Building control mechanisms

The Building Act also establishes several mechanisms to control building work. These controls ensure buildings are correctly designed, constructed to a sufficient level of quality and provide an acceptable level of resistance to gravity loads and environmental effects, including earthquake safety.

Building consents

The building consent process is the principal building control mechanism for new building work. The building consent process places checks and balances on building activity and ensures buildings are designed and constructed to meet the performance requirements of the Building Code.

In many cases, building work requires a building consent from a building consent authority (BCA) before it can commence. When the BCA receives a building consent application, it reviews the plans and technical specifications of the proposed building work. It grants a building consent only when it is satisfied on reasonable grounds that the proposed building work will meet the requirements of the Building Code.

Once the building consent has been issued, the BCA inspects the building work at key stages. This is to ensure it fully complies with the conditions of the consent and  is consistent with the details provided in the building consent application. When the building work is complete and the BCA is satisfied it complies with the building consent, it issues a consent completed certificate for the building work.

The same basic consent and inspection process applies to new builds (both commercial and residential), renovations, additions, alterations and demolition.

Recent amendments, which are still to be implemented, introduce changes to processes for different types of building consent. 

Compliance schedules

Some types of building, such as commercial, public, or multi-unit residential buildings, have additional on-going controls placed upon them to make sure they are safe and healthy for the public to use. These controls ensure that critical components within the building, such as lifts, emergency lights, and fire protection systems are adequately maintained once the initial building work is complete.

Collectively, these components are known as specified systems and are listed in the building’s compliance schedule, which is issued by a territorial authority. The compliance schedule must identify each specified system in the building. It must also describe the expected standard of performance and how each specified system will be monitored and maintained to ensure it continues to perform correctly. The building owner must periodically (usually every 12 months) issue a building warrant of fitness to confirm that all specified systems have been checked and maintained in accordance with the compliance schedule.

Exempt building work

The Building Act makes provision to allow certain building work to be carried out without requiring a building consent. This is known as exempt building work. There are several types of exempt work, but some examples include:

  • repairing an existing structure using the same or similar materials
  • replacing an exterior window or door
  • replacing interior linings and finishings
  • building or altering a retaining wall up to 1.5 m high.

The definition of exempt building work was expanding in 2010 and clarified in 2013, and a complete list is maintained here by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

It is important to remember that Section 17 of the Building Act requires all building work, whether or not it requires a building consent, to meet the standards of performance set by the Building Code.