In this article, we look at exactly what a building surveyor does, when you need one, and more. 

A building surveyor plays a critical role in the construction industry. They ensure structures meet regulatory standards, advise on property design, and oversee safety protocols. Without a building surveyor, projects could face serious compliance issues, potentially leading to costly legal disputes and even unsafe living or working conditions once the building is complete. 

Their expertise is instrumental in understanding relevant building codes, regulations, and industry standards, ensuring each project not only aligns with legal requirements but also achieves the highest levels of safety and quality. Without their oversight, the integrity and longevity of buildings could be compromised.

So, What Is a Building Surveyor?

A building surveyor is someone that holds a tertiary qualification in building surveying and is tasked with overseeing the building control process. In Queensland, they must also have an official Accreditation Certificate from either:

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS); or,

The Australian Institute of Building Surveyors (AIBS).

Their key responsibilities are to evaluate building plans and ensure these plans adhere strictly to the Building Code of Australia, the Australian Standards incorporated within it (as outlined by the Australian Building Codes Board), and any other relevant acts, legislation, or local requirements applicable to the building’s location. 

The work performed by a building surveyor extends beyond compliance. Their insights influence the design, planning, and overall functionality of structures. A core part of their duty is to guarantee that buildings are not only safe and compliant but also accessible and energy-efficient.

Building surveyors are involved in a project from start to finish. Throughout this duration, they conduct systematic inspections, providing necessary approvals for each phase of construction. It’s worth noting that a building project can only have one designated building surveyor. Once the construction process is complete, the building surveyor issues either the occupancy permit or the certificate of final inspection, based on the project’s compliance and safety standards.
The role of a building surveyor isn’t limited to new constructions. They also carry out inspections for other purposes such as compliance audits for insurance coverage or creating dilapidation reports, ensuring that structures maintain their safety and integrity over time. While building surveyors are not engineers, there can be some overlap in work performed when looking at second-hand properties.

What Do Building Surveyors Do?

Now let’s look at this in a bit more depth. The work done by building surveyors can be broadly categorised into statutory work and consulting work. Here is how it’s defined by the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors

Statutory Work

Statutory building surveyors are imbued with the legislative authority to:

1. Evaluate building plans: They assess and evaluate designs for proposed constructions, ensuring they meet relevant building standards and statutory regulatory requirements.

2. Ensure safe construction: They ascertain that buildings are built per approved plans and in line with the National Construction Code and Australian Standards, guaranteeing safety and compliance.

3. Oversee building compliance: Their goal is to make sure the final building structure is safe, compliant, and fit for occupation. This ensures owners or occupiers face fewer risks of injury, avoid unexpected repair costs, and maintain the building’s value.

4. Regulatory role: Their work is distinct and independent from other construction professionals, as they uniquely exercise regulatory functions.

Specifically, statutory building surveyors:

a. Assess compliance of application documents with technical building requirements.

b. Issue necessary approvals, consents, or building permits.

c. Conduct audits to ensure building work aligns with laws.

d. Inspect existing buildings’ health and safety standards.

e. Take action to ensure compliance with building regulations.

f. Certify that inspected works adhere to regulations and/or approved documents.

g. Approve the occupation of buildings as per relevant laws.

Consulting Work

Consulting building surveyors, while still focused on building safety and compliance, operate in a broader scope, working alongside industry professionals without the legislative constraints faced by their statutory counterparts.

Building surveyors in consulting roles are involved in:

a. Giving design advice to ensure compliant proposal documentation.

b. Advising builders and building owners on achieving compliance during building progress.

c. Inspecting building work to verify compliance with laws and contractual obligations.

d. Investigating and reporting on building defects or failures.

e. Advising on the ongoing compliance needs of buildings, considering health, safety, and other legislative requirements.

f. Guiding owners and builders on remediation for non-compliant building work.

g. Offering expert testimony in legal settings.

h. Assessing products for certification accreditation bodies.

i. Evaluating the adequacy of work by other building surveying practitioners during audit processes.

Additionally, some building surveyors may engage in building policy development, working for Federal & State Territory Governments.

When Do You Need a Building Surveyor and Why?

Here’s when and why you might need a building surveyor:

  1. Building approval and inspection: If you’re undergoing any form of construction, a building certifier ensures that all aspects of the work align with the Building Act 1975.
  2. Determining approval needs: Before starting a project, it’s essential to know whether you need building approval. Some minor tasks might not require it, termed as accepted development. A building certifier can provide guidance on this.
  3. Local government planning schemes: For specific building characteristics—like maximum height or the overall character—a planning permit might be needed from the local government. This is where a building certifier’s knowledge becomes invaluable.

Why is Choosing the Right Building Certifier Important?

  1. Professional limitations: Building certifiers are strictly tasked with oversight. They shouldn’t be involved in the actual design or execution of the building work, ensuring an unbiased perspective.
  2. Licensing: It’s crucial to engage a licensed building certifier. In Queensland, they must be registered with the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC). Checking their accreditation history can give insight into their credibility.
  3. Transparent agreements: When engaging a private certifier, a written agreement outlining the certification fee is mandatory. Many have standard engagement contracts, which simplifies the process.
  4. Adherence to professional standards: Building surveyors are bound by a stringent code of conduct and must always prioritise public interest. There are severe repercussions for those who don’t uphold these standards.
  5. Assistance in inspections: In some situations, a building certifier might rely on a ‘competent person’ for specific design or inspection stages. They can also delegate certain responsibilities to cadets, ensuring that the certification process is thorough.

If you’re embarking on a construction project or need clarity about building regulations, a building surveyor is essential. As experts in the field with over 20 years of experience, Porter Consulting offers commercial and residential building certification and consulting services on the Gold Coast and Brisbane. 
By choosing Porter Consulting, you’re opting for a proactive, solution-focused partner who prioritises the highest standards and client satisfaction in every project. Contact us today to enquire.

A building development approval (sometimes called a building permit) is an approval granted by local authorities for specific construction works and is needed before construction begins for the majority of domestic building types. 

Understanding when you need a building approval/permit and the consequences of building without one is vital for anyone planning construction projects. This article explains the criteria for needing a permit and the risks of non-compliance.

When Is a Building Approval Required?

In Australia, a building approval is generally required for most structures, including, but not limited to:

  1. New buildings: Construction of any new residential, commercial, or industrial structure.
  2. Extensions or renovations: Major alterations or expansions to existing structures.
  3. Structural changes: Modifications affecting a building’s structural integrity, such as removing load-bearing walls.
  4. Change in building use: Transitioning a space’s purpose, like from residential to commercial.
  5. Demolitions: Tearing down structures, ensuring safety protocols are observed.
  6. Retaining walls: Specific walls, depending on height or proximity to boundaries, often require permits.
  7. Swimming pools and fencing: Approvals focus on safety standards, barrier requirements, and placement.
  8. Garage usage: Converting or using a garage as living space.
  9. Living in a caravan: Especially if it’s for an extended period or on a permanent basis.
  10. Carports and garages: Building or modifying these structures.
  11. Gatehouse construction: Building entrance structures or security posts.

This is a non-exhaustive list just to demonstrate that you need an approval for most types of work, however, the specifics vary between jurisdictions. Always consult local regulations or contact a building certifier like Porter Consulting before commencing any construction activity.

When Do You NOT Need a Building Development Approval?

Certain types of building work in Australia are categorised as accepted development, either because they are considered minor or because they are exempt from particular provisions. Here’s a breakdown:

1. Accepted Development (Self-Assessable) – Schedule 1:

Small structures: This includes a tool shed, stable, or similar up to 10m², but not in a tropical cyclone area.

Retaining walls: Walls that are 1m high, provided no additional loads, like a building or driveway, are imposed above them.

Fences: Those that are no more than 2m high, excluding swimming pool fencing.

For this category, owners must still ensure that the work adheres to relevant standards, such as structural integrity, size constraints, and boundary setbacks. There might also be local government planning schemes to consider, so be sure to perform your due diligence.

2. Other Accepted Development (Exempt from Relevant Provisions) – Schedule 2:

Minor attachments: Things like a sunhood attached to an existing building, as long as the sunhood’s area doesn’t exceed 2m².

Temporary structures: Erecting a tent with a floor area of no more than 100m².

Playground equipment: Construction of playground structures that don’t surpass a height of 3m.

For this type of work, a building development permit is not needed, and the owner isn’t bound by minimum building standards. However, other local council planning schemes might still apply.
It’s imperative to check local regulations and planning schemes before commencing any work, even if it falls into the categories listed above. For more information, take a look at Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 (respectively) of the Building Regulation 2021.

What Happens if You Build Without Council Approval?

Building without council approval can lead to significant repercussions, both immediate and long-term. Here’s what could happen if you bypass the necessary permits:

1. Resale implications: Future buyers may be wary of properties with non-approved structures. It could decrease your property’s value or make it more challenging to sell.

2. Insurance rejections: If there’s damage or an incident related to the non-approved structure, your insurance claim might be denied, leaving you to shoulder the costs.

3. Council intervention: The council may order the removal or modification of any structures built without approval, resulting in unexpected expenses and hassle.

4. Accumulated costs: Retrospectively seeking approval can be costly. You might face expenses for drafting plans, paying council fees, and undergoing inspections by private certifiers and structural engineers.

5. Modification costs: If the existing structure doesn’t meet building codes or council requirements, you may need to hire tradespeople to modify it. This can be a significant unforeseen cost and might even surpass the initial construction cost.

6. Fines and punitive action: We talk more about this below. 

Always seek the necessary approvals before commencing any building project. The immediate convenience of skipping this step is far outweighed by the potential future complications and expenses.

Fines for Building Without Council Approval

Building without the necessary council approvals is not a minor oversight; it’s a legal violation that can result in severe penalties. 

Types of Offences

Carrying out development without a permit: Embarking on a building or development project without the necessary approvals.

Failure to comply with a development approval: Not adhering to the conditions or stipulations outlined in an already granted permit.

Carrying out prohibited development: Engaging in building activities that are explicitly forbidden.

Chapter 5 of the Planning Act 2016 details the maximum penalties associated with each of these offences, which can include a maximum term of 2 years in prison and fines of 4,500 penalty units (1 QLD penalty unit = $154.80 as of October 2023, 4,500×154.80=$696,600 – a heavy price to pay)! 

Exceptions to the Rule

In some cases, exemptions may be granted, especially for emergency development. This is usually to prevent imminent danger to life or to ensure a structure’s adequacy and safety.

Enforcement Measures

Show cause notice: If an assessing authority has reason to believe someone is committing (or has committed) a development offence, they can issue a show cause notice.

Enforcement notice: This document instructs the offender to cease their offence or rectify the situation. Non-compliance with this notice can attract fines.

Legal proceedings: Anyone can initiate enforcement proceedings in a Magistrates Court to prosecute an individual for a development offence. However, there’s a one-year limit to begin such proceedings.

Halt proceedings: Proceedings can also be initiated in the Planning and Environment Court to prevent further offences from occurring.

Moreover, the Planning Act grants specific entities, like the State Assessment and Referral Agency, powers to enter and investigate suspected offences.
It’s crucial to understand the potential legal and financial ramifications of building without council approval. Always ensure you have the required permits before beginning any construction project. Contact Porter Consulting today for peace of mind – we are leading building surveyors operating in SE Queensland and we can save you a lot of headaches and money in the long run.

On October 1st, there were changes to the Building Industry Fairness (Security of Payment) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2020 (BIFOLA Act) which included a number of significant amendments to the Building Act 1975 (Qld) and the Building Regulation 2006 (Qld). Our Director and Level 1 Building Certifier Justin Porter has prepared a summary of the changes to assist in understanding their impacts.

FRL’s are expressed in the BCA as 3 numbers in the form xx/yy/zz. What does this mean?

FRL is the acronym for “Fire Resistance Level”.  This is a physical property that describes how well a building element resists the spread of fire within a building.

The three figures represent:  Structural Adequacy, Integrity and Insulation – they are always expressed in that order, and the unit of expression is minutes.  So in the above expression of xx/yy/zz – the element in question would provide a fire resistance level of:

  • xx minutes in respect of Structural Adequacy
  • yy minutes in respect of Integrity
  • zz minutes in respect of Insulation
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Structural adequacy

Structural adequacy – is a measure of how long an element will sustain load whilst exposed to fire.  If you can imagine a steel column serving a load-bearing function.  As the temperature of steel rises (which it would do when exposed to a fire), the steel gets softer.  It will reach a point when the steel is unable to sustain the structural load that is imposed upon it, and the column will fail.  How long it takes to do this is the columns “structural adequacy” resistance to the spread of fire.

Non-load-bearing elements do not require this parameter.  So you will often see FRLs expressed as “-/yy/zz”.  This simply means that there is no requirement for structural adequacy.  This usually happens in respect of elements that provide protection to an opening in a fire resisting element – such as a door in a firewall (commonly doors have an FRL of (-/60/30).


Integrity – is a measure of how long a building element stays in one piece and does not open up by cracking, or have a hole burn through it – so that there is an open passage for flame and hot gases to pass through the element.  If you can imagine a brick wall exposed to a fire.  It will heat up more quickly on the side exposed to the fire than on the non-fire side.  This differential heating will cause differential expansion (it will expand more on the hot side, than the cold side) and the brick wall will bow towards the hot side (because that side is longer).  With this happening, the bed and perpend joints of the brick wall are likely to open up.  Eventually, they will open sufficiently to allow hot gases and flame to pass through them.  In this case, the wall will have now failed – in terms of its integrity.  Similarly, other barriers will simply fail as the fire progressively burns through them, and the fire burns a hole through them, allow itself to pass through the barrier.

This parameter is only applicable to elements that separate fire compartments (eg fire walls, or walls around ashaft).  It does not apply to columns which are supporting structure above and can be exposed to flame all around them.  So you will see (usually columns) expressed as xx/–/– – meaning the column requires no resistance in terms of either integrity or insulation.

Fire Door
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Insulation – is the measure of how long a building element is able to resist the passage of heat through itself in order to keep the non-fire side of the wall cold enough so that it does not cause ignition of combustibles in contact with the non-fire side.  If you can imagine a steel barbeque plate:

  • first of all, place a tissue on it – note that it does not ignite
  • now turn on the barbeque – the tissue still does not ignite
  • wait for a while, and the tissue will eventually ignite – even though there has been no direct flame contact between the tissue and any flame

This has been a failure in insulation.  The steel barbeque plate has permitted enough heat to pass through it so that a combustible in contact with it has reached ignition temperature.  The same can happen with a building element.  The criteria for failure is generally when the ambient temperature on the non-fire side reaches 180º C.

Insulation applies to elements that serve a barrier function – so like integrity – it will often not be specified for a load-bearing element – such as a column.

Insulation is also the most difficult criterion to satisfy, and many elements will fail under insulation before they fail under integrity or structural adequacy.  For this reason, insulation is often listed as a lesser value than either integrity or structural adequacy – and requirements such as 120/60/30 are commonly seen.

Fire doors are the most notable, and are often expressed as -/60/30.  This means that they are non-load bearing, so have no requirement for structural adequacy.  And that they must resist having a hole burn in them for 60 minutes, yet need only resist heat passing through them for 30 minutes.  This is because fire doors are generally associated with circulation ways, and it is not likely that there will be combustible goods in contact with the other side of a fire door.

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