You might be surprised to know that illegal building work is more common than you might imagine, and most people often don’t realize that their new fence, patio or carport might actually be against the law. In this article, we have obtained some advice from the experts at Inform Building Permits Ltd, that will help you to not find yourself in a sticky situation when it comes to your construction.

What is Illegal Building Works?

The majority of building and development work requires some sort of consent, a DA approval or a Complying Development Certificate (CDC). However, some proposed works may be classified as ‘low impact’ and, if they meet certain standards to be considered exempt under the SEPP State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) 2008, they do not require approval. Unfortunately, this exemption can lead to confusion, with many homeowners believing that their ‘low-impact’ decks, garden sheds, carports and fences are also exempt, when in fact, these seemingly minor works do indeed require approval.

This can cause problems ranging from unsuccessful property sales to a demolition order from the council. Under the Environment Planning and Assessment Act 1979, Council has the right to a multitude of actions, ranging from fines to a demolition order.

How Do the Authorities Become Aware of Illegal Construction?

Councils usually become aware of non-compliant structures and works through community complaints (nosy neighbours) or Private Certifying Authorities (PCA) in charge of the development supervision.

According to a report produced by the University of Sydney Policy Lab, several Councils report: “complaints about illegal dwellings ranged from 10 per month (120 per year) to 80 (960 in a year).” Most of these complaints are found to be valid, but due to the volume of complaints and difficulty litigating, the council may choose to first have a verbal discussion with the affected owners before taking formal action.

Some of the most common examples of unauthorized building works include:

  • Patios, gazebos and non-compliant decks
  • Sheds, garages, and granny flats
  • Change of use
  • Renovations, alterations, and additions
  • Pools and spas
  • Boarding house without a permit
  • Backpackers hostel without a permit

Here is a real-life example:

Jim has a large block of land he bought two years ago. The garage on the land is free-standing and currently used for storage. Conveniently, it has an internal partition and John thinks that it could be turned into a guest house with some basic renovations. He decides to enlist the help of his friends every weekend as a ‘restoration project’. Eventually, they put a small kitchen and bathroom into the garage, intending to have some friends from another country stay with Jim while visiting. Just before his guests arrive, John receives a Notice of Intention to Issue an Order from the local council.

What is the problem?

While the structure was already on the property when built, the works John carried out changed the use of the building without the appropriate consent.

In this particular case, the consent needed to have been in the form of a Development Approval (DA) to ensure compliance with Building Code standards in terms of the minimum internal wall height, floor drains, BASIX (energy efficiency), waterproofing and more.

What can Jim do now?

Before the council issues a demolition order of the unauthorized building work, Jim has the chance to obtain approval retrospectively in the form of a DA and/or, building certificate and/or an Occupation Certificate (OC).

If issued, it ensures that the council will not pursue any action for 7 years. It also assists with property sales, as many potential buyers will request one before settlement.

We hope the information provided in this article has provided some basic information about the importance of ensuring you have all the relevant building permits before you begin any kind of construction on your property. If you have any queries or suggestions for future topics, be sure to share them in the comments section below.