The Perils of not having Planning Approval for Additional Structures on your Property.

The Perils of not Having Planning Approval for Additional Structures on your Property

Have you ever wondered about the possible impact of erecting structures on your property without securing prior planning approval? It might seem fine at the time to erect that large shed at the top end of the block, put in a spa with a pergola for shade, or quietly extend the master bedroom a bit so that it can accommodate an ensuite bathroom, but would be ‘improvers’ who don’t place due importance on the need for council planning approval should be aware that when it comes time to sell, there are likely to be severe and costly ramifications in the settlement process.

We are not just talking about cost here – although it’s certainly true that retrospective planning approval for an unauthorised structure will cost more in engineering, surveying and other fees than if you applied in the normal way prior to the building work taking place. The other cost is in time, stress and sheer aggravation.

What structures do you generally need planning approval for?

Councils across Western Australia naturally have variations in their rules, but if you are considering erecting the following structures, you should talk to your builder or supplier about applying for planning approval:

Pools (need to meet all safety requirements including an appropriate fence and childproof
self -closing door with the latch on the pool side. Windows into the pool area need to have restricted opening so that children cannot climb through to the pool area)
Large sheds (small garden sheds usually do not need approval)
Patios
Pergolas
Changing a garage to take an internal room, bedroom, bathroom or toilet,
Any extensions to the property or addling a bedroom and/or bathroom in the roof space
Any instances where you are planning to put a roofing structure or even sails over an open courtyard area.

Do councils use Google Earth to check for unauthorised structures?

Some do … so be aware that Big Brother may be watching! It’s better to be safe by applying for planning permission for your new structure rather than be sorry later. There are well publicised costly and painful instances of homeowners trying to get away with large unauthorised modifications to their properties, and having to demolish them later on.

What happens if an owner has built a structure without planning approval on a property that is about to be sold and it comes to light during the settlement process?

The sellers will need to get retrospective planning approval – settlement cannot take place unless the buyer agrees to take responsibility for obtaining Shire approval after the sale has taken place. The seller and the buyer would both have to formally agree to this – and in practice, the chance of this happening is remote.

The usual process is that the seller has to apply for retrospective planning approval, and if the structure is a large and significant element of the building, the approval may have to go to a full Council meeting. The costs of application and other fees as well as engineer’s drawings could be well over $2,000 – and this is before taking into account the costs involved in making any required changes to the property that might be required by the Council. This process can take many months and either delay settlement or require that a proportion of sale proceeds are held back to cover the costs involved.

Sellers would then need to give the buyer’s tradespeople access to the building to make any changes required by the Council – and this ‘messy’ situation can lead to unnecessary tension and stress all round. It also means that the settlement agent is involved in more time and effort without reimbursement.

Does a building inspection report identify unauthorised structures on a property?

It is not the responsibility of building inspectors to go to the Council to check for planning approvals. Their role is to report on whether the structure is sound or not.

The conveyancer, however, will requisition a list of approvals for the property and this will list all the structures that have been erected since the original planning approval. This information should be shared with the buyers and it is then their responsibility to check with the seller’s real estate agent as to whether all the structures have council approval or not. As the list of approvals is often only supplied by Councils a day or so before settlement, this can lead to considerable pressure and stress on all parties and buyers are well advised to deal with the whole question of planning approvals early in the sales process rather than at time of settlement.

A buyer might even add a ‘subject to’ condition on the contract to the effect that their offer is subject to all structures being supported by Council planning approval … or, alternatively, they might require evidence from the seller that all structures have planning approval. This puts the onus on sellers to ensure that their property is fully compliant in terms of planning approvals.

With thanks to Cally Landless-Ockerby of Cally’s Conveyancing for the information provided.

 
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