Practical completion, and certificates of occupancy

When your house is more or less finished, there are a couple of important inspections that need to be carried out before you make your final payment and handover can take place. To be clear about the difference between these last inspections:

  1. A practical completion stage inspection is to be carried out by the Principal Certifying Authority (i.e. building surveyor working for your council or a private certifier), to ensure that the house is technically fit to live in. This inspection is required to obtain a ‘Certificate of Occupancy’.
  2. A final inspection / pre-handover inspection is carried out either by yourself or (preferably) an eagle-eyed inspector/consultant acting on your behalf to ensure that you’re getting everything you agreed on in your contract, and that the builder’s workmanship is up to scratch.

What is a ‘practical completion stage inspection’?

This inspection is mandatory, and it’s carried out by the Principal Certifying Authority (i.e. building surveyor working for your council or a private certifier) to assess whether the house has been constructed in a way that ensures that:

  1. it’s safe to occupy
  2. it’s been built in accordance with the Building Code of Australia (BCA) and relevant Australian Standards
  3. the construction adheres to the relevant state building laws.


What does a practical completion stage inspection involve?

The surveyor / certifier will thoroughly inspect the house, and make notes and recommendations if anything that needs to be rectified. What’s inspected (and how it’s inspected) may differ slightly between states, but this stage generally involves ensuring that:

  • roof drainage is properly plumbed
  • handrails and balustrades are completed in accordance with the relevant standards
  • necessary sanitary facilities are all present and working
  • water can’t penetrate the building envelope
  • wet areas have been appropriately waterproofed and tiled / finished
  • smoke detectors are in place and fully operational
  • power is supplied, if it’s necessary for lighting, ventilation or smoke alarms
  • gas piping is connected to any gas cooking appliances, ready for connection to the gas supply
  • the water supply has been properly connected


What is an occupancy permit, or ‘Certificate of Occupancy’?

Once the surveyor's satisfied that the house is finished to a point where it complies with all of the relevant requirements for habitation, he or she will issue what’s known as an ‘Occupancy Certificate’ or a ‘Certificate of Occupancy’.

It’s also important to understand what a Certificate of Occupancy isn’t. While the certificate means that the house is technically fit to live in, it doesn’t mean that you’re entitled to move in at that very moment. The house will remain the responsibility of your builder until the final handover.


What does a Certificate of Occupancy NOT take into account?

To issue a Certificate of Occupancy, the building surveyor only checks that the necessary conditions to deem the house occupiable have been fulfilled. Think of this inspection as ticking off the fundamentals for habitation, rather than the entire list of what makes your home final and complete.

It’s not uncommon at all for certain (very obvious) parts of the house to be unfinished when a Certificate of Occupancy is issued. These might include:

  • floor coverings in non-wet areas (e.g. carpeting, tiling in hallways, floating floors)
  • wall coverings in non-wet areas (e.g. decorative finishes and details, paintwork)
  • interior doors
  • basic fixtures (e.g. towel rails, handles on cupboards, doorbells)
  • appliances (e.g. microwaves, heaters, security systems)