When it comes to landscaping work around the home, sometimes it can be difficult to know when you can do-it-yourself and when you need to call in a registered building practitioner. Likewise, it might not always be obvious whether you need a permit, contract or insurance for the work. The information on this page will help clarify these issues.
Landscaping work involves creating, modifying and maintaining outdoor spaces. It incorporates:
- botanical elements (such as lawns, plants and trees)
- natural elements (such as the shape and elevation of the land)
- hardscapes (such as constructed pathways, decks and water features).
When you need a registered building practitioner
Some landscaping work must only be undertaken by a registered building practitioner, while for other landscaping work this is not legally required. However, even when a registered building practitioner is not legally required, you may feel more confident using a practitioner who holds a suitable VBA registration.
You must engage an appropriately registered building practitioner when:
- the contract price of the works is over $10,000, and
- the work is domestic building work.
Landscaping work is considered domestic building work when it is carried out in association with:
- the erection or construction of a home
- the renovation, alteration, extension, improvement or repair of a home
- the construction of a building that requires a building permit and is on land zoned for residential purposes.
The following examples of landscaping work are not generally considered domestic building work when carried out under a contract limited only to these works:
- planting trees, shrubs, lawns and other vegetation
- ornamental ponds and water features
- outdoor furniture, sculptures, garden beds and borders
- cubby houses and play equipment
- driveways and paving.
This means a registered building practitioner is legally not required for those works, regardless of the contract price.
The following examples of landscaping work are generally considered domestic building work:
- pergolas attached to your home
- decks associated with your home
- retaining structures
- fencing (which requires a building permit).
Even when only a small component of the landscaping work incorporates domestic building work and the contract price is over $10,000, you will need to engage an appropriately registered building practitioner.
These examples illustrate when you must use a registered building practitioner, or when it is not legally required.
You are building a small fence and the cost of the fence is $6000. Fences are generally domestic building work. However, you are not required to use a registered building practitioner in this case as the contact price does not exceed $10,000.
You are building a pergola attached to your home and the contract price is $12,000. A pergola attached to your home is domestic building work. Given the contract price is over $10,000, you are required to use a registered building practitioner.
You are planting some expensive palm trees and the contract price is $20,000. You are not doing any other work. As planting alone is not considered domestic building work, you are not required to use a registered building practitioner.
You require a small deck to be built (attached to your home) and at the same time you require lawn to be planted. You want one person to do all the work and receive the below quote from a landscaper:
- Lawn: $9000
Even though only a small component of the job (the deck) is domestic building work, you are required to use a registered building practitioner because the total contract price exceeds $10,000.
Registered building practitioners who specialise in landscaping
The following registered building practitioners have specialist expertise relevant to landscaping work:
- Domestic Builder (Limited to the construction of structural landscaping)
- Domestic Builder (Limited to the construction of gates and fences)
- Domestic Builder (Limited to the construction of retaining walls)
- Domestic Builder (Limited to the construction of non-habitable building structures) – this includes private garages and carports, sheds, cabanas, gazebos and shade structures
- Domestic Builder (Limited to the construction of shade structures)
- Domestic Builder (Limited to earthworks and excavation work) – required for large scale excavations.
You can use our Find a practitioner register to locate registered building practitioners in your suburb.
When you need a building permit
The following information provides guidance for whether a building permit is needed for common landscaping jobs. For complex projects or confirmation of all the requirements relevant to your circumstances, seek advice from your local council or contact us. Find out more at Planning and building permits.
Decks are outdoor living spaces. They can be attached to a dwelling or swimming pool, or can be freestanding. Decks typically use a structural subfloor (a supportive structure designed to bear weight) and a building permit is required.
Timber slats laid directly on a surface (such as concrete or soil) are generally not considered a deck because no supportive structure is in place.
There can be some complexity when defining what a deck is and therefore if a building permit is required.
If you are building something that could be considered a deck, you should seek advice from your local council or contact us.
A verandah is a roofed structure typically attached to a home.
Verandahs require a building permit.
A pergola is an open structure that is unroofed. It may have a covering of open-weave, permeable material. A pergola does not require a building permit, provided it:
- is not more than 3.6m in height, and
- is not more than 20m2 in floor area, and
- satisfies the siting requirements (placement on the allotment), which are set out in the Building Regulations 2018 (Schedule 3).
If constructing a larger pergola, you will require a building permit.
For more detailed information see our practice note: When is a building permit required?
These structures are usually free standing and have a roof. A building permit is usually required.
An exemption applies for very small structures where used as a non-habitable building (less than 10m2).
For more detailed information see our practice note: When is a building permit required?
A building permit is required for all retaining walls that are:
- constructed on or near site boundaries where there is a risk of damage to the adjoining property, and/or
- 1m or more in height.
Small retaining walls that do not meet this definition may not require a building permit. For confirmation, seek advice from your local council or contact us.
Where external stairs and ramps are built in conjunction with the construction, renovation, alteration, extension or improvement of a home, they will typically require a building permit.
External stairs and ramps may not require a building permit where they are independent to a retaining wall or dwelling (for example, stairs or ramps in a garden). Determining whether a building permit is required for stairs and ramps can be complex – for confirmation, seek advice from your local council or contact us.
A building permit is not required for constructing a driveway or laying paving. However, because there is a risk that incorrectly laid paving can cause water damage to your house, it is a good idea to use a registered building practitioner for this work.
You should be aware that in some cases driveways or paving work may interfere with plumbing work (such as drainage). Be mindful of whether the proposed work impacts or redirects water flow. You can seek advice from your local council or water authority about specific requirements in your suburb.
Cubby houses and play equipment used for children's play do not require a building permit.
However, a structure with a different purpose (such as to accommodate sleeping) would need a permit.
Ornamental ponds and water features do not require a building permit – provided the intended use is ornamental only. If connection to mains water or a drain is required, this is plumbing work and you will require a licensed plumber.
Ornamental ponds and water features have different requirements to swimming pools and spas, which require a safety barrier and building permit.
Be aware that any structure containing water may pose a risk of drowning – even if a safety barrier is not legally required.
You do not require a building permit to undertake this work.
A building permit is required for most fences. Exemptions apply to some fences, for example:
- a timber side or rear boundary fence not more than 2m high and not more than 1.5m when within 3m of a boundary on a street
- a chain-wire tennis court fence.
For more information on when building permit is not required, see our practice note: When is a building permit required? (PDF, 336.31 KB)
When you need a contract
If the contract price of the domestic building work is over $10,000 then a major domestic building contract is required and you must use a registered building practitioner.
Where landscaping work is to be carried out in stages under separate contracts, the initial agreement and subsequent contracts are considered a single contract for the purpose of the Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995.
For further information on contractual requirements, visit Consumer Affairs Victoria.
When the cost of the domestic building work is more than $16,000, domestic building insurance must be provided. Find out more at Insurance for building and plumbing work.
Be very careful with all landscaping work if you have a swimming pool or spa.
Different types of landscaping work (including planting trees, shrubs and paving) can make swimming pool and spa barriers non-compliant and unsafe.
This is a critical safety consideration for any landscaping work done close to a swimming pool barrier. If you have a swimming pool or spa that may be affected by landscaping work, you should seek advice from a suitable registered building practitioner, your local council or contact us.
For more information on safety barriers, see Swimming pools and spas.