Building and Property
Navigate Up
Sign In

When is a building a vehicle or a building?

This page contains information explaining how we will consider the question "is this a vehicle or a building?"
Updated: 13/06/2019 3:19 p.m.

​There are many instances where the understanding or interpretation of what might be considered to be a vehicle and, therefore, not a building requiring consent, are brought to our attention.

There have been some determinations given by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment on this topic and these have helped form our current guidance and how we will approach our consideration.

Follow the link below to view information from Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on Vehicles and Buildings, including related determinations.

When is a Structure a Vehicle or Building? (Ministry of Business, Innovative and Employment)

The Building Act 2004 in section 8 discusses Building and what it means and includes. Section 8(1)(b)(iii) in particular states that:

  • "a vehicle or motor vehicle (including a vehicle or motor vehicle as defined in section 2(1) of the Land Transport Act 1998) that is immovable and is occupied by people on a permanent or long-term basis", is, therefore, a building.

The Building Act does not define what a vehicle or motor vehicle is, however, if taking a dictionary meaning, a vehicle can be;

  •  A thing with a primary purpose of transporting goods or people
  • Can be powered in some form.

Section 8 of the Building Act 2004 (NZ Legislation)

Vehicle or motor vehicle as defined in section 2(1) of the Land Transport Act 1998: (extract only)

  • Vehicle – (a) means a contrivance equipped with wheels, tracks or revolving runners on which it moves or is moved:…
  • Motor vehicle – (a) means a vehicle which is drawn or propelled by mechanical power: and (b) includes a trailer

Therefore, it cannot be assumed that just because a structure has wheels, it is a vehicle, and therefore, outside the Building Act and its requirements. As stated in section 8(1)(b)(iii) above, if the structure is to be occupied on a permanent or long term basis, it is a building.

To assist with these considerations:

Whether the vehicle is immoveable, the following items will need to be considered, for example:

  • is it attached to the ground and how easily these can be removed
  • is it connected to services and how easily they can be removed
  • has it retained its wheels and the ability to be towed or to move
  • are there other structures such as decks, verandas or additional rooms attached

Whether a vehicle is considered to be occupied on a permanent or long term basis, the following items will need to be considered, for example:

  • Is the intended period of occupancy known?
  • Is there a definite requirement as to the length of occupancy?
  • Is the occupancy intermittent/occasional – like weekends, holidays etc?
  • Is occupation continuous or cyclical?

Please note the above list is not exhaustive but does convey the considerations required. It can also be seen that this is not a simple matter of "add some wheels she’ll be right".

As with all aspects of building and development please arrange a meeting with our staff to ensure that you have good advice about building and planning rules before making any decisions.

As a minimum, council will require a building consent covering items like:

  • ensuring potable water,
  • effluent disposal,
  • rain water treatment to protect people and other property,
  • fire protection of the property and spread of fire to other buildings,
  • ventilation,
  • connection to electricity and or gas supplies.

For your own due diligence and health and safety, you should have your "vehicle" checked by a building professional to ensure that it is fit for the purpose of long term habitation.

The Building Act also outlines in section 14B the responsibilities of owners, which summarised, is to ensure that necessary approvals are sought and work undertaken complies with the building code.

Therefore, if considering whether you project is a vehicle or structure please seek professional guidance, advice from council and consult the ministry’s web site which has reports – determinations – on this topic and decisions made.

Also, building product manufacturers or suppliers have responsibilities under the Building Act which you may wish to consider if thinking about these types of solution.

Section 14A to G of the Building Act 2004 (NZ Legislation)

Note: if building work is undertaken that requires consent the owner may be prosecuted under the Building Act 2004 or you may breach District Planning Rules – therefore you are urged to contact our officers before starting any works that could make you liable.

You may be interested in other similar types of structure and their requirements or our guidance so please check out the following pages for more information:




Whangarei District Council owns this website and the information, images and photographs in it are subject to copyright. No portion may be copied or republished without prior permission of Whangarei District Council. We have made every reasonable effort to provide accurate and reliable information. The use of any information is at the website visitor’s own risk and discretion.