AUST – HENDRY building surveyors advise that Occupiers of buildings (mostly tenants) typically want to change their tenancies by either altering the building or their partitioning layout. Depending on lease requirements pertinent to building regulation and planning control, occupiers must obtain the owner’s/ manager’s approval before applying for approvals, commencing work or affecting an essential safety measure under the building regulations.

This is where the owner and occupier’s troubles commence. A lot of owners and their representatives cause a fire safety upgrade from an authority to occur because they do not pay sufficient attention to the house rules, even when they exist. This basically means the occupier has a free hand to communicate with consultants, controlling authorities and contractors as they see fit, and sometimes ignoring the building regulations.

An occupier has the potential to cause significant financial grief for the owner of a property by not appreciating the statutory requirements applicable to a building when initiating an application for a construction approval, or they commence building works or changing the use of a building. Sometimes a tenant gains an advantage by ignoring these requirements.

One area of major concern in the building regulations for the owner and the occupier is when proposed alterations exceed more than 50 per cent by volume or where the building has fire safety deficiencies, such issues can trigger a requirement for the whole building to comply with all the current building regulations (the whole of the Building Code of Australia (BCA). The Victorian building regulations stipulate a three year period, other states have no time limits applicable. Some building surveyors include simple partition changes in the volume calculations, while other building surveyors only calculate the volume associated with a refurbishment which includes significant modifications to services.

If an occupier is authorised to approach a building surveyor for a construction approval and the “combined” alterations (other occupiers alterations are aggregated) exceed 50 per cent by volume, then the building surveyor may require the whole building to comply with today’s regulations.

If a building surveyor is forced to upgrade an existing building which has inadequate fire life safety measures, then this can be very costly, especially when lease restraints and other occupiers are involved. The proposed works may even have to be abandoned.

This generally leads to two significant problems for the owner. Firstly the occupier is obviously very unhappy (may be a new occupier trying to renovate to move in) and secondly the municipal building surveyor is made aware of the situation if the application for a construction approval is withdrawn.

If the original application was made directly to the council then the municipal building surveyor will already be aware that the building lacks significant life safety measures, but if the application is made to a private building surveyor (certifier) then legislation requires the certifier to refer “dangerous buildings” to the council for their adjudication or at least require the building surveyor to determine the adequacy of the buildings fire safety measures in assessing the application.

When a building surveyor is assessing a construction approval application and believes the building is unsafe or hazardous for the occupiers, regardless of the extent of the alterations, then the building surveyor has a responsibility to advise the council in writing if the application does not include the whole building to be brought into compliance with today’s regulations. The building in question probably complied when it was built, but lacks a number of the essential Building Code of Australia life safety provisions that make a building safe to occupy under today’s standards.