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Careful with consents!



Have you been getting consents for low-risk jobs that don’t require them? Or worse, have you been carrying out work that does require a consent without getting one? Schedule 1 of the Building Act details what building work can be carried out without a consent; this article highlights common exempt building work that landscapers may be asked to carry out


Passed in November 2013, the Building Amendment Act 2013 details the range of work not requiring a building consent. Exemptions are detailed in a live document, which has been updated four times since it was released in 2014. 


Exemptions are listed under Schedule 1 of the Building Act 2004, which was last updated in 2020 to exempt low-risk building work such as sleepouts, sheds, carports, outdoor fireplaces and ground-mounted solar panels from consents. The document ‘Building work that does not require a consent’  is available for download by searching 'Building work consent not required guidance' on building.govt.nz/projects-and-consents/


What are building consent exemptions?


Building consent exemptions recognise that some work is low risk enough that it shouldn’t be subject to the building consent process. Such works do not require a building consent application and, therefore, there is no review of the designs nor regular council inspections of the work while under construction. However, there are restrictions to the exemptions.


All works must comply with the Building Code. The works may also need to comply with other legislative requirements, such as those under the Resource Management Act 1991, the Electricity Act 1992 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. In many cases, for the exemption to apply, a Licensed Building Practitioner (LBP) is required to carry out or supervise the design and construction, or the design must be carried out or reviewed by a Chartered Professional Engineer (CPEng).


Any plumbing work to a new or current building requires a building consent, and any electrical work must be carried out by a registered electrician.


Why should this matter to landscapers?


The document isn’t limited to building additions and alterations – it also includes structures that many landscapers regularly undertake construction of.


While most of these are generally exempt from consent, there are certain circumstances where they are not – eg, fences over 2.5m or retaining walls which support a surcharge (additional load).


It’s important to keep up to date with the changes and to clearly understand which projects do or don’t require a consent. This article highlights common exempt building work that landscapers may be asked to carry out.


Outdoor fireplace or ovens


A permanent outdoor fireplace or oven can be built up to a maximum height of 2.5m, with a maximum cooking surface of 1m2 without a building consent. The fireplace or oven must also be at least 1m away from any legal boundary or building – however, double check what local government restrictions there are regarding lighting open fires.


Flexible water storage bladders


Flexible water storage bladders with up to 200,000L storage capacity supported on the ground for use in irrigation or firefighting.


Ground-mounted solar panels


Ground-mounted solar panels up to 20m2, built in an urban zone, can be built without the help of a professional. Ground-mounted panels between 20 and 40m2, in an urban zone, can be built without a consent if the design has been carried out or reviewed by a Chartered Professional Engineer. There is no restriction on size for solar panel arrays in rural zones.


Structures, bridges, pole sheds and barns


Small pipe-supporting structures can be built without a consent if they only carry water and are on private land. Short-span bridges can be built without a consent if they are a maximum of 6m long and if they do not span a road or rail area. The design also needs to be carried out or reviewed by a Chartered Professional Engineer.


Pole sheds or hay barns in rural zones can be built if they are no larger than 110m2 and the design has been carried out or reviewed by a Chartered Professional Engineer, or an LBP has carried out or supervised design and construction.


Verandas and porches


It is possible to build a veranda or porch of up to 30m2 on a ground floor without a building consent if the design has been carried out or reviewed by a Chartered Professional Engineer or an LBP has carried out or supervised the building work.


Retaining walls


It is possible to build a retaining wall (which is any wall constructed to retain or support the surrounding ground) without needing to get a building consent if it does not retain more than 1.5m (vertically) of ground and it includes ground water drainage in relation to retaining walls.


This exemption does not apply to retaining walls that are subject to any additional load or surcharge, such as:


  • Vehicle driveways.

  • Parking spaces.

  • Swimming pools.

  • Buildings.

  • Other retaining walls.

  • Sloping ground above the top of the retaining wall.

Also refer to exemption 41 (section 13.3) (retaining walls): this exemption covers building work relating to some retaining walls in rural zones as long as the design is carried out or reviewed by a Chartered Professional Engineer.


If there is a fall of 1m or more from the retaining wall, you may be required to install a safety barrier (under Building Code clause F4 – Safety from falling). Factors to consider include the purpose or use of the retaining wall, how accessible it is, and whether it is frequented by young children.


Retaining wall examples


What is exempt:

  1. A builder plans to reconstruct an earthquake-damaged timber retaining wall that is less than 1.5m high. There is no surcharge on the retaining wall, so a consent is not needed.

  2. A motel owner decides to terrace the motel's uphill sloping section by building three 1.2m high concrete crib retaining walls to create three level platforms, each of which will be planted. As there will be sufficient horizontal separation between each of the retaining walls, so that no surcharge load will be imposed on a lower wall, no building consent will be needed.


What needs consent:

  1. An owner wishes to form a level platform for a garden below a neighbour's driveway. To do this, she intends to construct a 1.2m high retaining wall. As the proposed retaining wall is subject to a surcharge from the neighbour's vehicle driveway, it will require a building consent.

  2. A retaining wall ranges in height from 900mm to 1.8m. The part of the retaining wall that exceeds the maximum allowable height of 1.5m will require a building consent.

Always check before you build


If you are not sure if your work requires a consent, you can check Schedule 1 of the Building Act 2004. It’s also important to note that some exempt building work requires an authorised professional to carry out. Authorised professionals include Chartered Professional Engineers, a person authorised under the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Act 2006 and Licensed Building Practitioners.


However, it’s still important to note that, whether or not building work requires a consent, it must comply with the Building Code and legislative requirements such as the Resource Management Act 1991 and the Electricity Act 1992.


While the projects outlined above relate to the 2020 updates, there are additional, common examples of what can be carried out without a consent:'


  • Retaining walls up to 1.5m high, providing they are not carrying any load other than the ground.

  • Fences up to 2.5m high, other than around swimming pools. For more information about fences around swimming pools, see the BRANZ article in the previous of NZ Landscaper, or view online here: www.nzlandscapermag.co.nz/post/barriers-for-swimming-pools.

  • Garden sheds less than one storey and 10m2 in floor area, which do not contain sanitary facilities or facilities for the storage of drinking water and are not positioned any closer than the shed’s own height to a boundary.

  • Decks where it is not possible to fall more than 1.5m (noting a safety barrier is required where the fall height is more than 1m). 


Many of these exemptions have conditions other than summarised here. To read the full conditions, search Building work that does not require a building consent at building.govt.nz  







This information has been collated from MBIE’s Building work that does not require a building consent guidance, available in full at building.govt.nz.

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