3 Storey Houses in Brisbane – A Guide

With recent changes to the way three storey houses are assessed under Brisbane City Plan at the end of 2016 we thought we would provide detail process of how we would determine whether a house requires assessment (or how you can avoid assessment). This information has only regard to storeys, not building height which are similar but different issues from a planning perspective.


 Step 1: Defining what is a storey

You will firstly need to understand the legislative defintions of what actually constitutes a storey

A storey is currently defined as:

(a) means a space within a building between 2 floor levels, or a floor level and a ceiling or roof, other than—

(i) a space containing only a lift shaft, stairway or meter room; or

(ii) a space containing only a bathroom, shower room, laundry, toilet or other sanitary compartment; or

(iii) a space containing only a combination of the things stated in subparagraph (i) or (ii); or

(iv) a basement with a ceiling that is not more than 1m above ground level; and

(b) includes—

(i) a mezzanine; and

(ii) a roofed structure that is on, or part of, a rooftop, if the structure does not only accommodate building plant and equipment.


Further definitions to understand:

Basement means a space—

(a) between a floor level in a building and the floor level that is immediately below it; and

(b) no part of which is more than 1m above ground level.


Ground level means—

(a) the level of the natural ground; or

(b) if the level of the natural ground has changed, the level lawfully changed. 

Editor’s note—Section 1.7.5 provides that for the purpose of the definition of ground level in Schedule 1, the level of the natural ground is deemed to have been lawfully changed if the level of the natural ground level is the prescribed level.


In summary, you can have a building that appears as three storeys, but if one level meets the above criteria in bold, it is not considered a storey.


  • 2 storeys + a basement level which does not protrude more than 1m above the defined natural ground level would not require a DA
  • 2 storeys + ground floor bathroom, laundry and stairway would not require a DA
  • 2 storeys + above ground garage = 3 storeys and would require a DA

It is important to note that you will still need to be below 9.5m and meet all other acceptable outcomes of the dwelling house and dwelling house small lot codes.


Step 2: Assess for Code Compliance

So using the above definitions you should know whether your house has or is being designed to be two or three storeys.  Now if you are at three storeys you will need to have your private urban planner assess against the dwelling house code (or dwelling house small lot code where applicable).

Specifically for building’s storeys, we refer to Acceptable Outcome AO2 below


Development in the Low density residential zone, Character residential zone, 2 storey mix zone precinct of the Low–medium density residential zone, 2 or 3 storey mix zone precinct of the Low–medium density residential zone, Rural residential zone, Environmental management zone, Rural zone or Emerging community zone results in a maximum building height of 9.5m and:

(a) 2 storeys; or

(b) 1 storey if the development also includes a space that is situated between one floor level and the floor level next above, or if there is no floor above, the ceiling or roof above that contains only a bathroom, shower room, laundry, water closet, or other sanitary compartment.

The acceptable outcome clearly states that a dwelling house should not exceed 2 storeys where within Low density residential zone, Character residential zone, 2 storey mix zone precinct of the Low–medium density residential zone, 2 or 3 storey mix zone precinct of the Low–medium density residential zone, Rural residential zone, Environmental management zone, Rural zone or Emerging community zone.

It should be clear by this point as to whether you will require a development application. Non compliance with the above will result in your private urban planner justifying the proposal against the below performance outcome PO2.


Development has a building height that:

(a) does not unduly overshadow adjoining dwelling houses and their associated private open space in terms of access to sunlight and daylight – to be demonstrated through shadow diagrams

(b) is consistent with the building height of dwelling houses prevailing in the immediate vicinity, meaning the building height of the majority (more than 50%) of all the dwelling houses in the same zone as the subject site and within 35m of any point of the street frontage of the subject site – to be demonstrated though mapping

(c) contains a 3 storey component only where necessary to enable a predominately 2 storey dwelling to address the local circumstances of topography (refer to below Figure); – to be demonstrated through a section and elevation plan

(d) may be higher than adjoining properties only to the extent required to achieve the minimum habitable floor levels required for flood immunity – only applicable to flood affected properties.

Do you own a Widow Block?

Widow blocks are present throughout Brisbane and are considered to be a historical relic of World War I.

They are identifiable as a rectangular allotment which has been subdivided diagonally, resulting in two triangular portions.  As a result the rear allotment does not have a street frontage.

But why would anyone want this?

It is said that WWI soldiers split their blocks diagonally, with the rear allotment in their wives’ names preventing them from selling the house whilst they were away.

The other storey is that the Brisbane Lord Mayor of 1940 – 1952 had an aversion to small lots and amalgamated the lots Council had acquired during the great depression due to rate arrears (Credit to: Paul McClelland)

If you own a widow block, also known as a widow splitter, it may be possible to realign these boundaries to achieve two street fronting allotments, which then can be sold!

Talk to your local Council or private town planner for more site specific advice.

What is RiskSMART?

How to get a quick approval.

RiskSMART is a fast-track application process utilised by Queensland Council’s to speed up the development application process for low risk and simple projects.

Urban Planners Queensland is RiskSMART accredited by Brisbane City Council to assess development applications on their behalf.

Once an application is lodged by UPQ with Council, the proposal goes through the fast-track team and is stamped approved within 1 working week.

On top of Council’s commitment to a quick approval you will be offered 20% off their application fees!

This process is perfect for property owners who want to build a new house, undertake house extensions or subdivide their land and want a guaranteed approval in the shortest possible time.

Speak to your Brisbane town planner early on to determine whether your project qualifies for RiskSMART.
Urban Planners Queensland, Director, Jessica Reynolds has been an RiskSMART accredited urban planning consultant since 2014 and continually delivers quality town planning approvals to our clients on a regular basis.

You can contact her via email: Jessica@upqld.com.au or mobile: 0410 175 887


Subdivision Application Requirements

What do you need to lodge a DA involving subdivision?

Undertaking a development application is a lot more fun when you know upfront the documentation you will require! Each subdivision site will have its nuances and there will be slight variances to the below but this should help you get started. If ever in doubt call your local Council or a private town planner.

Survey Plan

Whilst some applicants will create a subdivision plan in CAD from basic mapping data, it is highly recommended that you initially obtain a formal survey of the site. The surveyor can identify the location of services, the formal property boundaries and the current site contours. Whilst an upfront cost, using this service can avoid future complications and speed the process up post development approval!

Plan of Subdivision

The plan of subdivision should identify the existing allotment, future property boundaries, new allotment areas and any new roads. This is the plan Council’s development assessment team will stamp approved. This plan can be prepared by a surveyor or a draftsperson.

Town Planning Report

The town planning report will cover all the assessable components of the proposal as well as provide an assessment against the local and State legislation. The planning report will also be inclusive of State and local Council lodgement forms.

Legal Point of Discharge

Every subdivision application should identify the proposed legal point of discharge for stormwater. Ideally this will be to a street frontage that adjoins the property. If your property slopes to the rear onto another property, you may need to speak with a civil engineer to obtain servicing advice.

Specialist Consultant Reports

If your property is affected by an overlay such as a Flood Overlay, Biodiversity Overlay or Bushfire Hazard Overlay you are likely to require a specialist report providing design advice and to support your application. Your town planner will identify which consultant reports are necessary and assist you to obtain quotes.


Show Cause and Enforcement Notices

If a complaint against your development is received by your local Council under section 167 of the Planning Act 2016 they may issue a show cause notice if they reasonably believe that you are committing, have committed a development offence.

The show cause notice will be issued in the form of a letter which states the facts and circumstances and that may lead to the Council issuing an enforcement notice.

You are given a period to make representations, this period will be a minimum of 20 business days. Representations can be proof that you are not committing a development offence or that you will correct any issues, most of the time this may be in the form of a development application. Should Council be agreeable to your representations you

If your development offence relates to any of the below Council may issue an enforcement notice without a show cause notice:

  • A heritage place
  • There is a risk to persons or public health
  • Demolition work
  • Vegetation clearing
  • Removal of quarry material
  • Extraction of clay, gravel, rock, sand or soil from Queensland waters
  • There is a risk of erosion, sedimentation or an environmental nuisance

Enforcement notices come under section 168 of the Planning Act 2016.

So if Council don’t accept your representations to the show cause notice or your development offence is considered ‘urgent’ an enforcement notice will be issued.

The notice will be in a written format and require you to refrain from committing the offence and/or remedy the effect of the offence in a stated way.

Examples of what an enforcement notice may require within a stated period include:

  • Stop carrying out development
  • To demolish or remove development
  • To restore premises to the condition the premises were in immediately before development was started
  • To do, or not to do another act to ensure the development complies with a development permit
  • If the works are dangerous, you must repair, rectify secure or fence the works to protect people
  • To stop a stated use of premises
  • To apply for a development permit
  • To give the enforcement authority a compliance program that shows how compliance with the enforcement notice will be achieved

If the enforcement notice items are not reasonably resolved, you are off to the Planning and Environment Court.

If you would like to avoid being issued with a show cause notice, an enforcement notice and definitely do not want to end up in the Planning and Environment Court, contact your private town planner early on, prior to undertaking any building works if possible.