Ins and outs of planning and building permits

Written by Douglas Ross in Renovating on December 6, 2016

Ins and outs of planning and building permits

Things have changed on the building permits front. It isn’t the wild west that it once was.  A 2011-12 report by the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office shone a light on the failures of the system. It noted the system depended “heavily on ‘trust'”, allowing room for collusion and conflicts of interest.

What was the result? As of 1 September 2016, a builder who enters into a contract or acts as a domestic builder for building work may not appoint a private building surveyor on behalf of their client. They can suggest municipal or private building surveyors but as the person forking out all the cash, you are free to research and decide. In other words, the onus is on you. Never has there been a better time to get lost down the rabbit hole of permits.

Planning to get your planning permit permitted…for a building permit

Do you even need a planning permit? Ask this before you get your architecture scales out of the attic. The best thing to do is get in contact with your local council. Take a sketch map of your project to your council’s planning officer. They can tell you what you need to know. Remember to ask them if there are any exemptions to the work you are doing. Can you still go ahead with your project with a few minor changes and not have to go through the permit process?

Next step? If you are employing an architect, designer or drafts-person then they can draft plans. They can also provide engineering computations, foundation data and complete planning and building permits. They can only do this if:

  • They have professional indemnity insurance.
  • Have a registration with the Victorian Building Authority (or relative state authority).
  • Have a registration with the Architects Registration Board of Victoria (if they are an architect).

There’s one more checklist to have handy. Make sure you go through this with your architect or drafts-person. Any plans you make need to account for:

  • Results from a licensed land surveyor.
  • Local council laws.
  • Similar projects completed in the area (e.g. if you want to subdivide your land, are there other similar subdivisions nearby?)
  • Mandatory energy rating requirements.
  • Foundation data, including soil tests.
  • VBA regulations that ensure the work is safe.

Remember: Have your neighbours over for a wine and let them know what you want to do. Unhappy neighbours can be the biggest hurdle during the permit process.

First you plan then you build

The typical waiting period for a planning permit is several weeks. However, councils often have 60 days to make a decision. The next step is to get your building permit.

Your council will encourage you to contact a building surveyor. If you have an architect or builder, they can help. See if they can put you in contact with one but remember that they are no longer allowed to appoint a private building surveyor on your behalf.

Discuss with your builder their responsibilities when it comes to your surveyor. Check if the contract with your builder requires them to let your surveyor know when each stage of the build is complete. Be careful that they don’t miss any of these milestones.

Once the surveyor makes these inspections you will receive a Certificate of Final Inspection or Occupancy. This is the last step in the permit process. Think of it as a three-part process: planning, building, completion.

Note: your building surveyor checks that your build complies with minimum building regulations. They do not check for the quality of the work or that your contract with your builder is complete. A building consultant can help protect your interests from the start of employing a builder through to the end of the project.