Character houses (pre-war)

The majority of town planning development applications in Brisbane City Council revolve around the extension, alteration or demolition of a building built in 1946 or earlier in a Traditional Building Character overlay (i.e. a character house). We can assist in assessing what the values these buildings have to Council and what you can/cannot do to them.

We’ve engaged Stefan Town Planning after reading the excellent reviews they had and yet were hesitant to believe them. All we can say now is that they deserve each and every excellent review they have. Our process was made as simple, transparent and informative as one could expect.
— Alex Goldenberg 2017
Character house.jpeg

What is a character house?

A 'character' house is only considered a 'character' house if fulfils the following criteria:

  1. The house is built in 1946 or earlier; and

  2. The property as the Traditional Building Character, Commercial Character, Heritage or Pre-1911 overlay.

If you don't tick both of the above boxes, the house isn't considered 'character' and can be removed/altered without any planning approvals. For example, a beautiful Queenslander in Ascot that does not have the Traditional Building Character overlay can still be removed/demolished; but if an ugly house next door was built pre-1946 and does have the TBC overlay, it cannot be removed. Why do Council sometimes allow the demolition of character houses? Because Council has deemed the street to be 'compromised' and the house no longer has any value or the street is zoned for higher density development and the pre-1947 houses are holding up the redevelopment. How can you find this information out? Do a simple PropertEASE report or look at the Brisbane City Council interactive mapping.

1946 aerial imagery

1946 aerial imagery

2012 aerial imagery

2012 aerial imagery

why does council want to protect them?

From churches to worker’s cottages, Queenslanders and traditional corner stores, to Californian bungalows and pre-federation houses, Brisbane’s heritage and character buildings reflect the best of Australian architecture and the city’s local history. In order to protect Brisbane’s past and maintain the architectural heritage and character of the city and suburbs, their planning scheme outlines requirements for appropriate development in Brisbane’s older suburbs, and for renovating, demolishing or removing some buildings. The object of the planning scheme is to achieve the following:

  • Development protects residential buildings constructed in 1946 or earlier that individually or collectively contribute to giving the areas in the Traditional building character overlay their traditional character and traditional building character.

  • Development protects a residential building or a part of a building constructed in 1946 or earlier where it forms a part of a character streetscape comprising residential dwellings constructed in 1946 or earlier nearby in the street within the Traditional building character overlay.

  • Development retains a residential building constructed in 1946 or earlier that reflects the traditional building character other than ‘timber and tin’ architecture.

what can you do with a ‘character house’?

Brisbane City Council have a range of 'accepted/exempt' building works that they consider being minor enough to do without planning approvals. The full list can be read here. To give you an example of what you can achieve, we have provided a few examples below.

Extension to character.jpeg

Extensions and renovation? If you look at the above image of a 'character' house, I have highlighted the original house, the extensions, and the 'assessable' extensions. Although this one triggered a development application, it was fairly easy to gain the approval due to the minor amount of 'assessable' building work proposed.

unit development character home.jpeg

What if the site is zoned for higher density (for example an 'LMR' site) and it has a character house on it? Well, be prepared to keep it and integrate it with the development. You'll see this quite a lot through the inner city suburbs of Brisbane like Highgate Hill, Fairfield, Norman Park...etc. So long as the house remains, you can still build around it, in it and behind it.

demolition of character.jpeg

Partial/full demolition? You can do various bits of demolition to a 'character' house without Council approval. These usually include small outbuildings (e.g. stairs) and demolition to the rear of the house (rear of middle and highest point of the roofline). But Council will not usually let you 'narrow' the house or demolish integral components of the house that contribute to the street. For example, the below would not be a supportable 'partial demolition' as it results in a Dwelling house that is not consistent with the original setting, scale or bulk within the street. This scenario is very common with splitter blocks with a pre-1947 house sitting right in the middle of it.

For this same reason, full demolition of a 'character house' is also very difficult to gain the approval for. Note, 'moving' a character house off a site to another 'character' site is considered the same as a 'demolition' as it still removes it from the site.


Renovating or doing extensions to a character house is a very complicated space to work withing and a quick call (or email) to one of our town planners could save you thousands of dollars and more importantly the heartache if what you want to do is not achievable. 07 3317 0042.