WA – Hendry advise building owners, developers and managers who are intending to change the use of a building, or part of a building, from one Class to another will need to observe the requirements of the Building Regulations 1989 and the Building Surveyor. A typical example of this is where a provider of an aged care facility wants to change the use of an existing hostel and/or nursing home to the new 9c aged care building classification. This new classification has been created to permit residents to remain within the one facility as they move from low (hostel type) to high (nursing home) levels of care.

Before embarking on the change of use it is wise to commission a private building surveyor to prepare a feasibility study in order to assess the practicality of such a change of use and the likelihood of the relevant local government approving any request for such a change. In most cases remedial building works will be required, for example, the installation of a sprinkler system. Such building works are expensive and must be carefully considered when deciding whether, or not, to upgrade an existing facility. Before you go ahead and the change the use or occupation it will be necessary to contact the building surveyor in the relevant local government authority and make a written request for a new Certificate of Classification to be issued for the proposed building usage. The Council Building Surveyor will require verification that the building, or part, will comply with the Building Code of Australia (BCA) for the proposed BCA classification.

The Building Surveyor can be satisfied in two ways:

  1. Carry out a BCA Audit of the building to determine its suitability for the proposed usage; or
  2. Commission, or request, a private building surveyor to audit the building and prepare a suitable report.

The latter option is likely to be preferable for most authorities due to the current high workload experienced by municipal building surveyors in these building boom times.

A private building surveyor should inspect all visible features of the building, verify the suitability and adequateness of fire and smoke separation and other significant fire safety requirements and identify all non compliant features in their report indicating what remedial action might be appropriate in order to rectify the non compliant construction. They should also request certification, inspection and/ or reports from designers and contractors in connection with the suitability of active fire safety features where this is practical and feasible.

It is, of course, difficult to verify accurately the inherent compliance of existing buildings due to limited access and visibility of building features. A building surveyor will be required to use professional judgement when determining what investigations are warranted and assessing the adequateness of various features when performing a BCA Audit for a change of use of a building. Where a local government approved the proposed use it will revoke any existing Certificate of Classification and issue a new one reflecting the proposed usage.

It is an offence to change the use without approval under the Building Regulations and may attract a $5000 fine coupled with an additional daily penalty incurred for each day during which the offence continues.