A building permit is required to carry out building work unless a specific exemption exists or the work is directed under a building notice, building order or emergency order. To rebuild a residential house impacted by a bushfire, you will need to obtain a building permit. Not all building projects require a building permit, and possible exemptions may include:
- some minor alterations or demolitions
- pergolas associated with houses, and
- some garden sheds with a floor area less than 10m2.
How to apply for a building permit
Before applying for a building permit, you need to appoint a registered building surveyor and apply for a building permit through them.
What documentation do I need to provide?
To apply for a permit, you need to:
- Submit at least three copies of drawings, specifications and allotment plans, along with the completed application form and other prescribed information.
- Pay the building permit levy yourself or through a person authorised to do so unless the fee has been waived as part of a coordinated bushfire event response. (Note in East Gippsland and Towong Shires fees have been waived).
Appointing a building surveyor
Building surveyors are professionals trained in understanding the building process. They are responsible for issuing building permits, carrying out mandatory inspections during the build process and having the authority to take enforcement action as necessary, to ensure compliance of building work with regulatory requirements and standards.
You will need to appoint a building surveyor for any project that requires a building permit.
Building surveyors are required to be registered and it is prudent to check their registration and whether there are any disciplinary actions against them before their appointment.
Only an owner or agent of the owner may appoint a private building surveyor. It is not the role of the local council or the Victorian Building Authority to appoint a private building surveyor. By law, the builder can't appoint the building surveyor to mitigate the risk of collusion between a builder and a building surveyor.
In your building permit, your building surveyor will specify the mandatory inspections that will be required throughout the course of the building work. They will also specify whether you need an occupancy permit or a certificate of a final inspection on completion of the building work.
When you come to the end of your building project, you will need an occupancy permit or a certificate of final inspection. If you need an occupancy permit, it is an offence under the Building Act 1993 to occupy any new building before you have received the permit. Your building surveyor will issue an occupancy permit when they are satisfied the building is suitable for occupation.
What a building surveyor does
A building surveyor is involved for the duration of the building work. They ensure the building work complies with regulatory requirements and they issue the building permits that allow work to commence. Building surveyors carry out inspections (or have a building inspector carry out inspections on their behalf) to ensure building work is being undertaken correctly. They also issue an occupancy permit or certificate of final inspection when the work is completed. In essence the role of the building surveyor is to ensure that your building is being built correctly.
A registered building surveyor is authorised to:
- assess building permit applications for compliance with the Building Act 1993, Building Regulations 2018 and National Construction Code
- issue building and occupancy permits, and certificates of final inspection
- conduct building inspections at the mandatory notification stages
- give directions to fix non-compliant building work
- serve building notices and orders.
Private bushfire shelters
A private bushfire shelter (commonly referred to as a bushfire bunker) is an option of last resort where people can take refuge during a bushfire while the fire front passes. It may be a prefabricated commercial product or a structure built on site.
The best way to ensure your safety during a bushfire is to leave your property early when it is recommended under the bushfire warning system and follow the CFA's advice. However, some people choose to construct a private bushfire shelter as part of their bushfire survival plan. Even if you are living in a Bushfire Prone Area, there is no legal requirement to build a private bushfire shelter – it is a matter of personal choice.
It is compulsory to obtain a building permit if you are building a private bushfire shelter on your property.
A building permit must be obtained for a private bushfire shelter before construction begins. Bushfire shelters have to comply with performance requirements set out in the Building Code of Australia, including safe accessing the shelter and maintaining acceptable conditions within the shelter when it is being occupied.
To obtain a building permit you will need to do one of the following:
- Purchase a shelter that has been accredited as meeting the performance requirements in the regulations by the Victorian Government’s Building Regulations Advisory Committee.
- Apply to the Building Appeals Board for a determination that your non-accredited bushfire shelter complies with the regulations.
- Obtain certification from a fire safety engineer who did not design the shelter to satisfy a building surveyor that your non-accredited bushfire shelter meets the requirements of the regulations.
It is important that you seek the advice of a relevant registered building practitioner, such as a fire safety engineer or a structural engineer, before you purchase or construct a private bushfire shelter, or before modifying an existing building to be used as a private bushfire shelter.