Some kitchen and bathroom renovation works may not need planning approval if they are low-impact ‘exempt development’.

Does my kitchen or bathroom renovation need planning approval?

Many types of minor home renovations and small building projects, including some kitchen and bathroom refurbishments, may not need planning or building approval. These types of works are known as ‘exempt development’ in many States and Territories. 

The criteria for determining exempt development is set out in the planning legislation for each state and territory; this article addresses exempt development provisions for kitchen and bathroom renovations in NSW only. 

If you need to understand the requirements for other states and territories, seek out the relevant planning body. In the ACT, for example, this is the ACT Planning and Land Authority. 

Is my kitchen or bathroom renovation exempt development? 

The NSW planning legislation sets the framework for allowing some development to be “exempt” by listing it within an environmental planning instrument, such as a State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) or Local Environmental Plan (LEP). The Code’s SEPP provides the planning controls for exempt development across the State, as well as the LEP for each local government area. 

Kitchen and bathroom renovations can be carried out under Subdivision 26 Minor building alterations (internal) of the Codes SEPP. However, the works must comply with the requirements of the Building Code of Australia (BCA), and meet relevant development standards set out in the Codes SEPP. 

The development standards note that renovations must not result in: 

  • any change to the configuration of a room, whether by removal of an existing wall, partition, or other means 
  • any reduced window arrangements for light and ventilation needs, or reduction in the size of a doorway or involve the enclosure of an open area 
  • any effect on the load-bearing capacity (whether vertical or horizontal) of a building 
  • any change to the fire-resisting components of, or interfere with the entry to, or exit from, or the fire safety measures contained within, a building. 

All works undertaken must be compliant with the requirements of the BCA and any product installed in the kitchen or bathroom must be in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications. Should the renovation be within a class lb or class 2-9 building, the building must be compliant with the fire safety certificate provisions set out in the Codes SERF for exempt development to be carried out. 

Are there any locations where exempt development is not allowed?

Renovators need to be mindful that there are certain places where exempt development, including kitchen and bathroom renovations, cannot be carried out. This is when a building is a heritage or draft heritage item, or sits on land that is within a ‘declared area of outstanding biodiversity or critical habitat’ or part of a ‘wilderness area’. 

Schedule 4 of the Codes SEPP also maps locations within local government areas where exempt development cannot be carried out. 

What happens if the renovation doesn’t meet the exempt development requirements? 

If your kitchen and bathroom renovations cannot be carried out as exempt development, then the works will need to be approved under a complying development certificate or development application pathway. In such cases, property owners are advised to ensure their builder contacts the local council or Housing Industry Association (HIA) for further advice. 

What else is exempt development? 

In addition to minor building alterations, the Code’s SEPP lists more than 50 types of development that can be undertaken without the need for an approval from a local council or a private certifier. The list of exempt development types include many common improvements and uses such as: 

  • Aerials, antennas, and communication dishes 
  • Awnings, blinds, and canopies 
  • Balconies, decks, patios, pergolas, terraces, and verandahs 
  • Barbeques and other outdoor cooking structures 
  • Cabanas, cubby houses, ferneries, garden sheds, gazebos and greenhouses 
  • Carports 
  • Earthworks, retaining walls, and structural support 
  • Fences 
  • Garbage bin storage enclosures 
  • Landscaping structures and tennis courts 
  • Letterboxes 
  • Minor building alterations (internal and external) 
  • Privacy screens 
  • Skylights, roof windows, and ventilators.

As with minor building alterations, the above works all need to meet the relevant development standards for exempt development set out in the exempt development codes, and they cannot be carried out in locations where exempt development is prohibited. 

Where else do I need to look for information? 

Local councils may also have additional types of development that are exempt from planning approval in that council area. These additional development types are set out within Schedule 2 of the council’s LEP and the list will vary from council to council.

About the author

Debra Beck-Mewing is the Editor of the Property Portfolio Magazine and CEO of The Property Frontline.  She has more than 20 years’ experience in buying property Australia-wide and has extensive experience in helping buyers use a range of strategies including renovating, granny flats, sub-division and development. Debra is a skilled property strategist, and a master in identifying tailored opportunities, homes and sourcing properties that have multiple uses.  She is a Qualified Property Investment Advisor, licensed real estate agent and also holds a Bachelor of Commerce and Master of Business. As a passionate advocate for increasing transparency in the property and wealth industries, Debra is a popular speaker on these topics.  She is also an author, podcast host, and participates on numerous committees including the Property Owners’ Association.

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Disclaimer – This information is of a general nature only and does not constitute professional advice.  We strongly recommend you seek your own professional advice in relation to your particular circumstances.