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Home Businesses & Access for People with Disabilities

  • September 10, 2013
  • Bruce Bromley

Current Laws

On the 1 May 2011 new laws were introduced to provide greater disabled access within commercial buildings. The Commonwealth Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010 (Premises Standards) has introduced some dramatic changes to accessibility requirements in and around buildings.

The objectives of the Premises Standards are to ensure that ‘dignified, equitable, cost-effective and reasonably achievable access to buildings, and facilities and services within buildings, is provided for people with a disability’. It also aims to give certainty to building certifiers, building developers, building managers and other practitioners that compliance with the Access Code, forming Schedule 1 of the Premises Standards will achieve compliance with Section 23 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1993 (Access to Premises).

The Premises Standards applies to new buildings and existing buildings undergoing building work. The Standard also only applies to buildings of a commercial nature (such as shops, boarding houses, short term accommodation, hotels, factories, schools, hospitals etc). As such, a building used as a normal dwelling is currently not required to have any regard for compliance with the new laws.

‘Changing’ the use of a dwelling

There have been recent cases where owners of houses, units and apartments in which they reside have been inspected by local Council Building Inspectors and enforcement action has been taken by Council to upgrade properties to provide greater levels of occupant safety, amenity and disabled access.

In such cases the trigger has been that the dwelling has undergone a ‘change of use’. From a building regulatory perspective, this means that the building was previously built and generally certified as fit for occupation as a Class 1a dwelling or Class 2 unit/apartment – but the use has since changed.

In Victoria, Councils may take action under Part 8 of the Building Act and reference Building Regulation 1011 which states that ‘a person must not change the use of, or add an additional use to, a building (including part of a building) unless the building complies with the requirements of these Regulations applicable to the new use’. Alternatively, they may also take action under Section 40 of the Building Act that says that a person must not occupy a building in contravention of the current occupancy permit. Other States and Territories have similar legislation.

So what does that mean for Home Businesses?

From a building perspective, if you ‘change the use’ of the property you must get the necessary permits and ensure that dignified and equitable access is provided in accordance with the access provisions of applicable standards.

Some real life examples where a change of use could occur are:

  • Example 1: Class 1a suburban house near a university has four rooms rented out to students. A change of use has occurred to a Class 1b Boarding House. The car parking, entrance path, doorways, facilities in the building including laundry, bathroom and kitchen will need to be upgraded to provide full access. This must be completed under a valid building permit (or development approval depending on which State or Territory you reside in).
  • Example 2: Class 1a townhouse has a front room converted to a home business office.¬†Assuming the office is less than 10% of the floor area there has likely been no trigger for a change of use permit and upgrades are not required (reference: Clauses A3.2 and A3.3 of the Building Code of Australia).
  • Example 3: Class 2 inner city apartment has converted the living and dining areas into a hairdressing salon. It is highly likely the floor area of the hairdressing salon is greater than 10% of the floor area of the original Class 2 apartment, as such, the dwelling would now be seen as a Class 6 salon / Class 2 or 4 dwelling (reference: Clauses A3.2 and A3.3 of the Building Code of Australia). In this case the ‘change of use’ is a trigger for upgrades to be completed under a building approval or permit.

It should be noted that these are only hypothetical scenarios and interpretation of the building regulations would be ultimately at the discretion of the relevant Council / building certifier.

Where Can I Get Help?

Be cautious and check with your local Council if you are considering, or are currently operating a business from home. Not only are there building and access issues to consider (falling under applicable Building legislation), but also Health and Planning permits may be required dependant on the type of home business.

Often this ‘change of use’ may occur inadvertently as a home business grows so making sure you have the right permits and access in place must be considered.