Legal tips for renovators: the things you need to know before you start
Caution potential renovators. There are articles out there that outline all the legal considerations you’ll need to make when renovating but more often than not they can be terrifying. There are some that asks you halfway through reading whether you should reconsider the entire thing and just give up. If you’ve already read them and are now pulling out your hair and considering selling up and living in the timeshare yacht your uncle bought in Noosa…Well that actually sounds pretty great, but let us first try to calm your nerves and help you take those first steps. Imagine a yoga instructor’s voice as you read on, with a background track of birdsong.
Between 2014-2015 Australians did $7.2 billion worth of renovations that required approval. If that many people are already doing it, surely you can too. Here’s where to start:
Owner-builder/hire a contractor
This is the first decision. Once you know the size of your project you will know whether you can do it yourself or not. Constructing a shed may be easy, but constructing a second floor to your house, not so much. With this in mind, decide whether you want to hire a contractor to do the work for you or act as an owner-builder and manage the build yourself.
If you think you would make an excellent The Block contestant and opt to be an owner-builder then you take on the legal responsibilities of a registered building practitioner. Including ensuring OH&S for your site, having all permits and applications approved, taking out the appropriate insurance. In most states you are required to undertake an accreditation course to act as an owner-builder.
This may sound intimidating but gone are the days of our folks just adding a storey to their houses willy nilly, and for good reason. These courses are most valuable in simply outlining the steps you will need take in order to cover your responsibilities.
No, not the District Attorney. DA stands for a Development Application and is more applicable for larger renovations. Especially if they risk affecting your neighbours’ properties. Smaller renovations, such as minor landscape design or fencing, will usually be exempt from the requirement to fill out a DA. However, there is one port of call to always make before worrying about what files to fill out.
Even with a small project it is always worth first seeking advice from your local council. Their website can be a great place to start before getting the advice of a council planner who can help you understand what steps to take.
A Building Application follows logically from the Development Application. It entails the processes of how you’re going to build, using what materials and whether these comply with building codes. Again, seeking advice from your local council may help you avoid filling out unnecessary forms.
Workers Compensation insurance, Construction insurance, Public Liability insurance, Home Indemnity insurance. This is one of those points where you may feel out of your depth. Not all of these insurance covers are necessary but the most important is Home Indemnity insurance (or Builder’s Warranty). If you’re acting as an owner-builder than you’ll need to be covered for the quality of your work in case you sell your property within a certain number of years (6-7 on average).
Smaller projects, such as fences, are ‘associated work’. In many states, Home Indemnity is only enforced on associated work projects exceeding a minimum cost price (on average $20,000). If you are hiring a contractor for your work, ensure that they have Builders Warranty insurance.
Things you would never in your life consider
If the extent of your experience with renovations is painting the odd fence, then acting as an owner-builder may not be for you. The Building Code of Australia now includes the requirement of new buildings to be termite-proof. While according to the National Construction Code renovations, alterations and additions now need to comply with a 6 Star energy rating system in terms of the building envelope (the walls, roof and floor) as well as for lighting.
Without scaring you, there are legal considerations when doing any sort of renovations. Simply follow the advice of your local council and ask them what to be aware of with your particular project.