The great ‘Toilet paper’ debacle of 2020 during the COVID-19 crisis, had many household members set out for Brisbane shops and supermarkets desperate to secure multi-packs or even a roll or two. On your trip to find toilet paper at Woolworths, you come across bedlam and chaos. Your fellow shoppers look stressed. They are all desperate to get to that aisle where the toilet rolls are stacked. There is pandemonium. People grabbing all that they can pack into their shopping trolleys. No social distancing here. Throwing caution to the wind you manage to grab the last pack of 4 toilet rolls.
On the journey home, you decide that you won’t be sharing the rolls of toilet paper with your siblings or parents because, well it’s ‘finders’ keepers’. Can you believe it! The decision to not share the toilet paper with your household members, can change your status as a household. Simply loo paper could technically render your dwelling house unlawful. Let me elaborate further.
Under the Planning Act 2016, the definition of household is defined as follows;
household means 1 or more individuals who-
- live in a dwelling with the intent of living together on a long-term basis; and
- make common provision for food and other essentials for living.
This definition, does not provide adequate coverage over a variety of other scenarios that routinely occur in daily life. For example, if you’re a foster carer who fosters children for emergency situations and/or short breaks you do not comply with part (a) of the definition, likewise if a divorced family who have their children stay on alternating weekends you don’t meet part (a) on those weekends. Another ridiculous example involves having a guest stay over for a week or more means you don’t meet part (a). And, if you buy and provide your own essentials such as toiletries, toilet paper and cleaning products then you don’t meet part (b) of the definition. Likewise, if individuals who are renting rooms within a house decide to live primarily on take away for food.
There are a number of real case law examples that have/are happening in the P&E Court, requiring affidavits of residents to disclose personal household arrangements such as, the sharing of toilet paper. Furthermore, the definition of a household is entwined under the ‘Dwelling house’ definition in all planning schemes in Queensland. Therefore, most dwelling houses in the state on any given day can be deemed as unlawful.
There is even another definition trap, which constricts housing choice. This has become front of mind after the Brisbane City Council banned townhouses and units across all its low-density suburbs. When Brisbane City Council says our low density, suburbs are for single family homes only, they explicitly mean each property can only have one household living there. This is stated in the ‘Dwelling house’ house definition:
Dwelling house means a residential use of premises involving—
(a) 1 dwelling for a single household and any domestic outbuildings associated with the dwelling; or
(b) 1 dwelling for a single household, a secondary dwelling and any domestic outbuildings associated with either dwelling.
The definition specifies the use of one (1) dwelling for only a single household. Even a ‘secondary dwelling’ on the same land parcel such as a granny flat, must be occupied by members of the ‘household’ of the primary house. This means, by definition, a secondary dwelling must be used in conjunction with, and or subordinate to, a dwelling house on the same lot. Therefore, if you have a granny flat and want to let it out to house a family friend who needs accommodation it is deemed unlawful – which we believe is senselessly restrictive.
This ‘catch all’ problem’ is prescribed in the Brisbane City Council’s and possibly other Councils’ Dwelling House Code, which is a required assessment benchmark for Dwelling houses. Consequently, as soon as you have two (2) households living on one property, you become a Dual Occupancy (which is already banned in our low-density suburbs) or three (3) a Multiple Dwelling (which is also banned in our low-density suburbs).
The resultant case law around the definition of; ‘household’ will continue to have unjust consequences for dwelling houses until its amendment, likewise, so will the ‘dwelling house definition’. These scenarios are a current trap for homeowners, creating hidden limitations and difficulties, including restricting the choice of being able to rent out a granny flats, families considering fostering children or having guests stay on in the long-term.
The ‘household’ and ‘dwelling house’ definition in planning schemes provides another example of Queensland’s planning system not using logic and common sense which is to the detriment of supporting housing choice, diversity and affordability for all our communities. This is another weight on the Brisbane community who already encounter heavily restricted planning provisions under the coming commencement of the townhouse ban in low density zoned neighbourhoods. We believe Queensland policy legislators urgently need to amend the administrative definition of a ‘household’. As what constitutes a ‘dwelling house’ should not be restricted to who pays for and uses their own toilet paper. There are many scenarios that define a ‘household’.
The current, flaws in the planning system is not solidly backing housing diversity and choice to support every Queenslander acquiring a roof over their head.