Resident stunned as neighbour builds home ON boundary line: ‘Is this legal?’

The need for more housing is a major issue, but Aussies are divided over this building practice.

A seemingly growing trend of homes being squeezed together like sardines is being noticed more and more in Australia as governments find ways to fit more people into a limited supply of land around our biggest cities.

Known as zero-boundary lot homes, properties are increasingly being built to "maximise space" and go close to, or right up to, the edge of the boundary line. Despite its apparent benefits, the practice is confusing and frustrating many homeowners, with some residents in NSW describing the move to all but abandon the yard as "nonsense".

One NSW resident has asked if their neighbour's build, pictured below, is "legal" after they built their home right onto the retaining wall and fence that divides the property. "Is this legal?" they asked in a post alongside an image of the building blending into the fence.

Image shows a home in NSW that was built right up to the dividing fence.
Pictured, one Aussie was unimpressed with their neighbour for leaving no space between the fence and home but zero-boundary-lot homes are permitted in certain councils. Source: Facebook

After sharing the post with a building community online, people responded by sharing their own experiences — with some saying this kind of practice is normal, considering the desperate need for more housing.

"Yep, zero boundary. Just got one through council," one person responded. "Drop edge slab on zero boundary block. Welcome to Sydney," another responded.

Others warned that they should check with their local council about the gutters to make sure they are not overhanging the boundary line.

"Wall might be fine but if their gutters are overhanging your property it is certainly illegal. Make a complaint to the council and they have to fix it," a person encouraged. "This zero lot business around Sydney is absolute nonsense — they are just creating issues between neighbours. It is a ridiculous thing and needs to be stopped," one resident complained.

So, is building a house right up to the dividing fence allowed?

In NSW, while local and state legal frameworks guide how much space must be left between homes, building a zero-lot home is allowed in certain zones if the development application is approved by the relevant council.

Local environment plans (LEPs) — which are usually prepared by the local council — determine how certain land can be used by putting it in a particular zone, for example, if it can be used for residential purposes. It also sets out the development guidelines, such as maximum building height.

"The legal regulatory framework that drives a lot of planning controls is often interpreted as an entry point for discussion in many ways," planning expert from Macquarie University, Professor Peter Davies told Yahoo News Australia. "And that's really what it's not meant to be. Local environment plans are meant to have a much harder planning focus, but time and time again, you to sort of see that degree of compromise within that development application assessment process."

The downside to losing boundary space around the home

Residential buildings are not only getting closer together but are getting bigger and "creeping forward" over the years — leaving less room for tree cover and greenery. "The area of the front garden has reduced by more than 40 per cent," Davies revealed. "It has absolutely decimated our canopy in that area."

Sydney's house sizes are amongst the largest in the world with a focus on "maximising the house almost with complete disregard to the setting in which the house is positioned and the landscape ... You end up in this sort of incremental loss of trees," Davies lamented.

"We're creating this sort of compounding problem, which not only relates to housing density and congestion, but also, counter-intuitively, we're losing that capacity to achieve that 40 per cent canopy cover, which helps keep things cool, keeps things green — and we know people are psychologically better off in greener suburbs."

Images of homes built in Austral, NSW with no or limited space between.
Austral in Sydney is part of the South West Growth Area. Source: Reddit

Divide over new development 'cramming' homes together

A newly-developed suburb in southwest Sydney was called out online on Tuesday for "sticking homes so close they barely have space between them". "There's no front yard. There's also no privacy and sometimes [no] noise isolation," a resident said of the houses in one Austral street.

Aussies were divided on whether they agreed with the complaint though, with some arguing townhouses and skinny houses have been around for many years. "They’re great and are allowing higher density and walkable neighbourhoods," one person said. "There is nothing new about townhouses, row houses, terraces or even just skinny houses," agreed another.

Others argued it was developers trying to "cram" as many houses in a spot as possible. "It's so they can cram as many overpriced, jumbo-sized McMansions on the available land space as possible," they said.

Austral and Leppington North were zoned by the NSW Government as part of the "South West Growth Area". The suburbs fall within the Liverpool and Camden Local Government Areas and are set to accommodate at least 17,350 homes once developed, according to Liverpool City Council.

These "priority growth areas" are being built to help "provide new homes in the southwest of Sydney" that are close to jobs and amenities.

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