WA – HENDRY building surveyors advise that clients need to know about regulatory compliance of existing buildings.  Clients are continually asking “When does an existing building have to comply with the Building Regulations 1989?  This article describes the process of compliance for existing buildings.

Building control legislation in Western Australia is currently under review, but currently is accommodates this through the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1960, by way of a local government issuing a Building Notice requiring that a building may be upgraded or pulled down and/or the Building Regulations 1989 when additions and/or alterations are proposed and certain elements of the existing building are required to be brought into compliance with the Building Code of Australia (BCA).

The Act
Section 401 of that Act allows a local government to serve a Notice on the owner or builder of a building if they are of the opinion that “…anything, in the construction of the building – which tends to render the building unsafe or prejudicial to the public interest;”

The local government may require the building to be pulled down or altered.

A building may pose a danger to the safety of the public under the Building Regulations 1989 if, as the result of its use, condition and/ or generally its age it requires an improvement by a fire safety upgrade and/or structural adequacy.

This is done under the Building Regulations 1989 by assessing:
1. Whether a building constitutes an unacceptable degree of danger to life; and
2. Assessing the building against life safety expectations which have emerged through technological developments in building control and the current expectations that the community has in relation to public safety.

Buildings may come to the attention of the local government in a number of ways. These include:
1. A letter of complaint from insurance companies requesting certain fire protection measures be provided before renewing an insurance policy.
2. Notification by some other statutory, or governmental, agency.
3. Fire fighters who have been called to a building in the event of fire or a false alarm.
4. The relevant building surveyor noticing the poor condition of the building.
5. A request from the owner or tenant of the building for an assessment of its public safety features.
6. An application to do building works to a building surveyor.
The type of building works that may be undertaken include sprinkler protecting the whole, or part, of a building, providing a fire isolated stairway, providing exit signs and/or emergency lighting, etc.
 
Generally only major items are required to be installed and, in essence, the whole building usually does not have to comply with all of the requirements of the Building Regulations 1989 of the day. 

The owner of the property may be able to negotiate the extent of building works required to be performed under the Building Regulations 1989 Notice. If negotiations are unsuccessful the owner can appeal to the State Administrative Tribunal .

Dangerous buildings
A local government may issue a Notice under Section 403 of the Act on a building on the owner or occupier directing that it be taken down, secured or repaired as the case requires where the state of the building is considered dangerous. Section 406 provides that a court of petty sessions may order the building occupants to leave the building.

Fire Escapes
If a local government is of the opinion that a building is a danger due to the lack of adequate fire escapes Section 413 of the Act permits the local government to serve on the owner a written requisition to install or erect in or on the building fire escapes to the number and specification as detailed in the Notice.
 
The Building Regulations 1989
This is the area of most concern for property managers where alterations are proposed to an existing building under the Building Regulations 1989 .  Internal partition alterations to a building require a building licence to be issued.

Building Regulations 1989, regulation 5(2) states:
“Any alteration, addition, restoration or repair to a building shall conform with these regulations but where the local government is of the opinion that any such work consists only of minor work and does not adversely affect the safety of persons accommodated in or resorting to a building or property in or in the vicinity of a building the local government may determine that the Building Code does not apply in relation to such work and that the work shall confirm to only such of the provisions of the BCA as are specified by the local government.”

It is recommended that, at all times, the relevant local government be consulted with regard to whether a building licence is required for minor works, including maintenance of fire safety equipment/ installations etc under the Building Regulations 1989 .

Building Code of Australia (BCA)
Regulation 5(1) states that the BCA applies to any building that can be classified according to use. The term ‘Building Code’ means the latest edition of the BCA and are the technical provisions under the Building Regulations 1989.