What are my rights when my neighbour is building?

Jun 20, 2019

building rights canberra

Life is good.

You love your house, your street, and your suburb. You’re used to the way things look, and you’d be happy if everything stayed just as it is, forever.

Then one day you come home from work and there it is…a fence around your neighbour’s house with a big sign announcing an impending development. Fear sets in immediately. What if the changes are horrendous? What if they block your beautiful view of the mountains? How will you cope with the ongoing construction noise over the coming year?

This situation happens to people all around Australia every day. And here in Canberra, we are no exception.

With our ever-increasing population contributing to more townhouses and apartments, and our ageing 1950s and 1960s properties requiring extensive renovations or knock down rebuilds, dealing with a neighbour’s home undergoing construction has become the norm.

If your neighbour has decided to renovate, rebuild or sub-divide their property, there’s often not a whole lot you can do. So long as their design falls within Planning Regulations, they basically have a green light. And rightfully so – home owners pay a lot for their land, so it is within their rights to change or alter the home in any way they feel will improve their quality of life.

However, if the proposed design falls outside of standard regulations and is likely to impact your ability to achieve natural sunlight or maintain privacy, there could be a case for making an objection. Unfortunately there are no regulations in the ACT that protect your view (i.e.: a view of the mountains) from being blocked.

If your neighbour’s building design has minor deviations from the standard planning regulations, you will likely receive a letter with instructions on how to obtain more information about the development and make an objection. There will be a time limit for making your objection though, so be sure to make note of it. Objections received after the closing date will usually not be considered.

Major deviations from the planning regulations (such as an application for sub-division) will also result in a letter in your mailbox and inclusion on the public register of the Environment and Planning Directorate.

You can view the building plans online, and make an objection if you feel that the development will significantly infringe on your block in some way.

In both cases (minor and major), if you are going to object, take the time to prepare. Just as you would hire a lawyer to review legal documents and present a legal case, it is worth your time and money to talk with a Building Certifier.

First, you will want to make sure that you understand the building plans and all other documentation thoroughly. This will help you appreciate the full effect the development will have on your home, if any.

Second, if you are going to object, you will need to present a strong case. A Building Certifier or Architect will know how to present your argument as effectively as possible, and increase your chances of having a real impact on the decision to approve or not.

If you call the Planning Directorate to speak to a representative, try to remain calm and be kind. Pests or rude people get blacklisted quickly, and it won’t benefit your case.

And if you do make an objection to the Planning Directorate, be prepared to stand by it. In most cases your objection will be made public and available to the applicant (your neighbour). You can request to have part (or all) of your objection excluded from the public register, but “not wanting to hurt their feelings” won’t count.

In terms of the noise and building dust you will likely have to endure…well, unfortunately there’s not much that can be done about it. But consider the positives; it is possible the new design will add to the perceived value of your home if you ever decide to sell.

Keep an eye on the build as things progress, and make sure that they are doing what they said they would do.

And finally, be happy for your neighbours! It’s not easy to make the decision to renovate or rebuild, and they’ve likely decided after a lot of planning, saving and dreaming about their future.

If you’re considering a knock down rebuild of your own, contact Danny or Robert for an obligation-free discussion on 6247 4799 or email info@rosinbros.com.au.

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