Patios are a key part of outdoor living in WA and hence a feature of most WA residential properties. Some patios are grandiose affairs costing tens of thousands of dollars and some are very economical structures. Whatever the structure, there are some key issues to consider when buying a residential property in WA.
1 What are we talking about?
A patio is an outdoor space generally used for dining or recreation that adjoins a residence. The focus of this article are those patios that are actually attached to the residence.
2 What are the regulations?
While checking with the local council is important, the general rule is that any structure attached to the house will require council approval. The building permit application process will generally require:
- Formal plans to be prepared
- Engineering sign off
- The structure will need to be built in accordance with the Building Code of Australia and applicable Australian Standards.
In general, all of the above are relatively easily to achieve as long as the builder follows the required steps. That is, of course, if a builder actually constructs the patio. The challenge being that many patios are constructed by property owners or tradesmen who may not be aware of their construction obligations.
3 So what are the issues?
Well-constructed patios add value to a property and provide real benefit to the property occupants over many years when they are constructed well. Sadly we come across a number of patio issues.
3.1 Not constructed to Code
Because patios appear to be relatively simple structures there are many Bunnings warriors who feel that they can simply construct a patio without a building permit. How hard can it be to put some posts in the ground, rafters to the house with some tin on the roof?
The Building Code is there to ensure that these types of structures are structurally sound on both a sunny Sunday afternoon and during the midst of a violent winter storm when appropriate tie downs become absolutely key to ensure you patio does not end up on your neighbour’s roof.
A quality WA Registered Builder can ensure that your patio is built in accordance with the approved building permit and the Building Code. Sadly, these very specific components are not always understood by the weekend warriors (or some tradesmen!)
3.2 Planning approval?
Just because a structure requires planning approval does not mean that planning approval has been obtained. The majority of WA Cities and Shires will only provide copies of building permits to the current owners of a property and in the main these will take two weeks to obtain from the day an application is made. Planning approval documents will almost never be provided to a building inspector undertaking pre-purchase building inspections.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are a significant number of non-approved structures built in the backyards of WA residential properties, built both within and outside of the requirements of the Building Code.
Where a structure has not been built to Code, the majority of structures should be able to be remediated to bring the structure back into code. Where a structure has been built without a building permit, retrospective approval can generally be obtained by following a similar process to the planning approval process, noting that costs including potential remediation costs to bring the structure up to Code may be required.
3.3 Lack of maintenance
Even if a patio has been constructed in accordance with a building permit that does not mean that it has not been maintained such that it has retained its structural integrity. Wood decay, wood rot, weathering, rust and white ants can all have a significant adverse impact on the structure.
The following are some of the issues recently identified during building inspections:
Separation of key timbers
Rafters too far apart
Unsupported roof sheeting
Wood rot to timber posts
Rusting metal stirrups that are no longer providing adequate support
Over span rafters
Rusting structural elements
Severely rusting support posts which no longer provide any support
Rafters which have not been securely fastened to fascia with appropriate brackets
4 The key issue when buying a property with a patio and the WA REIWA pre purchase structural building clause
The key issue with the often used REIWA drafted Australian Standard Pre-purchase structural inspection clause is that it can only be invoked if a structural defect is identified to the property’s residential building. While property buyers should seek their own legal advice, WA lawyers have indicated that this definition will generally exclude patios which are merely attached to a residential building. Bottom line, irrespective of a patio containing structural defects as a result of the original construction or lack of subsequent maintenance or if the patio was built without the required building permit, it is unlikely that the standard REIWA Pre Purchase building inspection clause will provide the buyer with any protection.
When you are looking at a property to purchase, have a very good look at the patio. See if you can identify any potential defects or maintenance issues. Ask the vendor/listing agent if they can warrant that planning approval has been obtained.
Don’t rely on a pre purchase building inspection to determine if planning approval has been obtained as the inspector is not authorised by the property owner to obtain past building permits and in any regard the time frames to obtain past permits is often well outside of the inspection requirements.
Don’t rely on the REIWA drafted Australian Standard Pre-purchase structural inspection clause to provide you with remedies against defective patios. They are more than likely outside of the scope of the standard clause.
A full building inspection on the entire property will at least alert you to construction or maintenance issues with a patio, even if you have to fund remediation costs yourself.