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02 Nov 2021

What do the new medium density housing laws mean for me? (NZ)

What housing law changes mean for you and your neighbourhood

From August 2022 Kiwi’s will be able build up to three story homes on most sites without the need for additional resource consent.

This is a change from current typical plans which only permit one home of two storeys.

There are community concerns over what this will mean for those who live near sites owned by developers, and what the changes mean for people looking to build new homes in existing neighbourhoods.

What cities are affected by the medium density legislation changes?

Tier 1 Cities - Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington and Christchurch. The changes affect every council within these cities.

What do the medium density housing changes mean for non-developers?

District and local council requirements are generally different in every locale. These new changes mean that whoever is looking to build a three story home in the affected cities is now able to.

The changes only apply to those wanting to build outside of the (previously) standard ‘one home with a maximum of two storeys’, and they will now be able to do so without applying for resource consent.

What difference does resource and building consent make?

Previously, applying for resource and building consent was a lengthy process which hugely inflated the cost of a build. Additionally, it was often a matter of convincing councils, politicians, and locals to let it happen.

Previously, councils could reject resource consent or ask for changes. It was also necessary to announce your building plans to the community so that neighbours and residents of the general area could voice concerns. Examples of these complaints include the aesthetic – the planned build won’t fit in and will look bad, sunlight impact – the planned build will throw shade on my garden all day, or value impact – blocking my view lowers the value of my investment.

All these complaints would have to be heard and considered – under the old legislation.

Without these time, financial, and political considerations the building of medium density housing will be much quicker and less hassle.

For example, a granny flat which could have previously cost up to $50,000 with no guarantee of approval could skip resource consent and straight to building consent.

Does that mean no more building consents?

No! You will still need building consent; the policy does not change the rules for building consents. The difference is that resource consents will not be required when the planned build complies with the new Medium Density Residential Standards.

What is the difference between resource consent and building consent?

Resource consent is conceptual. You present your idea of what you want to build. A building consent is the practical application of that idea – the blueprints and engineering reports etc. By skipping the resource consent stage, you are essentially skipping the idea vetting process and saving months of time and thousands of dollars.

Obtaining a building consent is generally simpler than a resource consent because they are addressing different things. Where a building consent application states “this building will meet the size and safety requirements set forth by law”, a resource consent application asks “is this proposed building acceptable to the council, the neighbourhood style and needs, and approved of?”

Does this mean additional dwellings are now permitted?

Yes, the changes do mean that additional dwellings can be built in gardens and backyards including granny flats, townhouses, and units.

What’s the benefit of the medium density legislation change in New Zealand?

There are several benefits for individuals as well as the wider community. Analysis suggests that the deregulation of this type of housing could leaf to over 100,000 new dwellings being built in the next eight years.

With a shortage of housing plaguing New Zealand in recent years, this increase is a positive thing – so long as the vast majority aren’t granny flats and extra storage space.

On an individual level, the ability to build more freely and at a reduced cost is a bonus, but it is not a free for all.

Do the new laws mean I can build whatever I want?

No, any building plans you have will still need to meet the new standards and you will still need to apply for building consent.

How much of my land can I build on under the new medium density regulations?

You can cover up to 50% of your land area with a building, and round that out by an extra 10% (total of 60%) with pavements.

You can build up to three storeys high, increased from the previous two.

Each section can have up to three units, sitting at least 1 meter away from side boundaries and leaving at least 2.5 meters away from the front boundary. Each unit needs some type of outdoor area as well.

These standards are malleable – but only by the council

If a council is so inclined, they may want to allow more permissive requirements – aka allowing more storeys. They are not, however, allowed to make them less permissive.

What do these rule changes mean for tiny homes?

The rules still apply to tiny homes. This means that houses on the ground level will need at least 15 square meters of outdoor space and houses not on the ground level require 8 square meters.

Windows are still required

Each living room needs to have at least a 3x3 meter outlook and all other habitable areas such as bedrooms need at least a 1x1 meter outlook. This is to ensure that there’s enough space between your living room view and someone else’s bedroom window.

Hideous homes – is there anything you can do?

Without the resource consent review process the answer is no, not without a lot of bother.

If the building is compliant with the standards set forth then there will be little to no recourse before building process begins.

If their plans are not compliant then they will have to apply for a resource consent, but will still only be assessed on the requirements they do not currently meet.

In real terms, this means that if a plan has previously been rejected for density reasons – they will likely be able to go ahead under these new laws.

‘Not in my back yard’ is now a much weaker standpoint

Otherwise known as NIMBY, the phenomenon of a neighbourhood taking offense or otherwise disagreeing with additions to the neighbourhood has lost some traction with these new laws. While some NIMBY problems relate to the building of shelters, affordable housing ‘bringing down the tone’, or certain types of protective housing it also relates to multi-storey buildings blocking views, eliminating sunlight access to adjacent yards, and outlandish designs.

While you still have the grounds to make a complaint or objection to a building it will be much more limited under these new standards – largely due to the fact that you won’t know until after it’s built.

No formal opportunity to object

With the permissive stage eliminated by these new standards, you may not know that thanks to your neighbours three-story build your garden will now receive no sunlight for the majority of the day. While this may not fuss some people those who garden, have children, or who just like the sunshine would previously have had grounds – and opportunity – to prevent it.

Councils do have the opportunity to reject a development if a natural hazard or heritage value objection is raised – but otherwise they are only bound to ensure that the building is safe, watertight, and up to code.  

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