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Granny Flat Zoning – Councils Rules in One Place

If you are thinking about building a granny flat, first you will need to find out some details about your property. Knowing your zoning is a big part of whether your granny flat will be approved. So, what are the zoning rules for a granny flat?


The general regulation is that your block of land must be in a residential zone. Unless this zone is specified otherwise by your local Council, your proposed development will not be approved.


Today I will cover these zoning rules and if they can be altered or refuted with Council.


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I will provide examples of zoning for granny flats. And why Emu Plains in NSW does not allow granny flats. Plus why this is important no matter where you are in Australia.


Can Zoning Be Altered or Refuted with Council?


Zoning is the legally allowed and disallowed uses for land, determining if it can be used for purposes such as:


  • Residential
  • Commercial
  • Industrial, or
  • Agricultural.


In other words, it determines what can/cannot be built on a block of land. The residential code for zoning was put in place to streamline the planning approval process for developments such as granny flats.


So, private certifiers in addition to local Councils’ may assess and approve your proposed development.


For information on both:


  • Development Approval (approval through Council) and
  • Complying Development (a simplified approval process by hiring a private certifier)


It is worth reading over my detailed analysis for the council approval process regarding granny flats.


Increasing prices in the housing market has led to changes in lifestyles and housing preferences. Along with a growing population, this means there is a constant demand for:


  • More available housing.
  • More affordable housing.
  • Various types of housing.


The planning approval system is regularly reviewed by your local Council to create the housing supply to meet these needs. So, you should always review your local Councils’ planning scheme.


It is always worth consulting your local Councils’ planning department about the regulations that are specific to you.


A phone call is all it takes, and the worst they can say is no.


A Council or private certifer, at their discretion, may accept one or more minor variations from what classifies as a complying development.


If your application meets all criteria except for:


  • One variation, which the council or private certifier does not accept as minor, only Council may undertake a ‘limited assessment’.
  • They may assess that one variation on “merit” against the relevant development plan.


A Council is likely to be more lenient in some areas, such as rural. However this is no guarantee and again is up to your local council.


Examples of Zoning for Granny Flats Within a City


I wanted to use Brisbane granny flat rules as an example of how zoning works.


This is because they can be strict and understanding how this QLD city deals with granny flats will shed light on how you may be impacted in your local area as well.


Brisbane City Council established the Brisbane City Plan 2014 (also known as “City Plan”), alongside the community.


This controls how land in Brisbane can be used and developed, in order to:


  • Aid the growth of the population, so support developments and building up their city.
  • Preserve their way of life and the qualities of their suburbs.


It also has a straightforward, uncomplicated, quick and easy process for Complying Development assessment.


The City Plan includes residential zoning, the aim of which is to:


  • Provide a variety of housing choices to meet community needs into the future.
  • Intended development types include granny flats, duplexes, townhouses, villas, apartments, retirement villages, and more.


The City Plan divides residential land into the zones below to identify where different developments are allowed.


Granny flats are allowed to be built on the these zones:


  • Character residential.
  • Low density residential.
  • Low-medium density residential.
  • Medium density residential.
  • Rural.


They are not allowed to be built on the following zones:


  • High density residential.
  • Tourist accommodation.
  • Emerging community.


They are allowed to be built on the below zones, conditions permitting:


  • Rural residential – Granny flats allowed on large lots.
  • Township – Granny flats allowed in a small coastal or rural settlement.
  • Environmental management – Granny flats allowed, appropriately sited to respect environmental values.


For more information on Brisbane City’s Residential Zones, view their Fact Sheet here.


Why Emu Plains, NSW, Does Not Allow Granny Flats


As with the example of Brisbane above, Emu Plains is another interesting example when it comes down to zoning.


Emu Plains is a residential area, whose local Council is Penrith Council, New South Wales.


However, the area is a high-risk flood zone for secondary dwellings.


Although at times it is possible to build in a flood zone, if you can demonstrate that:


  • Your proposed development meets the flood protection standards of the relevant development plan.


There are much stricter rules for building any form of structure in a flood zone. As human lives are at risk.


Due to this the Penrith Council has put a limit on the number of people that are able to live in Emu Plains. They have applied a limit to the population so that if flooding occurs, they have the necessary means to evacuate.


This is commonly known as the Emu Plains “flood evacuation area”. Hence many people have tried to get approval for a granny flat and failed.


Will Zoning for Granny Flats Change?


At this stage, No. Complying development was put in place to simplify the planning approval process for granny flats.


This means that there are a standard set of regulations per state, so your granny flat can be:


  • Approved by a private certifier if it meets these standards, and Council does not need to get involved.


The residential code is a major factor of complying development and is not being looked at being changed any time soon.


Will the Use of Granny Flats Change in VIC, SA, and QLD?


Yes – homeowners in Victoria, South Australia and Queensland will be happy to know this is being investigated to be changed by 2021.


Currently, granny flats can be rented out in:


  • NSW
  • TAS
  • WA
  • NT, and the
  • ACT.


So, they can be used to earn rent.


However, this is not permitted in:


  • VIC (where a granny flat is known as a “Dependant Person’s Unit”)
  • SA (where a granny flat is called “Dependant Accomodation”), or
  • QLD.


These states currently only allow the occupants of granny flats to be related to members of the main home, or otherwise be used:


  • As a home office, or
  • Guest house.


However, soon they may be able to be occupied by tenants that are not dependent on those in the primary dwelling.




When planning to build a granny flat, you must take into consideration your the zoning of your property. This is a big factor into whether you will gain the necessary approval for your proposed development or not.


What is known as a “residential code for zoning” was put into place to:


  • Simplify the approval process for common developments such as granny flats.


The general regulation is that your block of land must be in residential zone, unless specified otherwise by your local Council. As such, I suggest you contact your local Council for the regulations that are specific for your area.


These are regularly reviewed so it is worth giving them a call and asking to speak to the Planning Department. The residential code is a major factor of complying development, which streamlines the approval process for your state.


As a result of complying development, you now have two options to get your granny flat approved:


  • A private certifier.
  • Your local Council.


Complying development basically aims to:


  • Support the building of developments such as granny flats.
  • Assist the growing population and their need for more affordable, different types of housing.
  • Protect the character of the neighbourhood.


The residential code does not apply in certain restricted areas, such as flood-prone areas. For example, Emu Plains local Council in Penrith, NSW, is a high-risk flood zone.


As such, they have limited the number of people that are able to live in Emu Plains so if it floods, they are able to evacuate. Although it is a residential area, many people have applied for Development Approval to build a granny flat there, unsuccessfully.


For similar reasons, the residential code may also not apply to other areas such as:


  • Heritage sites.
  • Conservation areas.
  • Bush-fire prone land.
  • Etc.


But the residential code is a major part of complying development, which makes the approval process for granny flats quicker and easier. As such, it is not going to be altered any time soon.


But homeowners in VIC, SA and QLD will be happy to know that the regulations for the use of granny flats is:


  • Being investigated to be changed by 2021.


As currently granny flats can only be rented out in:


  • NSW
  • TAS
  • WA
  • NT, and the
  • ACT.


In VIC, SA and QLD, granny flats are not able to be used to earn rent. These states only allow:


  • Occupants of granny flats to be dependant on members of the primary dwelling,


  • The granny flat to be used as a home office or guest house.


Soon, they may be occupied by tenants that are not related to members of the main home.


I hope this article acts as a summary to understand zoning for granny flats. It helps you make a decision that works best for you, your family and your land.