Backyard building approvals in Australia

Habitable and non-habitable buildings explained

Most people are allowed to build a small shed or workshop in their backyard without needing approval if they stick to the regulations for sheds, workshops, etc that apply in their area.

However, anywhere in Australia, if you want to build a larger shed, one with toilet or bathroom facilities, or any ‘habitable room’ it’s going to need some form of approval and certification depending on the rules and regulations pertaining to your site and location.

WHAT ARE NON-HABITABLE ROOMS?

The definition of a non-habitable room can include a storage room, pantry, bathroom*, laundry*, toilet*, hallway, walk-in wardrobe, corridor, gazebo, cabana, photographic darkroom, shed, and other types of rooms where humans aren’t spending a significant amount of time. In most locations, it’s possible to build a non-habitable room up to a certain size without approval. In NSW planning legislation, for example, non-habitable rooms up to 20sqm could be allowed on suburban blocks without building approval, providing strict conditions are met for height, setbacks, materials, etc. Options like shipping containers are disallowed under these rules for NSW. Other states have different rules for non-habitable buildings (eg: 10sqm maximum) with height and setback restrictions in all cases. Always check the rules for non-habitable rooms in your area, and your site plan, before proceeding with a project as an exempt development. *While the basic structure of a ‘wet room’ could be exempt, compliance is required for waterproofing, connection to water, sewerage, etc.

WHAT ARE HABITABLE ROOMS?

According to the Australian building code, the definition of a habitable room includes a bedroom, study, sewing room, dining room, living area, media room, home office, guest room, sleepout, etc. These rooms function exactly like an extension of the livable space of your main house. Even if detached from the main house, if you’re building a structure in the backyard and you intend to use it as a room, it’s a habitable room needing approval. A granny flat always needs approval although there are different kinds of approval in different states where processes cost less or more and are faster or slower. There’s no way around it with habitable rooms, compliance is mandatory anywhere in Australia, regardless of size and any advertising that may suggest otherwise just to get you excited.

ATTENTION TO COMPLIANCE

What could go wrong if you go ahead with a non-compliant backyard development? Potentially it could mean voiding your property insurance, not being insured for injury to occupants or visitors, having to remove or modify the non-compliant structure, etc.

Although compliance with habitable rooms and granny flat developments may cost a bit to achieve, it’s a solid investment. A compliant structure adds value to your home whereas a non-compliant structure could be offputting to future buyers. An illegal granny flat cannot be shown on the house floorplan as a granny flat. Real estate listings will show illegal granny flats as storage and utility spaces that cannot be lived in or rented out. Even if the exempt development has all the internal fit-out, comforts, and furnishings of a normal room – if it wasn’t approved as a room, it’s not a room. A non-approved room is just a shed, nothing more.

Would you like to know whether or not you need approval or what kind of approval you’ll need and how much it will cost? Send us an enquiry below and tick the box to say you’d like help and advice.

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Exempt developments in residential-zoned areas - NSW example

Cabanas, cubby houses, ferneries, garden sheds, gazebos, and greenhouses are the types of freestanding backyard structures that can be exempt from approval processes in NSW. What people call backyard pods, backyard cabins, backyard studios, etc may or may not be classified as “cabanas” or “sheds” for pre-approved development in residential and rural areas. Ideas can be thwarted by rules like:

  • Floor area of structure not exceeding 20 square metres

  • Height of structure not exceeding 3m above existing ground level (from the lowest point)

  • Behind the building line of any road frontage

  • Not a shipping container

  • Not a 'habitable' room (eg: not used by people as if it was a normal room)

  • Roofwater managed without causing nuisance to any adjoining owner

  • If metal, constructed of low reflective, factory pre-coloured material (eg: Colorbond®)

  • If on bushfire-prone land less than 5m from a dwelling, built from non-combustible material

  • If adjacent to another building, not interfering with the building accessibility or fire safety

  • Not connected to water supply or sewerage services

  • Not more than 2 such developments per residential allotment (eg: no more than 2 sheds)

Rules like these can appear simple. What each rule means and how each rule translates on your property is not necessarily simple. For example, what does it really mean to avoid interfering with fire safety? And can you put an exempt shed in any position you like in the backyard? Even if you think you have met the requirements for an exempt development in NSW, VIC, QLD, or ACT – maybe you haven’t, for reasons you don’t fully realise. If you need help to make sure your exempt development won’t get you into any strife down the track, we can help you get the advice you need for peace-of-mind.

Backyard pods AustraliaBackyard pods of up to 3m x 6m or 3.6 x 5m may qualify as an exempt development in residential areas because of features such as the low structural profile, non-reflective and non-combustible Colorbond corrugated-profile exterior walling, and inclusion of a proper guttering system to allow for the environmentally-friendly collection of excess roofwater in a rainwater tank, or stormwater disposal.

If you’re in NSW, review Section 9 of the State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) 2008 legislation with reference to your specific situation.

As the property owner, it is ultimately your responsibility to ensure your plans for development and your intentions for use are either exempt or compliant or approved as specific to your proposed site and regulations relevant to your local area.

NSW: exempt developments in rural-zoned areas

Using NSW as a further example because state-wide planning rules provide a more simple reference, the rules for exempt development of cabanas, cubby houses, ferneries, garden sheds, gazebos and greenhouses on rural-zoned properties are essentially the same as the rules for residential-zoned properties, the two major differences being:

  • Floor area of structure not exceeding 50 square metres

  • Not necessarily behind the building line of any road frontage

Farm-stay cabins AustraliaBackyard pods up to the maximum available sizes of 3m x 10m or 3.6 x 10m may qualify as an exempt development in rural areas because of features such as the low structural profile, non-reflective and non-combustible Colorbond corrugated-profile exterior walling, and inclusion of a proper guttering system to allow for the environmentally-friendly collection of excess roofwater in a rainwater tank, or channeling into larger rainwater storage tanks.

If you’re in NSW, review Section 9 of the State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) 2008 legislation with reference to your specific situation.

We simply supply backyard pod kits according to purchaser instructions. It is ultimately your responsibility to ensure your plans for development and your intentions for use are either exempt or compliant with guidelines as specific to your proposed site and any regulations affecting your local area.

Brisbane QLD: granny flat regulations

In general, the regulations surrounding granny flat developments in Queensland tend to be more relaxed than in New South Wales. For example, read the Brisbane City Council granny flat fact sheet.

Gold Coast QLD: granny flat regulations

The rules for granny flats on the Gold Coast are not the same as in Brisbane. Read the Gold Coast building regulations for secondary dwellings.