What Council Consents or Permits Might I Need?

Fundamentally, consents are introduced when regulatory organisations think certain levels of quality are required, to keep occupants healthy and safe.
There are various regulations to be aware of, but what can make it complex is that many people, including council staff want to form their own opinions, sometimes ignoring the regulations, which are often outside of their control (e.g. are NZ-wide). But if you know the regulations, you can remind them 😉
Broadly speaking, there are two possible consents: 1) Building Consent and 2) Resource Consent.

1) Building Consent:

This is determined by the Department of Building and Housing (a NZ-wide government department) and Councils need to follow/enforce these rules. In summary (contact us for more details), a Building Consent is not required if:

a) the home has wheels and a towbar (does not need to be road worthy) and
b) the home is not permanently anchored to the ground, directly, or via a structure like a verandha.

We have solutions for both of these requirements so that a Building Consent is not needed. We have had councils challenge this, and take it to the Department of Building and Housing) and have their challenge rejected. 

As an aside, at Cosy Homes, we build to well exceed the Building Consent regulations, but we also design our homes so that customers do not need to get a Building Consent if they do not want to, saving them considerable time and expenses. In fact, we believe the Building Consent regulations are often too low, e.g. for insulation requirements, and as a result, most homes are built to “Code Minimum”, instead of to what benefit’s the owners and occupants long-term.

Also note, if you cannot fulfil b), you can still avoid a Building Consent if you don’t live in it full time.

2) Resource Consent (RC):

This relates to supplying you house with services. This is not as easy to summarise as there are more variables.
Connecting your home to existing power and water can simply be a caravan power plug and a potable water garden hose (should be protected from frost) – so they don’t need Resource Consent. Creating a new supply of power (e.g. solar) and water (e.g. a well), is more difficult, and will be covered in a different blog post.
For greywater and sewer, the first question is are you using council services or supplying your own? If using council services, you are generally expected to ask for permission. Often, councils will want you to pay to use their services, which is called a Development Contribution (DC) and they will not try very hard to check if you don’t need to pay this, so it would pay for you to consider the following:
  • If the property has already paid a DC in the past (e.g. the old house was then torn down), then you should not need to pay it again.
  • Most councils have some exemptions for resource consents for minor dwellings. E.g. for the Christchurch City Council (CCC) here and  here.
  • And most councils have a discounted DC for small homes as they will not put such a large load on the council services. 
You are allowed to deal with Greywater yourself, if you follow certain regulations for health – there is a great introduction here – as far as I can tell, greywater is not mentioned in the NZ-Wide Resource Management Act (RMA), but is typically addressed in Regional Council Plans (not your Local Council) – this is a good example – in the Wellington Region, you don’t need a consent if you meet 3 criteria (e.g. less than 2000L per day).
You can make your own system (e.g. a holding tank with a submersible pump going out to a buried drip line), or buy greywater treatment systems, e.g. from EcoToilets for $3000+GST, which follow the regulations.
And advantage to dealing with Greywater yourself is that you can make a good use of that excess water, e.g. water gardens, rather than just flush it down the council sewer system. One quick tip: use liquid soaps (including for clothes washing), as solid soaps and powders produce a solid residue that can block pipes and are not good for the soil ph. 
Sewer is another quite complex topic, with many variables, which will be covered in more detail in another blog post, but I will try to summarise here.
If you are close to a council sewer system, they will often require that you use their system. For movable homes (e.g. Tiny Homes) and homes not anchored to the ground, council will often want the connection to be easily detached (e.g. a quick release system) and will want a flexible hose or connection between the Home and the sewer pipe so that any possible movement (e.g. from an earthquake) does not crack the pipe and cause a leak/health hazard. At Cosy Homes, we have solutions for these requirements.
If you are further away from a council sewer system, you can create your own system, that does need to meed certain health and safety standards. As with greywater, sewer regulations are addressed in Regional Council Plans (not your Local Council), so these vary per region. However, various septic tank and composting toilet companies produce systems designed to comply across all of New Zealand. So check with you Regional Council – you may not need a Resource Consent if you use a well recognised system that fits the criteria of a permitted activity.

How this Relates to Mortgages and Insurance

It is worth bearing in mind that Mortgage and Insurance companies can often be quite conservative, and want to know that your Home has the appropriate consents before they will provide you with a Mortgage or Insurance. If you plan to sell you home in the future, potential buyers will also want to know they are buying something safe and healthy.
Therefore, we would suggest that if you do not want to get a consent, that you still contact the Council and get a letter from them to acknowledge that what you are doing is a permitted activity and does not need consent. This “Permit” is the evidence you can supply to Mortgage and Insurance companies, and future potential buyers. It is also very useful to have this proof if a different Council staff member has a different interpretation in the future and wants you to have a consent – you can show evidence that the Council has already approved this as a permitted activity.

Communicating with Council

One last tip – often, different council staff can have very different interpretations of the same regulations, or even want to ignore the regulations in favour of their own opinion. Therefore, if one council staff member is giving you more resistance than you care to work through, you might want to consider talking to a different staff member if possible, e.g. calling reception, asking which Building Consent staff are available, and asking to talk to a different one.