Do I need to apply for building consent?


A building consent is Council’s written authority to carry out building work that it considers will comply with the Building Code provided it is completed in accordance with the plans and specifications submitted with the building consent application.

  • It cannot be issued retrospectively for work already completed. In these circumstances a Certificate of Acceptance should be applied for. Please note that a CoA is issued at the Council’s discretion and is not automatic. You may well be asked to demolish the work done.
  • If you make changes to the design while you are building, you need to apply for an alteration to the Building Consent. Avoid this if you can as they can cause extra costs and delays to the project.
  • It is the building owner’s responsibility to organise inspections. If this has been delegated to a builder, architect or project manager, check to be sure they are taking place.

When to get a building consent

You need to get a building consent before doing almost any building work except for that listed in Schedule1: Exempt Work here.

You can apply yourself, but your application must comply with the Building Code and you must provide all the necessary documentation – and there’s a lot!

However, your architect/designer or builder can do this on your behalf, and they’ve probably put a few applications in which will mean they know all the items needed (but not always – it can pay to check as if there are items missing, the application will be returned and the 20-Day deadline ‘clock’ will stop until you provide the missing information).

Here are some examples of work that requires a consent:

  • any structural building including new buildings, additions, alterations, accessory buildings (sheds), and re-piling
  • plumbing and drainage
  • heating (fireplaces), ventilation and air conditioning systems
  • siteworks for a building
  • retaining walls higher than 1.5 metres, or retaining walls with a building or driveway near the top
  • fences higher than 2.5 metres and any swimming pool fence
  • swimming pools
  • decks more than 1.5 metres from ground level.

Important information:

If you don’t start work within 12 months the building consent will lapse, (or other time limit specified by the Building Consents Authority (BCA), usually a Council). You can ask for more time, however.

Also note – YOU are ultimately responsible for making sure you have a Code Compliance Certificate (CCC) unless your contract specifically says otherwise. Make sure your builder is available for any remedial work that may need doing if your CCC is rejected – otherwise you won’t get it and it could cause problems in the future.

Builders are required by law to fix defects within the first 12 months, no questions asked. 


Building consent levies

The following levies are applicable where the value of the building project exceeds $20,000 in total:

  • Building Research Association of New Zealand (BRANZ) levy assessed at $1.00 per $1,000.
  • MBIE – Building and Housing Group levy assessed at $1.97 per $1,000.

When and how to apply for a building consent

You must obtain a building consent before carrying out building work. Your application:

  • must be on the prescribed application form and be completed in full 
  • must be accompanied by the prescribed application fee,
  • must be accompanied by plans, specifications and any other required by your local council or the Act.

NOTE: The BCA (Council) will often request additional information to that supplied and the 20-day clock will stop until that information is provided to the BCA.


Exempt work

There are a number changes, which came into effect on October 16, 2008, which will make it easier for homeowners to do minor building work without having to get Council Consent. The list of work that no longer requires a building consent has been extended and now includes:

  • Fences up to two metres in height (except pool fences).
  • Retaining walls up to 1.5 metres in height, providing they only carry the ground load.
  • Small garden sheds – they must be less than less than 10 square metres and a single storey. They cannot include sleeping accommodation or toilets or stored drinking water, and they must be as far from the boundary as the height of the shed itself and the rain water from the roof must not cause ponding or a nuisance to the neighbouring property.
  • Closing in an existing veranda or patio where the floor area does not exceed five square metres.
  • Changing existing household plumbing, including minor drainage work, as long as the work is done or signed off by a licensed plumber or drainlayer
  • Building or installing a small cabin near to an existing home, as long as the cabin is smaller than 10 m2 and does not have cooking or sanitary facilities
  • Removing or changing a non load-bearing wall
  • Building awnings, pergolas or verandas over a deck
  • Installing or replacing windows or exterior doors, provided there have not been weathertightness problems and there is no change to structural elements
  • Making a home more accessible by widening doorways and building access ramps
  • Fitting out shop or office interiors where the work does not modify certain important building features, such as fire escapes
  • Erecting tents or marquees, as long as they are smaller than 100m2 (for private use) and 50 m2 (for public use) and will not be used for more than a month

Note: This list is not comprehensive but covers most of the exemptions pertaining to domestic situations. If you are unsure, ask your local council before doing any work. Building work that is exempt from having a building consent must still comply with the Building Code.


Issuing a building consent

There is a 20 working day timeframe in which to process your building consent application. However processing time will stop if Council officers need to seek additional information. When your building consent is issued it will contain:

  • the building consent,
  • the addendum to the building consent which lists any special conditions relating to the approval,
  • advice on when to call for inspections,
  • copies of the approved plans and specifications.

It may also contain copies of other approvals relating to the project.


When you can start work

You may commence work immediately upon receipt of your consent as long as all other authorisations that are required have been obtained. The issue of a building consent does not relieve the owner of obligations under other Acts.

Note: A building consent will lapse and become invalid if the work it authorises is not commenced within twelve calendar months from the date of consent issue; or within such further period of time Council in its discretion allows.


This article first appeared in the New Zealand Building Guide. Read more about building your dream home at 

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