Home improvements 

I’m thinking of getting renovations done on my house. Where do I start?

Renovating your home can be a significant commitment - both financially and emotionally – whether you do it yourself or hire a professional to do it for you. To minimise the risk of things going wrong it’s essential to plan thoroughly before you start.

The Consumer NZ website has an easy-to-follow guide, which takes you from deciding whether renovating your house is the right choice (compared to, say, moving to another house altogether), through to finding the right people to do the skilled work (e.g. designing, construction and landscaping), from getting the necessary building consents (and potentially also resource consents, especially if your neighbours may be adversely affected by the work) and carrying out a final inspection of the completed project.

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My property is on a cross-lease section. If I want to build an extension will I need to get permission from the other cross-lease owner?

If you live in a cross lease situation the land is owned jointly by you and the other owners, and your building is leased from the other owners. You’ll need to check the cross lease documents to find out what kinds of work you can and can’t do, and whether you need to get permission from the other owners.

Similarly, if you live in a company share or a unit title, you’ll need to consult the relevant documents to find out what kinds of work you are able to have done and what processes you’ll have to follow.

More information about building work if you live in a cross lease, unit title or company share situation is on the Consumer NZ website.

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What kinds of home improvement work can I do without needing a building consent?

Many alterations and renovations require building consent, which is a formal approval of the building work proposed. Under the Building Act 2004, the following building work requires building consent:

  • alterations, additions and many structural repairs to existing buildings
  • demolition of existing buildings and structures
  • the removal or relocation of buildings
  • site work, for example, earthworks for a new extension
  • fences over two metres high
  • putting in a swimming pool or spa pool.

The types of building work that generally do not require building consent include:

  • general repairs and maintenance
  • closing in an existing veranda or patio
  • carports
  • retaining walls and fences
  • internal walls and doorways in an existing building
  • building a deck at ground level.

If you are unsure about whether you need building consent for the kind of building work you want done, talk to your local council. You can also look at the Consumer NZ website for more information about building consents, or the Homeowners and consumers section of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Building Performance website for general information about building.
You can also download the guide: Building work that does not require a building consent from the Building Performance website.

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What kinds of building work must be carried out by a professional?

Some types of building and design work are classed as restricted building work; this generally covers work which is structural or affects weather-tightness, e.g. the building’s foundations, framing, roofing, and cladding. In most cases, if the work requires building consent then it is Restricted Building Work.

By law, restricted building work must be carried out by a licenced building practitioner

Licenced building practitioners include:

  • designers (e.g. registered architects and chartered engineers)
  • carpenters
  • roofers
  • external plasterers
  • bricklayers and block-layers
  • registered plumbers and gasfitters

Their licence defines the type of building or design work they are allowed to do. This means that if you will be hiring people to carry out this kind of building work it’s important that you hire those who are certified to carry it out.

There is an exception for owner-builders – see more information about it elsewhere on this page.

If the work is not restricted building work, then you can carry it out yourself or hire someone else to do it who is not a licence building practitioner.

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How do I find a reliable builder or other tradesperson to do the building work for me?

If the work is restricted building work, you will need to find a licenced building practitioner (LBP) to do it (more about this in the previous question). You can check whether someone is a licenced building practitioner and whether they are certified to do the kind of work you require, by studying their licence card and by looking them up on the LBP register.

To find a tradesperson that you can rely on, it is worth asking around for recommendations. Another thing that may be worth checking is whether they belong to a professional association which guarantees the work of its members, for example the Master Builders Association and the Certified Builders Association of New Zealand.

You’ll find useful information about choosing trades people on the Consumer NZ website.

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Who can check whether there is asbestos in the roof of my house?

If your house was built between the mid-1920s and the mid-1980’s then there’s a chance that asbestos might be present in the house (e.g. in roof tiles, wall claddings, insulation), and the highest risk of exposure is during the process of home renovation. Because of the harm that asbestos can cause to your health, you have to be very careful not to expose yourself (or anyone else) to it, and its removal must be carried out by a specialist.

The only way to find out for sure whether any material contains asbestos is to have a sample tested by a health protection officer at the public health unit of your District Health Board (DHB). Contact them before you take a sample. If there is asbestos, the health protection officer can advise you on what (if anything) needs to be done.

More about this is on the Ministry of Health website.

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I want to build my own house. Would I be allowed to?

You are allowed to build your own home, including carrying out restricted building work, if you can get an owner-builder exemption. This exemption is for people who:

  • live in, or will live in, the house
  • will carry out the restricted building work themselves, or with the help of unpaid friends and family
  • have not carried out restricted building work on any other home, under the owner-builder exemption, in the last three years.

To apply for the exemption you’ll need to make a statutory declaration that shows you meet the criteria. Your house will still have to comply with the Building Code.
You can find more information about the owner-builder exemption on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's - Building Performance website.

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What are my consumer rights when I hire licensed building practitioners to do building work?

You would have protection mainly under the Building Act, the Fair Trading Act and the Consumer Guarantees Act

Building Act
The Building Act provides a set of implied warranties which automatically begin when a tradesperson agrees to do building work for a client. This means that the building work must: 

  • be fit for purpose 
  • meet the Building Code 
  • be according to the plans and specifications set out in the contract
  • be carried out using suitable materials 
  • be carried out with reasonable care and skill
  • be completed by the date specified in the contract (or, if no date is specified, it should be completed within a reasonable time).

If there is a problem with the building work then whoever did the work is obliged to remedy the problem. Information about how to complain if there is a problem with the building work is in the answer to the next question.

Additional protections apply to building projects that began from January 2016:

  • For building work costing $30,000 (including GST) or more, you and the building contractor must have a written contract. A written contract is recommended even if the building work will cost less than this amount. More about building contracts is on the Consumer NZ website.
  • If the building work costs $30,000 or more, or if you ask for it, the contractor must give you information about their business, any insurance policies they have and any guarantees or warranties in relation to their work, and a standard checklist to help you understand the building process. More information about this is on the Building Performance website.
  • There is an automatic 12-month ‘defect repair period’, during which builders have to fix any defects within a reasonable amount of time, that you have told them about in writing. The 12 month period starts on the date of completion of the building work. For problems occurring after the end of the defect period you would have to prove that there is a defect unless the contractor agrees there is a defect. More about this is on the Building Performance website.

Fair Trading Act
The Fair Trading Act protects you from being misled or misrepresented about goods and services (e.g. if the fittings you bought are of a different material than advertised, or a builder gives you a quote excluding GST but does not tell you that GST is not included).

Consumer Guarantees Act
You are also covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act when you buy goods such as fittings for your newly-renovated home (but not the building materials), or pay for services (e.g. a builder agrees to build a garage on your property on a certain date and then delays starting work).

More about your consumer rights is on the Building Performance website.

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What can I do if I am unhappy about the quality of work done by a builder?

1. Talk to the builder (or the contractor if there's a team of builders)
If you have concerns about building work that has been carried out, start by discussing it with the builder or lead contractor (the person in charge overall of the team of builders). Many complaints and disputes result from misunderstandings between client and contractor. The Consumer NZ website discusses common causes of problems in detail. Tips for discussing the problem are on the Building Performance website.

2. Follow the dispute resolution process in the construction contract
If you are still unhappy after talking it through with the builder or contractor, the next step is to check the contract you have with them (if there is one) to see what (if any) disputes resolution process you should use. If a dispute resolution process is stated in the contract, your next step is to begin that process.

3. Other options
If the issue remains unresolved, then how you progress your complaint will depend on who or what your complaint is about and how much you are prepared to spend to get it resolved:

  • The Disputes Tribunal can hear your dispute if your claim is for no more than $15,000 – or $20,000 if the other party agrees to it;
  • The District Court can hear your dispute if your claim is for more than the Disputes Tribunal limit – but you should get legal advice if you are considering this;  
  • For information about problems with weather-tightness, see our Leaky homes page;
  • Adjudication is an option if mediation is unsuccessful. From 1 September 2016 this includes contracts for design, engineering and quantity surveying work;
  • Complain to the Building Practitioners Board about the conduct of a licensed building practitioner e.g. if you believe they have been negligent, incompetent or in breach of the grounds for discipline in the Building Act;

More about these options is on the Consumer NZ website and the Licensed Building Practitioners website.