You don't have to spend much time researching backyard cabins before finding out that there is a fairly large chunk of mystery and confusion surrounding Victoria's planning and building permit process.
The fabled unicorn that most Victorian families hope to find along their journey is that their amazing new cabin might qualify for a permit exemption, but its less likely than you would think.
So is there such a thing as a "no permit required" backyard cabin?
The short answer is yes but lets get a few things straight first:
#1 - There are two main permits typically required to build a backyard cabin in Victoria (See below).
In many cases (not all) a backyard cabin or studio wont require a council planning permit, however, almost always require a building permit.
#2 - You may also notice any claim of "No Permit Required" is usually followed by the infamous * asterix.
The reason being is, that there is no specific cabin design, size or style that immediately grants its purchaser an instant planning and building permit exemption.
If you don't already know about the two most common Victorian permits required for building a backyard cabin click here for our in-depth guide to planning and building permits in Victoria
So at the risk of writing an entire novel, ill stay on topic, the purpose of this article is to discuss the possibility of a building permit exemption.
Here is the VBA's definition of a Building permit
Building permits are documents certifying that a proposed building complies with the relevant building regulations. A building permit is a written approval by a private or municipal building surveyor. It allows the building work to be undertaken according to the approved plans, specifications and other relevant documentation.
Having a building permit provides you with protection by ensuring:
the building practitioners working on your project are registered and carry the required insurance
adequate documentation is prepared so the construction can be carried out correctly and according to building legislation
key stages of the work are independently inspected
your building is suitable for occupation.
The Big Question
Is there any chance of a building permit exemption for my new backyard cabin? Well, the simple answer is no and here is why...
The VBA does offer an exemption for small class 10a buildings. A class 10a building is defined on the VBA website as a: Non-habitable structure - sheds, carports, private garages.
The building permit exemption for a class 10a building is as follows: (Excerpt)
The construction of a freestanding Class 10a building is exempt from requiring a building permit providing that:
(a) it has a floor area not exceeding 10 m²; and
(b) is not more than 3 m in height, or if situated within 1 m of a boundary, is no more than 2.4 m in height; and (c) if appurtenant (attached) to a building of another Class on the same allotment, it is located no further forward on the allotment than the front wall of the building to which it is appurtenant; and
(d) if it is not appurtenant to a building of another Class on the same allotment, it is the only Class 10a building on the allotment and is set back at least 9 m from the front street alignment and at least 2 m from each side street alignment; and
(e) it is not constructed of masonry.
The Big Issue
The main issue here is that Backyard cabins are intended to be habitable, the first requirement in the definition of a Class 10a building is that it is non-habitable.
The Victorian Planning Scheme refers to a non-habitable space as a: bathroom, laundry, toilet, pantry, walk-in wardrobe, corridor, stair, lobby, photographic darkroom, clothes drying room and other space of a specialised nature occupied neither frequently nor for extended periods.
and a habitable space as a: Living room, bedroom, lounge room, music room, television room, kitchen, dining room, sewing room, study/office, playroom, family room or sunroom.
The unfortunate reality here is, unless you are building a shed or storage room for infrequent, non extended visits then unfortunately you are building a habitable room/space, which means you require a building permit no matter the size.
I am building a shed!
We build small class 10a sheds on a regular basis for our customers and this exemption is perfect for this type of building, If you decide to apply for an exemption you will still need to meet the requirements for a class 10a building as stated above.
Here is the deal, applying for a building permit is not that bad, its not that expensive and means you are covered for the future. When it comes time to sell your home you will have all of the required paperwork, if you ever need to make an insurance claim your able to have your cabin covered properly and overall you have the peace of mind to know that your cabin has been built to code by a licenced builder. Plus the cost of the permit is no where near as expensive as the cost of removing an illegal building.