Ask LH: Do I Need Council Approval To Build My Kids A Cubby House?

Dear Lifehacker, I recently read about a guy who got a letter from the council saying that he needed to apply for planning approval of a cubby house that he had built in his backyard over 12 months prior. (Apparently it’s the same deal as with a shed, requiring council approval.) Why is that the case? Why does anyone building anything on their own property need to ask the council for permission? Thanks, Shedding A Tear

Dear SAT,

As far as we know, there are no Federal laws against erecting sheds or cubby houses in your own backyard. There are also no rules specifically relating to cubby/treehouses in the Building Code of Australia. However, council regulations differ widely from state to state and some are more draconian than others.

Take parking your bike on the footpath for example: some councils will happily allow this if the vehicle isn’t obstructing foot traffic, while others impose hefty fines regardless of how much space you left. The same disparity applies to sheds and cubby houses.

In some suburbs, these structures don’t require council permission so long as they adhere to self-assessable guidelines. Other councils require planning/building approval first, which usually relates to safety, potential view-blocking and environmental factors. In other words, you need to check the rules and regulations in your area before building any sort of structure.

Treehouses are a bit different as they require a greater degree of structural planning and may cause privacy issues for nearby residents. You should definitely inform your neighbours before building a treehouse of any sort; especially if it’s anywhere near the fence line. (In fact, it might be worth getting their permission in writing just in case the relationship turns sour.)

You also need to be mindful of any easements or overlays within your property which could prohibit building structures on your land. Council bodies need unobstructed access to these lines for repair purposes, etc. Any easements should be listed on the plans in your purchase contract.

If you do break the rules, in theory you can be ordered to remove the structure. You could also get stuck with the bill if the council decides to send out a structural engineer to do a safety-check. With that said, it’s pretty unlikely that a council inspector would come nosing around your backyard for no reason. As long as you keep your neighbors onside, it shouldn’t be a problem.


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