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The New Zealand Building Act

All building work in New Zealand is governed by the Building Act, which sets down the law for all building in Aotearoa. The act has many components including the NZ Building Code and, in Napier, day-to-day building legislation is administered by Napier City Council.

The Act you need to know

Concrete slab with the wooden framing going up.Building work in New Zealand is governed by one piece of legislation - the Building Act. It was passed in 2004 as "an Act to consolidate and reform the law relating to building and to provide for better regulation and control of building".

The Building Act established a simple, three-part framework of building controls.

The Building Act 2004 describes what is covered by building controls and sets down the law for Building work in New Zealand. The Building Regulations 1992 contain the mandatory New Zealand Building Code and particular details about the processing of building approvals. Acceptable Solutions and Verification Methods are written by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to assist people in complying with the building code.

The Act applies to the construction, alteration, demolition and maintenance of new and existing buildings throughout New Zealand and includes Government building work.

The Act is not involved with planning and resource management, the finish and appearance of a building, nor protection of capital investment. These are the owner's responsibility. Gas and electrical work are also not covered by the Act.

The purpose of the Act is:

  1. To provide for the regulation of building work, the establishment of a licensing regime for building practitioners, and the setting of performance standards for buildings to ensure that:
    • people who use buildings can do so safely and without endangering their health; and
    • buildings have attributes that contribute appropriately to the health, physical independence, and well-being of the people who use them; and
    • people who use a building can escape from the building if it is on fire; and
    • buildings are designed, constructed, and able to be used in ways that promote sustainable development.
  2. To promote the accountability of owners, designers, builders, and building consent authorities who have responsibilities for ensuring that building work complies with the building code.

To achieve this purpose, the Act requires anyone proposing to do building work to obtain a building consent from a Building Consent Authority before commencing building work.  

The New Zealand Building Code

All building work must comply with the building code. The building code is a performance based code. It sets out objectives to be achieved rather than prescribing construction methods. The emphasis is on how a building and its components must perform as opposed to how the building must be designed and constructed.

The building code is divided into clauses and each clause begins with an objective. For instance, one objective is to "safeguard people from injury caused by falling", another one is to "safeguard people from illness caused by contaminated water". Specific performance criteria for each clause describe the extent that buildings must meet the objectives.

Territorial Authorities and Building Consent Authorities

The Building Act spells out the functions, powers and duties of Territorial Authorities (which are city or district councils) and Building Control Authorities.  Building Consent Authorities are regional or Territorial Authorities or private organisations registered under section 273 of the Building Act 2004, and are responsible for performing building control functions under Part 2 of the Act.

Day to day, the building legislation is administered by councils. Councils administer the Act and Regulations within their territories by:

  • Issuing project information memoranda
  • Approving or refusing building consent applications within prescribed time limits
  • Granting or refusing waivers or modifications of the building code
  • Issuing code compliance certificates
  • Issuing compliance schedules and recording building warrants of fitness
  • Enforcing the provisions of the Building Act, the Building Regulations and the New Zealand Building Code
  • Maintaining records of building information and making them available to the public.

Councils are not permitted to make building bylaws, but may waive some building code requirements.

Who administers the Building Act?

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) was formed in July 2012 by bringing together the Ministry of Economic Development, Ministry of Science and Innovation, Department of Labour and Department of Building and Housing. MBIE is the government’s lead business-facing agency. Their purpose is to grow the New Zealand economy to provide a better standard of living for all New Zealanders.

One of the functions of MBIE is to administer the Building Act to manage the building control system. The aim is to promote effective and efficient building controls throughout New Zealand. MBIE’s key building functions are funded by a levy on building consents. They are to:

  • Administer and review the New Zealand Building Code
  • Monitor the performance of councils in the Administration of the Act within their territories
  • Produce Approved Documents that provide methods of complying with the New Zealand Building Code
  • Provide information and advice on building controls to all sectors of the building industry and public

 Additionally, the MBIE offers specific services on a user-pays basis. These are:

  • Accreditations (approval of specific products, systems or methods as complying with the building code)
  • Determinations (technical rulings on matters of interpretation or dispute relating to compliance with the building code)

The Building Levy

A levy on building consents funds the work of the MBIE.

The Building Levy is payable by every person who obtains a building consent for building work with an estimated value of $20,444 or more (including GST). In most cases, it is the owner of the building who pays the levy.

The levy is calculated on the total value of building work not just the amount over $20,444. If work is done in stages under a series of building consents, then the levy is calculated on the total estimated value of all stages, not on the individual value of any particular stage.

The rate of the levy is reviewed annually by the Minister of Internal Affairs. Your council will advise you of the current rate. The levy includes GST.

The council collects the levy on behalf of MBIE as part of the fees it charges for issuing a building consent.

The Building Levy is not the same as the Building Research Levy. The latter funds BRANZ (the Building Research Association of New Zealand) which is an entirely different body. The two levies are quite separate and are imposed by different Acts of parliament.

When is a building consent required?

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Building Performance Team have developed a tool to answer a few questions for homeowners to see if planned project needs a building consent, or if the project could qualify as exempt building work. You can use the online tool by visiting - Build it

A building consent is required for most building work. Some examples are listed below however this is not an exhaustive list:

  • additions/Alterations (Contact a Building Consents Officer with reference to minor alteration work.)
  • structural building (including new buildings)
  • plumbing work
  • drainage work
  • installation or modification of a specified system (e.g. fire alarms, automatic doors, emergency lighting, automatic backflow preventers, lifts, mechanical ventilation etc)
  • siteworks associated with the building
  • demolition
  • relocation of secondhand buildings
  • urban retaining walls over 1.5m
  • rural retaining walls over 3m
  • retaining walls any height incurring a surcharge
  • decks over 1.5m high
  • carports over 20m2
  • swimming pools greater than 35,000 litres (please check) and their fencing
  • detached buildings larger than 10m2
  • demolition if attached to another building or over three storeys high
  • change of use
  • heating including fireplaces, ventilation and some air-conditioning systems. 

What is a building consent?

A building consent means a consent to carry out building work granted by a Building Consent Authority under section 49 of the Building Act 2004, it is the formal approval issued by a Building Consent Authority (BCA) that certain works meet the requirements of the New Zealand Building Act, Building Regulations and Building Code.

You cannot undertake any building work that requires a building consent without this approval. Most building work requires a building consent but some minor work is exempt under the Act.

Exempt work is listed on Schedule 1 of the Building Act 2004

All building work must be carried out in accordance with the Building Code and the Council's District Plan whether or not it is exempt from a building consent.

Additional to this, resource consent may be required. If you are unsure whether resource consent is required or if any specific requirements of the District Plan are required to be met please contact the Resource Consent Team.

Building on Land Subject to a Natural Hazard

A natural hazard under section 71 of the Building Act includes:

  • Erosion
  • Falling debris
  • Subsidence
  • Inundation
  • Slippage

A Building Consent Authority must refuse to issue a building consent for the construction or a building or major alterations if the building work is to be carried out on land subject to a natural hazard or the building work is likely to accelerate, worsen or result in a natural hazard on the land or other property.

Despite this if the applicant can demonstrate that adequate provision has been made to protect the land, building work or other property from the natural hazard the Building Consent Authority may grant the building consent under section 72 of the Building Act – this will result in a condition on the building consent to the effect that the consent will be notified to either an appropriate Minister and the Surveyor General or the Registrar of the Maori Land Court or Registrar General of Land dependent on the owner who applies for the building consent.

Earthquake-prone Buildings

A new national system for managing earthquake-prone buildings in New Zealand came into effect on 1 July 2017. The new system affects owners of earthquake-prone buildings, territorial authorities (local councils), engineers, other building professionals and building users.

For further information refer to: MBIE guide - Managing earthquake-prone buildings.



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