you’re a residential or a commercial building owner, it’s your asset and your land.

Why do I need building approvals?

The Brisbane City Council website has a good explanation of why you need approval before starting a building project.

As Council puts it, any new plans for buildings need to be assessed by highly qualified industry professionals (building certifiers) to make sure they meet the Building Code of Australia, and specific Queensland building and plumbing regulations.

When plans are looked at by a knowledgeable builder, they can carry out checks and balances to ensure the proposed work:

“… is designed and constructed soundly and will be safe; has an appropriate degree of fire safety;
has adequate protection from pests; is adequately sewered and drained; [and] meets the minimum energy and water efficiency standards”

(Brisbane City Council website, May 2020)

Whether you are undertaking demolition, extension, renovation, or any other project, it’s vital to meet building and safety standards.  There are also other factors like heritage listings to take into account.

Just ask the Brisbane building owner and certifier who ended up in hot water in 2016, when they demolished a “character” building and didn’t have the right approvals in place!

Building approval or building permit?

No matter what you’re doing to your property, you may need building approval.

While that sounds straightforward, Core4 finds that the topic causes a bit of confusion.

One reason for this is language. Here in Queensland, we call it a “Building Approval” when a building certifier gives the green light to a construction or development project.

Other states and territories (South Australia, Western Australia, and the ACT) also use this term.

But in Victoria and Tasmania, you need a “Building Permit.”  And if you’re a builder on the Gold Coast and doing a job just over the NSW border, your clients will be giving you a “Construction Certificate.”

No matter where you’re building, an approval document is the same thing. It’s the permission you need before you start your project.

It’s important to remember that building approval is different from a Development Application. In some cases, you can’t get a building approval that allows you to kick off a project until you have a Development Application.

Are you scratching your head yet?


When do you need a building approval?

We did say people find approvals confusing. The other reason for this is that there are rules – and then there are exceptions to the rules.

In Queensland, the framework for building approvals is set by national and state laws and enforced by local Councils.

There are different guidelines for residential buildings and commercial buildings.

There are times (as we just noted) when you need a Development Application before a building approval.

There are times when you don’t need approval.  For example, for minor maintenance or the following add-ons to your property:

  • A garden shed or roofed patio under 2.4m high and 10m2
  • A fence not more than 2m high
  • A retaining wall less than 1m high
  • A deck lower than 1m high and less than 10m2.

And then there are caveats to all of the above!

Core4’s golden rule is: Check Before You Start. Check with a professional or with your local Council.  Cut through the complexity and:

  • Enlist a professional to help with the project management process from approval to completion
  • Contact the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) for guidance and support
  • Go to your local Council website to understand how the rules apply to your situation.

When it comes to buildings, you only have to think of Grenfell Tower or Opal Tower to realise that “better to be safe than sorry” isn’t a cliché – it’s good practice.

Getting Approvals Started

In getting your project started, it’s essential to have a Council or QBCC-endorsed building certifier involved in the approvals process. The certifier will run you through all the forms and paperwork that are needed.

Building certifiers must be registered with QBCC and are expected to have very high standards of professionalism and experience.

Sometimes we’ve seen confusion arise because our clients have been misled by a “tradesman” who doesn’t understand the requirements for getting work approved.  You’ll find in these cases that these “tradesman” normally don’t have a license, so they don’t understand the impact of their work.

Doing your “due diligence” and checking approval requirements and your certifiers’ licensing will take some of the confusion away and lead to a better result all round.

And as your partners in Brisbane commercial maintenance and project management, Core4 are always happy to help.

If you have works planned and need a hand sorting your building approval – or construction certificate if you’re over the border – get in touch. We’ll take the pain out of the red tape, so you can get on with running your business.

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