Published: Mon, Dec 23rd, 2013

DIY and the Law

Many New Zealanders are capable of conducting DIY (do-it- yourself ) repairs, maintenance and redecorating to their homes - and many are not. No matter what the capability of a person some will still have a go. However, it is important to be aware of the restrictions, standards and possible penalties imposed by law.

Under the Building Act 2004 (‘the Act’), all building works (whether construction, alteration, demolition or maintenance of new and existing buildings) must comply with the Building Code. Whether you intend to do-it-yourself or engage a professional, all building work must comply with the minimum level of standard imposed by the Building Code.

Before doing any alterations or renovations, it is crucial that you check with your local council to see whether a building consent is required for what you have in mind. Some clients still come to us having started these works hoping to avoid the need for council permits or paying a licensed building practitioner. This nearly always results in very costly delays as the architectural and consenting process is pushed to catch up with the work that has been started. That’s beside the rework costs to demonstrate compliance.

Under the Act, there are certain building works that may be carried out without obtaining a building consent. Schedule One of the Act provides a detailed list of exempted works. Popular examples include: building a patio or deck at ground level or garden trellis less than two metres high, replacing spouting or a piece of weatherboard, building a small garden shed, or replacing a hot water cylinder.

It is important to note that building works exempted under the Act may not be permitted if that building work is in breach of any other act. For example, there is a limited amount of electrical and plumbing work you may complete without a qualified electrician or plumber and gas fitter.

If the intended building work is not exempt under the Act, then it is likely that these works will be restricted building works and a building consent must be obtained and the work carried out or supervised by a licensed building practitioner. In those circumstances, it is recommended that you inform your insurance provider of the proposed work.

Popular examples of restricted building works include: structural building (additions, alterations, re-piling and demolition), plumbing and drainage (except repair and maintenance of existing components), relocating a building, installing a wood burner or air-conditioning system, building a retaining wall higher than one and a half metres, fences or walls higher than two metres, all swimming pools and their associated fences, and decks, platforms or bridges more than one metre above ground level.

In certain circumstances, you are able to claim an exemption as an owner-builder to carry out restricted building work on your own home when you apply for a building consent. To be considered an owner-builder, you must live in or be going to live in the home, carry out restricted building work to your own home yourself, or with the help of unpaid friends and family members, and have not carried out restricted building work to any other home within the previous three years under the owner-builder exemption.

All too frequently upon house inspections for our clients we find there has been work carried out that is not permitted and has been carried out by a DIY enthusiast. This causes significant problems for the vendor as they see their DIY attempt turn into a serious impediment to the sale of the property and often costs far outweighing any saving generated by DIY.

Failure to adhere to the Act could result in a fine of up to $100,000, plus up to $10,000 for each day the offence continues. You could also be forced to pull down or make changes to the home or building. Furthermore, the sale of the home or building at a later date could be impacted at the owner’s cost due to the vendor’s warranties provided under the current REINZ/ADLS Agreement for Sale and Purchase of Real Estate.

If you would like further information regarding this article from a builder’s perspective please contact Darryl Montgomery.

- Director & Licensed Building Practitioner
- email:

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