Do I need council approval?

On this page, we’ll look at the council approval process for backyard cabins and granny flats built in Australia. When it comes to building a cabin or a granny flat, different laws apply in each state of Australia, and local council conditions may apply. However, as a general guideline, you can familiarize yourself with some standard rules and see if you can possibly build a cabin or a granny flat without the council’s approval.

Do I need council approval to build a backyard cabin?

Generally, you may not need to get council permission for the backyard room if you’re using it for non-habitable purposes. Other conditions, mainly size and location limitations, will apply to the building. Also, council regulations vary not only from state to state, but sometimes councils have variations in their administered areas as well. So, on this page, we’ll first look at the definitions of habitable and non-habitable rooms with examples. Then we’ll review some general state-wide information available on the government’s websites. Read on to find out whether your cabin can be built without council approval.

Habitable vs non-habitable rooms

As a rule of thumb, if your new backyard space is a habitable room, you’ll need to provide documentation to your council. In the Building Code of Australia (BCA), a room used for normal domestic activities, such as a living room, kitchen, or study, is considered a habitable room.

If you want to add a non-habitable structure, then you may be able to build it without council approval, given some requirements, mostly size limitations. What is a non-habitable room? BCA defines a non-habitable room as a “space of a specialized nature occupied neither frequently nor for extended periods”. For example, this could be a storage room, bathroom, laundry room, or photographic darkroom.

The next step is to look at the state-wide policies. If you cannot meet some of the requirements, then you’ll need to consult with your local council, a private certifier, or a surveyor.

In New South Wales, you can create a variety of non-habitable structures such as cabanas and garden sheds, without needing approval if certain conditions are met. These conditions include:

  • not building on heritage or environmentally sensitive land,
  • having a floor area no larger than 50 m2 in some zones and no more than 20 m2 in others, and
  • being no taller than 3 meters above ground level.
  • a specific distance from each lot boundary must be maintained, with a 5-meter distance in certain zones and a 900mm distance in others.

Also, please make sure to check all requirements and details of NSW State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) 2008 (Current version as of 24 February 2023), Part 2 > Division > Subdivision 9. The full document can be found here.

If you can meet these guidelines, you can easily create your dream outdoor space without any approval hassle.

Check this 2-page fact sheet explaining the requirements for cabanas, cubby houses, ferneries, garden sheds, gazebos, and greenhouses as exempt development.

In Victoria, certain building work and structures are exempt from the need for a building permit. Construction of a freestanding non-habitable building, like a shed, is exempt from needing a building permit if it meets the following criteria:

  • Floor area not exceeding 10m².
  • Height not more than 3m, or 2.4m if within 1m of a boundary.
  • If attached to another building, it cannot extend further forward on the lot than the front wall of that building.
  • If not attached to another building, it must be the only Class 10a building on the lot and set back at least 9m from the front street and 2m from each side street.
  • It cannot be constructed of masonry.

For more information on Building Permits & other Exemptions, please check the Building Practice notes PDF or go to Victorian Building Authority’s website.

The Tasmanian Department of State Growth has rolled out the $10,000 Ancillary Dwelling Grants Program, streamlining ‘no permit required’ approvals for constructing ancillary dwellings like granny flats and studios to tackle housing supply challenges. Check this page for eligibility and program details.

When building in Tasmania, as an owner builder, you can build a low-risk structures without a permit or getting a builder surveyor involved. As an owner builder you can build small structure:

  • no bigger than 18m², or
  • erect a prefabricated shed up to 36m² (this means factory-made components or units are transported and assembled on-site to form the complete building).

However, you’ll need to notify your local council when you have finished building certain low risk work by completing Form 80 – Notice of Low Risk Work.

For more information, please visit Tasmanian Government consumer building information.

Information for other states coming soon…

Do I need council approval to build a granny flat?

A granny flat, sometimes known as a small addition to your main home, offers property owners a number of advantages. You can use it to house more of your distant relatives or to generate rental revenue to cover the cost of your investment. A granny flat, also known as a secondary dwelling, is a self-contained accommodation that can be connected to, or detached from, a main residence. But what regulations and council mandates apply to the construction of a granny flat?

In Australia, each state has its own regulations governing the construction of granny flats, and local council requirements could also be present. To test whether you can construct a granny flat without the council’s approval, familiarize yourself with some broad guidelines.

We often get asked, “Do I need council approval to build a granny flat in NSW?” And the answer to that is “most likely not, but let’s look at your property first” since your property must adhere to certain requirements.

Since it was introduced in July 2009, the State Environmental Planning Policy (Affordable Rental Housing) (AHSEPP) has set out the specific standards that allow the construction of granny flats without the council’s involvement. If the necessary criteria are met, a qualified private certifier can certify your granny flat as a Complying Development (CDC).

The basic granny flat building standards in NSW must be understood if you intend to begin your granny flat project. Knowing these requirements will enable you to avoid repeating certain steps, saving you time, effort, and money.

The following requirements are a starting point for you to check if you can build a granny flat without council approval using a CDC pathway or if you actually need a DA.

We advise you to check your lot first. If the lot meets the requirements for building granny flat, you may then check the size of granny flat that can be constructed.

 Step 1. Check your lot

  • A minimum lot size of 450 square metres is required.
  • A street frontage of at least 12 metres is required.
  • For your granny flat, you must have a courtyard area measuring 24 square metres with an area of at least 4 meters wide.
  • You must maintain a three-meter setback from the main house’s back and a 0.9-meter distance from its side boundaries.
  • Any existing trees that are taller than six metres must be kept three metres away from you.
  • Per lot, only one granny flat may be constructed.

If your lot does not meet the above requirements, then you’ll need a DA. Contact your local council or your nearest YZY accredited builder if you want to explore your options for building a granny flat.

Step 2. Check what size granny flat you can build on your land

  • The maximum internal space is 60 square metres, which cannot be exceeded.
  • Your granny flat shall not exceed 8.5 metres in height.

If the above requirements meet the standards for CDC, then you most likely do not need council approval to build a granny flat.

Application forms for a granny flat in NSW

You must fill out the authorised Compliant Development Certificate (CDC) application form provided by the council or your designated qualified certifier in order to submit an application for a granny flat as a complying development. The granny flat could be approved in 20 days using this pathway.

If the granny flat does not conform to the standards for compliant development, then a comprehensive development application (DA) must be filed with the appropriate municipality.

If you have a question about building a granny flat in your backyard, get in touch with the YZY accredited builder in your local area to find out all you need to know.

Find more information on NSW planning portal:

In Victoria, there isn’t currently a state-wide policy that simplifies the process of constructing a granny flat without planning approval. However, there is an alternative option known as a Dependent Person’s Unit also known as Movable units, which can be an excellent choice for homeowners who wish to accommodate a dependent person within their property. These units, often referred to as granny flats, demountables, or transportables, are movable structures situated on the same lot as an existing dwelling.

It’s important to note that the conditions and rules for obtaining a permit to construct a dependent person’s unit can vary significantly between different councils in Victoria. To navigate this process smoothly, it’s advisable to reach out to your local council. They can provide you with detailed information about building codes, regulations, planning permits, and the application procedure. You can typically find this information on your local council’s website, and you also have the option to visit their office and speak with a planner – many councils offer free advice.

Furthermore, it’s essential to check your property’s certificate of title for any restrictions or covenants that might affect your construction plans.

The Tasmanian Department of State Growth has rolled out the $10,000 Ancillary Dwelling Grants Program, streamlining ‘no permit required’ approvals for constructing ancillary dwellings like granny flats and studios to tackle housing supply challenges. Check this page for eligibility and program details.

Information for other states coming soon…