Do I need a building permit to renovate my offices?
The short answer is yes.
The Victorian Building Authority (VBA) specifies that ‘any works’ require a building permit. If you alter anything such as lighting, paths of travel, or doorways, you need a permit. Even if you just install some workstations, a building permit is necessary.
For example, a tenancy of about 400 sqm which is completely open. It is all compliant and has been signed off by the building surveyor, there’s one exit light over the door with a clear path of travel – you can go in a straight line to the exit in the event of a fire or emergency. The tenancy gets put up for lease, and it is rented by a call centre who install clusters of workstations. It is now impossible for that same straight line of travel to be taken in the event of an emergency. There could be reduced visibility from the smoke in a fire, preventing easy navigation and impeding people from escaping danger. All this furniture might as well be a wall as they are now preventing immediate path out.
It is illegal to complete works without a building permit. The VBA are more commonly doing random spot inspections on works happening in some councils in Victoria. They use the bin companies like Sita or CleanAway to track works. When someone hires a 10 or 15 m bin and purchases a $7 permit to put it on the footpath, the compliance officers know that it is likely works are happening at the site. When they turn up to see illegal works in process, there’s a $10,000 fine coming your way.
Another key concern is insurance. For this to be valid at the end and during the works, you must have a permit. If you’re the director of the company or you’re qualified member of the team that has been asked to execute this office renovation – you need a building permit to protect you for all works during the process and also any problems that might come up afterwards. The building permit is designed to protect you as the consumer. If anything goes wrong structurally, or a member of the public is hurt, or any defect or failure later, it goes up the chain of command. If you’re the one that engaged the contractors without a permit, you’re the one that’s personally liable.
You also need a permit for legal occupation. When the works are finalised, you need either a Certificate of Compliance for the Certificate of Final Completion or -if the property has already been issued a Certificate of Occupancy and there’s no change of use- a Certificate of Final Completion. To ensure you have public and product liability you need the building permit for any new works.
When you don’t have a permit, your insurance is also void. A real situation that occurred where a shop got a new $15,000 shopfront installed with no building permit caused issues. A few months after installation an elderly gentleman pulled up in his car and instead of hitting the brake, he hit the accelerator, mounted the curb and smashed into the shop front. The insurers attended site, as they do for a standard claim, and noticed the shop front looked quite new. They then asked for a copy of the building permit, which they couldn’t provide. At that point the insurance became invalid as it was illegal works and the tenant had to bear the cost of repairing the damage.
In most cases, building permits are a condition of the landlord’s lease. The lease specifies that you need a building permit for any works, meaning you are in breach of your lease if you proceed with renovations without a permit.
Securing a permit for works is also very often a condition of the landlord’s finance. Any works that might reduce or impact the value of the mortgage secured asset for the loan that they have on the property.
A building permit doesn’t cost very much. They vary between $3,000 and $5,000 which covers a lot of works and the drafting needed. To reduce the risks as mentioned above, -which weigh heavily on as the occupier- as a director of the company or senior staff organizing this renovation, this is a very small price to pay to protect you and your organization.
When undertaking your office renovations of any scale, which you do require a building permit for, as we’ve been discussing on previous videos in this series, the company you engage needs to have both a company registration as a commercial registered building practitioner, and have one of the directors to be a commercial registered building practitioner. This is crucial to protect you, your staff, your investment and the landlord’s interests. A typical pitfall people have is that they engage someone, such as a furniture company, and ask for furniture, and then they need some meeting rooms, and the furniture company says they can handle that too. You’ve now breached all regulations including paths of travel, fire compliance, disability access and more because you haven’t engaged a commercial registered building practitioner working in a commercial registered building practitioners’ company.
Ensuring you have a permit and a commercial registered building practitioner completing your works will mitigate your risk and protect you from any claims later, and you and your staff physically while using the space.
The registration process for commercial registered building companies and commercial registered building practitioners become a lot harder in the last 18 months. It now includes credit checks, which is good because it will weed out dodgy practitioners that refuse to pay their bills. It also includes police checks. Then you can see the type of people that you’re dealing with. These changes are designed to make the qualification process a lot more stringent to protect you as a consumer. This ensures that you get quality work done compliantly on time.
At ICON INTERIORS, we would never undertake a fitout without a building permit. There’s nothing to be saved and everything to lose.
If you’ve got any questions on building permits or the building practitioner registration process, please call me. Gavin from ICON INTERIORS, 0439 002 575 or send me an email [email protected]
You would love to help you forward with your next our office renovation project.
Some other videos in this series that may interest you: