How to tell when you need a building permit


Performing your own renovations can be equally rewarding and frustrating.

You’re learning new skills and saving money on contractors, but your pride can instantly disappear if you realise you’ve made a mistake halfway through the construction process and have to start again.

Fixing an incorrect measurement is one thing, but imagine you’ve completed an entire project, say a deck for the backyard, and suddenly you’re presented with a fine from the council as well as a demand to rebuild! Building regulations can ruin a project if not respected, so it’s essential to understand these as well as any physical tool for your job.

So how do you find out what the regulations are and if you even need a building permit? After all, it might only be small job. Here’s a handy guide to help you understand when to consult a building surveyor so you can request a permit.

Garages, Carports and Sheds

Will your structure meet any of the following criteria? If so it’s likely you’ll need a permit.

  • 2.4m high or greater
  • 10sqm in area or bigger
  • Less than 1m from boundary
  • Attached to another structure or building



A building permit is required for a fence if it meets any of these criteria:

  • More than 2m high
  • Within 3m of a street boundary
  • Bordering a pool (even if it only forms part of the pool fence)


It’s a wide misconception that you don’t require a building permit for a deck, however most do. It’s not just height and whether the structure overlooks a neighbour’s yard that need to be taken into account, so you should consult a professional surveyor regardless of the size of your plans.


Don’t confuse these with a verandah! Unlike verandahs, a pergola is an unroofed structure. To avoid having to apply for a permit, your pergola must be less than 3.6m high, no larger than 20sqm and not located further than 2.5m forward of the front wall of your home.

Retaining Walls

If your retaining wall is less than 1m high and not connected to any other building works (eg. a shed, home extension), then a permit is not required.

You will need a permit if your wall is:

  • Higher than 1m
  • Connected to other building works
  • Supporting the soil/structure of an adjoining property.

 Patrick Richardson



Author Profile

Patrick is a Building Surveyor at Melbourne firm Nicholson Wright. With more than 17 years experience, Nicholson Wright issues building permits and conducts mandatory inspections of projects from small residential renovations to large high-rise offices.


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