Victorian Building Surveyors Powers to Issue Building Notices and Building Orders

Victorian Building Surveyors Powers to Issue Building Notices and Building Orders

19 Oct 2023

Section 16 of the Building Act 1993 Vic (“the Act”) states that: “A person must not carry out building work unless a building permit in relation to the work has been issued and is in force under this Act.” In Victoria, a building permit is issued by a private or a municipal building surveyor. The building permit will contain the classification of the building, which is determined in accordance with Part A6 the National Construction Code (“NCC”), which describes the Building Classification system as follows:

“The NCC groups buildings and structures by the purpose for which they are designed, constructed or adapted to be used, assigning each type of building or structure with a classification. A building may have parts that have been designed, constructed or adapted for different purposes. In most cases, each of these parts is a separate classification. A building (or part of a building) may also have more than one such purpose and may be assigned more than one classification.” [1]

Note: Some structures and building types are exempt from the Building Permit requirement.

Building Classes

The NCC building classes are as follows:

Class 1:

(1) A Class 1 building is a dwelling.

(2) Class 1 includes the following sub-classifications:

  1. Class 1a is one or more buildings, which together form a single dwelling including the following:
    1. A detached house.
    2. One of a group of two or more attached dwellings, each being a building, separated by a fire-resisting wall, including a row house, terrace house, town house or villa unit.
  2. Class 1b is one or more buildings which together constitute—
    1. a boarding house, guest house, hostel or the like that—
      1. would ordinarily accommodate not more than 12 people; and
      2. have a total area of all floors not more than 300 m2 (measured over the enclosing walls of the building or buildings); or
    2. four or more single dwellings located on one allotment and used for short-term holiday accommodation.

Class 2:

(1) A Class 2 building is a building containing two or more sole-occupancy units.

(2) Each sole-occupancy unit in a Class 2 building must be a separate dwelling.

This class may also include single-storey attached dwellings with a common space below, such as a carpark.[2]

Class 3:

(1) A Class 3 building is a residential building providing long-term or transient accommodation for a number of unrelated persons.

(2) Class 3 buildings include the following:

  1. A boarding house, guest house, hostel, lodging house or backpacker accommodation.
  2. A residential part of a hotel or motel.
  3. A residential part of a school.
  4. Accommodation for the aged, children, or people with disability.
  5. A residential part of a health-care building which accommodates members of staff.
  6. A residential part of a detention centre.
  7. residential care building.

Class 4:

Class 4 is a dwelling in a Class 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9 building if it is the only dwelling in the building.

A single domestic dwelling within a building of non-residential nature (that is, a Class 5 to Class 9 building). For example, a caretaker’s residence within a hospital.[3]

Class 5:

A Class 5 building is an office building used for professional or commercial purposes.

Class 6:

(1) A Class 6 building is a shop or other building used for the sale of goods by retail or the supply of services direct to the public.

(2) Class 6 buildings include the following:

  1. An eating room, cafe, restaurant, milk or soft-drink bar.
  2. A dining room, bar area that is not an assembly building, shop or kiosk part of a hotel or motel.
  3. A hairdresser’s or barber’s shop, public laundry, or undertaker’s establishment.
  4. A supermarket or sale room, showroom, or service station.

Class 7:

(1) A Class 7 building is a storage-type building.

(2) Class 7 includes the following sub-classifications:

  1. Class 7a — a carpark.
  2. Class 7b — a building that is used for storage, or display of goods or produce for sale by wholesale.

Class 8:

(1) A Class 8 building is a process-type building.

(2) Class 8 buildings include the following:

  1. A laboratory.
  2. A building in which the production, assembling, altering, repairing, packing, finishing, or cleaning of goods or produce for sale takes place.

Class 9:

(1) A Class 9 building is a building of a public nature.

(2) Class 9 includes the following sub-classifications:

  1. Class 9a — a health-care building including any parts of the building set aside as laboratories, and includes a health-care building used as a residential care building.
  2. Class 9b — an assembly building including a trade workshop or laboratory in a primary or secondary school.
  3. Class 9c — a residential care building.

Class 10:

(1) A Class 10 building is a non-habitable building or structure.

(2) Class 10 includes the following sub-classifications:

  1. Class 10a is a non-habitable building including a private garage, carport, shed or the like.
  2. Class 10b is a structure that is a fence, mast, antenna, retaining wall or free-standing wall or swimming pool or the like.
  3. Class 10c is a private bushfire shelter.

Regulation 13 of the Building Regulations 2018 (Vic) (“The Regulations”) states that: “if there is any doubt as to the classification of a building under the BCA, the relevant building surveyor must classify the building as belonging to the class it most closely resembles”.

Building Notices and Building Orders

Both municipal building surveyors and private building surveyors have powers to issue:

  • S37 – Building Directions. This “means a direction to fix building work given under Division 2 of Part 4 of the Act.
  • S106 – Building Notice. A building notice “starts the conversation between building owners and the Building Surveyor about what issues need to be addressed to make their building safer”.
  • S111 – Building Order. “After a Building Surveyor has considered representations raised by the owner in response to a Building Notice, the Municipal Building Surveyor may consider it necessary to issue a Building Order”. [5]

Exceptions to the Issuing of Notices and Orders

Schedule 3 of the Regulations provides some exemptions for building work and buildings. The main exception is when a building falls into a Class 10a and:

“a) has a floor area not exceeding 10 m ; and

b) is no 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 to a building of another Class on the same allotment, 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, 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) is not constructed of masonry.”

There are a number of other exemptions to the requirement of a building permit, including a buildings demolition (if within the allowable specifications), or the repair, renewal or maintenance of an existing building (subject to the nature of the work). Details on this can be found in the VBA Building Practice Note: “Building Permits and Other Exemptions BP 01 | When is a Building Permit required”.[6]

Conversion of Use

That which can also culminate in the issuance of a Building Notice or a Building Order is the change of use of a building. There are instances where this could be the use of a Class 10 building (non-inhabitable shed) to the use of a Class 1 (domestic residence). For example, if there is illegal conversion of the use of a shed into a primary residence. Anecdotally, the prevalence of this type of conversion increased during COVID.

While converted sheds and shipping containers are increasing in use, the determination of whether they are truly “buildings” is something addressed by the broad definition of “building” in s3 of the Act, which reads as follows:

building includes any structure, temporary building or temporary structure and also includes any part of a building or structure”

Interestingly, there is another exemption in the regulations which covers buildings which are “unclassifiable”:

(5) “Any building that is not of a Class listed in clauses A6G2 to A6G11 of the BCA Volume 1 and clauses A6G2 to A6G11 of the BCA Volume 2.”

The Victorian Building Authority (“VBA”) Building Practice Note – General GE-04 Definition of Building makes a recommendation that: “only a structure which can be classified under the NCC should be regarded as a building, as Schedule 3 of the Regulations exempts unclassifiable buildings from all parts of the Regulations. [6]

How does this exception work in practice?

The classification of a building is determined by it’s “use or intend use”. In practice, this paints with a very broad brush. In the case of Chen v Kevin McNamara & Son Pty Ltd [2012] VSCA 63, it was said that:

“If that structure is unable to classified, then the objects of the Building Act 1993 set out in section 4 and the goals of the Code, namely to protect people and property, require that regard be had to the constituent components of the structure, to see if they are individually classifiable.” [para 27]

The case concerned a dispute over whether an underground structure, intended to be used for water storage, was within the definition of 10b “a retaining wall” or a “swimming pool”, and therefore domestic building. It was decided that it was neither, and therefore not a Class 10b structure.

Broad Powers of Building Surveyors

Under section s106 of the Act, a municipal building surveyor or a private building surveyor may cause a building notice to be served on a owner of a building if the surveyor is of the opinion that:

“The building, land or place or building work on the building, land or place is a danger to the life, safety or health of any member of the public or of any person using the building, land or place or to any property”. This is regardless of any exception, subject to s107 of the Act.

This section in conjunction with the s4 purpose as described above demonstrates the difficulty of a “non-classifiable” argument under Sch 3 of the Regulations.

The municipal building surveyors’ blunderbuss power is under section 106 of the Act – health and safety.


In conclusion, section 16 dictates that the carrying out of building work can only occur if there is a building permit. The building permit will be issued in accordance with the appropriate NCC classification.

Failure to obtain a Building Permit for building work or the conversion of use of a building from a non-habitable class to a habitable class is a breach of the Building Act 1993. “Building” is a defined term under the Building Act, although there are some exceptions that preclude the necessity to obtain a Building Permit, those exceptions are contained in the Building Regulations and very careful regard must be had for same.

Building Surveyors have extensive powers to issue building notices and orders. Municipal Building Surveyors have a greater arsenal of building order powers at their disposal. Pursuant to s106 the Municipal Building Surveyor has the far reaching power to issue building Notices if there is any danger to life, health and safety of the public. While it is not common, if an argument is raised that a structure’s class is indeterminable much emphasis will fall of the purpose of the Act; the priority of the protection of people and property.

Please see the below for further and related articles:

Do Building Laws and Consumer Protections Apply to Shipping Container Residences in Victoria?

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