VIC – Hendry advise that moving into a recently built house or apartment before an occupancy permit is issued is an offence under the Building Act 1993.  Occupants need to ensure they have an occupancy permit in hand issued by their building surveyor, otherwise they risk not only being prosecuted but also their safety.  Building Commissioner, Tony Arnel, said “occupancy permits are documents that signify a building surveyor is satisfied and has approved a building as being suitable for occupation”.

“An occupancy permit is issued when a building is ‘suitable to occupy’ from a safety point of view. It is not a statement that all the building work under the building permit is necessarily complete and isn’t a certificate stating that all building work complies with the relevant legislation,” Mr Arnel said.

“Building surveyors are responsible for ensuring a building is safe and liveable and for issuing an occupancy permit. The Building Act 1993 requires the issue of occupancy permit prior to occupation of a building. It is an offence to occupy a new home that does not have an occupancy permit”.

Anyone found to be occupying a building that has not been issued with an occupancy permit can be prosecuted. An application for an occupancy permit is made to the building surveyor who issued the building permit. In deciding whether to issue an occupancy permit, the building surveyor may request certificates or statements from various practitioners involved in the building’s construction to confirm that the work complies with relevant building legislation. Mr Arnel adds that building work for a new home (including units or apartments) will always require an occupancy permit.

Victoria’s building legislation is among the best in the world and the Building Commission wants to keep it that way. This means that an occupancy permit is only issued when every item that can affect safety is in place and fully operational, such as the water supply; smoke alarms, alarm systems, handrails and balustrades. However, it does not mean all the painting is done, carpet’s laid or all the fittings have been installed.

In a high-rise apartment, in addition to an apartment being suitable to occupy, an occupancy permit means that the common areas have been made safe, but they may not have been completed. This means that scaffolding may still be in use and that parts of the common areas may be some time away from being usable.

The Building Commission suggests that consumers buying apartments from developers obtain legal advice to ensure they understand when settlement will occur, and whether it is tied to the issuing of an occupancy permit or the final inspection under the Building Act 1993, or simply obtain advice from the registered building surveyor.

A building permit will state whether you require either an occupancy permit or a certificate of final inspection prior to occupation.