Check your new home for unauthorised structures before buying or selling

When you are buying or selling a home it’s highly advisable to make sure that any additions or alterations to the dwelling have been properly authorized by the local shire or council.

You might be surprised how often this is not properly done and just how many homes have unauthorized structures as a part of the property.

Most often these are patios or verandahs but they can be more substantial matters such as the addition of a conservatory, workshop, garage or extra bedroom.

Local authorities have good reasons to design and apply the laws around building and construction and most often this is to do with safety.

Such laws and regulations are important for legal reasons as well as for personal injury and insurance reasons along with safety measures around fire, electricity and structural soundness.

If you are selling, the listing agent will ask you if you are aware of any unauthorized structures or additions to the property. It’s important that you answer truthfully to avoid potential legal problems down the track. The contract for sale might come unstuck if the buyer finds that the property is not in order.

As a seller, if you are aware of unapproved structures you can either remedy those before listing the property for sale or disclose them to potential buyers to avoid any misleading conduct.

Remedies might include removing or making good the structures or seeking retrospective approval from the Council. This latter option is not always available so you will need to check with your local authority.

Alternatively, if the unauthorized structures are made known to potential buyers, dealing with these might form part of the negotiations in settling on an agreed price and sale conditions.

For example, a buyer might make an offer subject to the unlawful patio being removed or the recent carport being retrospectively approved by Council.

As a buyer you have the right to ask about any unauthorised structures and the agent is obliged to answer truthfully based on the information they have been provided by the owner.

Perhaps more importantly, as a buyer you have the right to include a building inspection as a condition of your offer and acceptance.

A building inspector can give a written report on the state of the dwelling you are considering buying including such things as structural soundness, rising damp, appropriate guttering and the quality of any additions or alterations.

You can also check with the local council to ensure that additions or alterations have been properly approved.

While buyers may accept the sale with the unauthorised structure, it’s important that any modifications or additions to the dwelling are legally approved to ensure the safety of the occupants and to protect you from liability.

David Airey is president of the Real Estate Institute of Western Australia. This article was originally published on

David Airey

David Airey

David Airey is president of the Real Estate Institute of Western Australia.

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