Meares Williams Lawyers, Christchurch and Canterbury

Changes to the Building Act 2004

By: Emma-Jane Moore
Published: 23/07/2020
The Government has recently announced changes to the Building Act 2004 (“the Act”) which will permit specific forms of building work to be exempt from requiring a building consent. These new building consent exemptions are being added to the work that can already be done without a building consent as detailed in Schedule One of the Act. This means that a building consent will no longer be required for some new, or expanded, forms of low-risk building work. Work considered ‘low-risk’ includes structures and improvements, inter alia, sleep-outs, sheds, carports, outdoor fireplace and ground-mounted solar panels.

The purpose for these new exemptions is two-fold. Primarily, the new exemptions will save building owners time and expense by avoiding the requirement of the local Council’s consent for low-risk building work projects. Secondly, it is anticipated that the reduced demand for building consents will allow Councils to focus on building work that is deemed higher-risk which may boost the construction sector in an effort to ease negative effects caused by Covid-19. It is expected that the majority of these new exemptions will commence at the end of August 2020 once the necessary changes have been made to the Act. The Minister for Building and Construction has announced that these exemptions are one aspect of a suite of reforms to the building system that the Government is planning to introduce.

While the emphasis has been on reducing the bureaucracy for low-risk building work, there is no intention of lowering work standards. This package of new exemptions permits some work to be completed without the help of a professional, while other forms of work will still require a Chartered Professional Engineer or Licensed Building Practitioner to be involved in the project. In any case, all work must still meet the requirements under the Building Code and other relevant legislation. The new exemptions will not permit a ‘laissez-faire’ approach to construction, and before any exempt work is undertaken it is important that the guidance provided by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (“MBIE”) is followed correctly. The MBIE guidance will be updated prior to the new exemptions commencing, therefore it is important to ensure the latest MBIE guidance is being followed before and during construction. If you do opt to tackle any low-risk building work yourself, you must pay careful attention to any limitations or restrictions stipulated in the MBIE guidance for the project you are contemplating. For example, the maximum floor area permitted, any design requirements for the project, the materials used and any structural requirements.

It is clear that all exempt work must still meet the Building Code; however, the exempt work must also meet other relevant legislation. Exempt work that includes any plumbing, drain laying, gas or electrical services will still need to comply with the relevant law and building requirements. Furthermore, any exempt work will also need to comply with any planning law requirements, as a structure that is deemed an exempt work under the Act may still infringe the Resource Management Act 1991 or an operative District Plan in your area. Is it the building owner’s obligation to ensure whether or not a building consent, approval or any other certification is required before construction begins. Therefore, if you are not certain if your intended project will require building consent, or breach any other legislation, it is crucial to seek professional advice before you begin construction. Seeking professional building or legal advice before the project begins can help to mitigate any future non-compliance issues and to ensure the work undertaken is legal in every respect. 

Emma-Jane Moore


The information in this brief article is a summary only and does not constitute legal advice. Meares Williams Lawyers do not accept any liability to you or anyone else for doing something, or omitting to do something, on the information provided above.

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