When does the approved use of a building change for an occupancy permit?

Image courtesy of Tree Hugger

The Building Regulations in Victoria provide little guidance as to what this actually means. Regulation 1011 states:

“A person must not change the use of a building or place of public entertainment unless the building or place of public entertainment complies with the requirements of these Regulations applicable to the new use.”

Many Private Building Surveyors have been interpreting this clause using application of Regulation 112 Classification of Buildings. This limits interpretation of use as defined to the range of generic uses in the BCA classification system. This is not what 1011 says at all!

BDC recently got “caught out” on a project with just this interpretation of 1011. The existing building was a low care hostel used as an aged care facility. The facility had then been leased to a Commonwealth funded agency who wanted to use the building as a hostel for transitional housing of recent immigrants. We had advised the client based on the application of the BCA classification, only to come across an “old school” Municipal Building Surevyor at the Council, who had lived through the old Victoria Building Regulations 1983 (VBR’s). The VBR’s had a clause in them about a change of use within a (BCA) classification. Prior to July 1994 this clause had provided enough guidance to building surveyors so as  to not interpret the use provision as related to BCA classification only.

So how narrowly should use be interpreted? A better guide is probably to look to the town planning legislation where use is far more narrowly interpreted and applied. So, for example, changing the use of a factory from metal fabrication to plastic injection moulding is a change of use (within a classification!) The fire safety issues are potentially significantly different for both.

The implication of this approach if applied rigorously and consistently is that buildings will be assessed more frequently against the latest BCA requirements. Ironically, the effect is often marginal in terms of fire safety. The BCA DTS provisions are based on the BCA classifications. So as a public policy tool for improving our building stock Reg 1011 works in theory, but in their implementation the “change of use” provisions have not been so successful!

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