Boarding house conversion – building compliance implication

19 May, 2020 |

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Converting a house into a boarding house is topic we get a lot of queries about, so, we will share some insights here regarding the building compliance issues of conversions.

A few years ago, we were involved in a project where a group of private houses were used as accommodation for overseas students during their study in NZ. These students attended the same school together and lived in cohesion in a family-type environment. In each house there were ten people, including a ‘supervisor’ looking after various household issues.

The arrangement was challenged by Council on the basis that the houses underwent a Change of Use, with a Risk Group Change from SH to SM. This would require a building consent for full fire rating and a system upgrade as SM – which are much higher than for the SH Risk Group. This interpretation, therefore, would have a significant financial implication.

The matter was referred to Determinations – “legally binding decisions made by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) about matters of doubt or dispute to do with building work”.

https://www.building.govt.nz/resolving-problems/resolution-options/determinations/

As a result of this process:

  • The Purpose Group was changed from SH to SR.
  • The Risk Group was determined to be SH, rather than SM.

For low rise buildings that have no more than two levels (one household unit above another), and where each household unit has its own escape route that is independent of all other household units, and that contain only risk group SM, then the requirement of risk group SH shall apply.

  • In essence, it was considered Change of Use, however the rule of SH can be followed (rather than SM) which is a lot more like a usual private house.
  • The case ended up with the house mostly intact but with the requirement to install an inter-connected smoke alarm system.

This scenario, however, does not apply:

  • If the guests are not in social cohesions as in the family-type environment. We had other clients looking at converting their house by renting each room separately to different people. In this case, the total guests are limited to five people to keep the Risk Group status of SH.
  • If the guests are not in social cohesion and there are more than five people in the house – which would mean that both Purpose Group and Risk Group would change. In this instance a significant fire compliance upgrade would be required for the house. This has implications on the internal fire rating, commercial type fire alarm system and an additional external fire rating to cater for the increased fire load and protect neighbouring buildings. THE DESIGNFIRE can help with this type of upgrade project where required.

 

An explanation of the difference between Purpose Group and Risk Group is as follows:

The Building Act has what is called ‘Purpose Group’. This is part of the ‘Building Code’, and it specifies the ‘performance’ requirement.

There are various means to achieve that ‘performance’ requirement. One of the most commonly used methods is to comply by specified compliance means through ‘Acceptable Solutions’. Under Acceptable Solutions, there are ‘Risk Groups’.

Having a separate set of classifications between these documents may be somewhat confusing. In short, Purpose Group is in a higher order of classification, setting out the ‘performance’ requirement. Risk Group is about setting out the ‘solutions’ to meet that performance requirement.

 

There are a few definitions worth noting:

Housing Improvement Regulations 1947

  • boarding house means a house or part of a house, other than licensed premises, in which 5 or more persons other than the occupier and the members of his family are lodged, but with the right of entry by the occupier to any room in which such persons are lodged, and in which the occupier supplies any food to such persons
  • family means any housekeeping unit, whether of 1 or more persons

 

Building Regulation

  • household unit means any building or group of buildings, or part of any building or group of buildings, used or intended to be used solely or principally for residential purposes and occupied or intended to be occupied exclusively as the home or residence of not more than one household; but does not include a hostel or boarding house or other specialised accommodation

2.0 Housing

2.0.1 Applies to buildings or use where there is self care and service (internal management). There are three types:

2.0.2 Detached dwellings

Applies to a building or use where a group of people live as a single household or family. Examples: a holiday cottage, boarding house accommodating fewer than 6 people, dwelling or hut.

 

Fire Compliance Document

Household unit

  • means a building or group of buildings, or part of a building or group of buildings, that is—
    • used, or intended to be used, only or mainly for residential purposes; and
    • occupied, or intended to be occupied, exclusively as the home or residence of not more than 1 household; but
  • does not include a hostel, boarding house, or other specialised accommodation.

 

Risk Group SH

  • Detached dwellings used as boarding houses for fewer than six people (not including members of the residing family).

 

Risk group SM

  • Buildings where more than 5 people pay for accommodation (such as homestay/bed and breakfast)
  • For low rise buildings that have no more than two levels (one household unit above another), and where each household unit has its own escape route that is independent of all other household units, and that contain only risk group SM, then the requirement of risk group SH shall apply.

 

Boarding houses/bed and breakfast2.2.9

As permitted by NZBC A1 2.0.2, a detached dwelling used as a boarding house accommodating up to five people (not including members of the residing family) can be treated as risk group SH (see C/AS1).

 

This conversion story makes it clear that there are complexities and definitions that a property owner may not understand thoroughly. THE DESIGNFIRE team have been working with building compliance issues for over a decade and are well versed at dealing with councils.

If you’d like help in any of these areas on your next project, please get in touch and we can help.

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