Please note this article is only applicable to Victoria. We are currently working on the same information for each state and territory.
It’s a question that plenty of DIY home renovators have asked themselves, and for good reason. You’ve already invested so much time to learn everything else, so surely there’s a way around building permits, right?
As you’ve probably guessed, they’re an absolute necessity for many projects. But I’m not going to tell you to engage a building surveyor no matter what; that would hardly be informative. Instead, I’m going to explain the exact thresholds where you legally require a building permit. You might even realise you can build more than you expect without the expense of a surveyor!
Knowing the lines between a backyard project and a formal construction could save you a substantial fine from your council, as well as the pain and expense of having to rebuild or completely tear down your project. What a nightmare that would be! As a certified building surveyor at Melbourne’s Nicholson Wright, I see this happen regularly. So don’t rush into your build and regret it; take a few minutes to assess the plans and then grab your tools with as much confidence as any professional.
Garages, sheds and carports
If your structure meets one or more of these criteria, a building permit is something you must apply for:
- 2.4m high or more
- 10sqm in area or larger
- 1m or closer to the boundary of your property
- Connected to another structure, for example a shed with a roof that adjoins the house.
Take note of these essential criteria if you’re constructing a fence. Permits are required if it’s:
- 2m or higher
- 3m from the street boundary or closer
- A border to a pool (even if it’s only a partial border).
Many DIY renovators believe that permits aren’t needed for decks, however they all require one. If your deck is more than 800mm above ground level it will also need to be checked for privacy provisions. We all want to keep our neighbours happy!
As verandahs are roofed structures that are attached to a house, they’re classed as a building extension. This means you’ll need a building permit regardless of size or height.
Not to be confused with verandahs or decks, pergolas are unroofed structures that are not directly connected to your house or another building. In this instance ‘unroofed’ means it can still have a shade cloth, louvres or an open frame over people’s heads.
If your pergola meets all of the following criteria, you can avoid having to apply for a permit. Of course, as a complex structure, we recommend you still do, but it’s your choice:
- Less than 3.6m high
- Smaller than 20sqm
- Not further than 2.5m forward of the front walls of your house.
A permit is a legal requirement if your retaining wall is:
- 1m or higher
- Connected to other building structures, such as a shed or home extension
- Supporting the soil and underlying structure of your neighbour’s property.
— Patrick Richardson is a building surveyor at Melbourne’s Nicholson Wright. With more than 17 years experience, Nicholson Wright issue building permits and conduct mandatory inspections of projects from small residential renovations to large, high-rise offices.