Building without approval in NSW, VIC, QLD, ACT


There are different rules for exempt development between state regulations, where there can be different size/height restrictions, setbacks from boundaries, etc, depending on the location and situation of your property. You can start by looking at your project from the highest level, then work your way down through the layers of detail until it becomes clear whether or not your project could qualify as an exempt development, or if you’ll need to go through the approval process for either habitable or non-habitable development.

One thing in common between all states is that exempt developments cannot be habitable. Sheds, garages, workshops, cabanas, storage rooms, darkrooms, utility rooms – these are the types of structures that can be permissible to build without approval. You can NEVER build any room without approval, anywhere in Australia, IF it’s going to be used just like any normal room inside your main house. This type of room, ‘habitable’, no matter what size, always needs approval.

NSW allows non-habitable structures up to 20sqm (residential zoning) and up to 50sqm (rural zoning) without approval, providing the rules for exemption are met. Only two non-habitable structures are allowed per allotment (without approval). Exempt buildings must be no more than 3m higher than the ground level at the lowest point of the building, meaning that excavation is needed for sloping blocks or consent for your exempt project to be taller than usual. If you’re not sure about the rules for exempt development at your property (eg: setbacks) or whether your proposed project would qualify for an exemption, get preliminary advice.

VIC can allow exempt development of non-habitable structures up to 10sqm floor area and up to 3m in height above the ground from the lowest point of the building, providing it’s at least 1m from any boundaries (otherwise less than 2.4m in height). Like NSW, the exempt category in VIC offers not much more than a shed. People wanting larger-sized non-habitable structures (eg: art studios, workshops) in VIC may get approval (or a ‘relaxation of the rules’) as Class 10A (the non-habitable category). If you’re wanting a habitable structure (eg: office, guest room) of any size in VIC, the same as anywhere in Australia, you need approval.

QLD doesn’t permit exempt non-habitable buildings of any size over 2.4m in height, which means that all steel habitable flatpack building projects in QLD will need approval (or certification, in the case of QLD) with habitable and non-habitable categories available.

ACT is strictly limited with exempt development confined to small garden sheds, etc.

What is ‘habitable’?

Building Code of Australia (BCA) explained

Throughout Australia, approval is needed for all rooms to be used for “normal domestic activities” including any proposed “bedroom, living room, lounge room, music room, television room, kitchen, dining room, sewing room, study, playroom, family room, home theatre, and sunroom”.

Help with DIY approval

Get what you need to handle it yourself

If it happens that your project is going to need approval, our architects can provide the necessary documentation for you to organise your own approval and/or certification. If you don’t know what you need – get preliminary advice first.

Approval done for you

Relax while waiting for your approval

Not everyone has the time to handle their own building approvals. If you’re too busy, our architects can handle the whole approval process for you – any kind of building.

Help for DIY builders and owner-builders in NSW, VIC, SE QLD, ACT