What is a secondary dwelling?

It is a small dwelling, either detached or attached to an existing dwelling on the same lot.

Plan Melbourne 2017-2050, identifies the need to facilitate housing choice and meet changing household needs. Alternative forms of housing such as secondary dwellings offer:

  • diverse and affordable housing options,
  • providing opportunities for extended families to live together,
  • couples to downsize or,
  • extra rental options for the community.

Secondary dwelling pilot program

Between August 2020 and March 2021, a pilot program involving four councils will trial the Secondary Dwelling Code. The councils involved in the pilot are Greater Bendigo, Murrindindi, Kingston and Moreland councils.

The code and permit pathways

Smart Planning has developed a code to facilitate small-scale ‘granny-flat or garden studio’ style accommodation on the same lot as an existing dwelling in a residential area. Key aspects of the code to guide the siting and design of secondary dwellings are:

  • a height limit of 5 metres.
  • a maximum floor size of 60 square metres.
  • the need to meet the minimum garden area requirements of the zone, along with other siting and design requirements assessed through the permit process.
  • no ability to subdivide.

Secondary dwellings provide housing options to assist Victorians. This is best explained through the following document:

The assessment of secondary dwelling applications will be through VicSmart. The standard planning permit process applies to an application that doesn’t:

  • meet the requirements of the code or,
  • to land that has an overlay with a building and works permit trigger.
Find out the assessment pathway appropriate for your permit application

Assessment pathway tool

Applying for a permit resources:

Frequently Asked Questions

A secondary dwelling is a small dwelling constructed on the same lot as an existing dwelling, in specified residential areas. It can be either detached or attached to the existing dwelling

A key policy in the Plan Melbourne 2017-2050 plan is to facilitate housing that offers choice and meets changing household needs. People in different life stages have different housing needs. 

Secondary dwellings provide housing options for:

  • an ageing population,
  • multigenerational families and,
  • lower income households.

Streamlining the approvals process for specific housing types is a key action from the Plan Melbourne Implementation Plan. The streamlining of the permit process through the application of code requirements and use of VicSmart – a ten-day permit assessment process – will reduce the regulatory and administrative burden for both applicants and council planning departments. Additionally, it will support the construction and manufacturing industry with positive economic benefits and employment opportunities.

To meet code requirements, a secondary dwelling must be located within a:

  • Township Zone;
  • Mixed Use Zone;
  • Residential Growth Zone;
  • General Residential Zone and
  • Neighbourhood Residential Zone.

The dwelling must also meet the garden area requirements of the zone, where applicable.

A secondary dwelling must meet a range of siting and design requirements, including not exceeding a gross floor area of 60 square metres and not exceeding 5 metres in height. Specified Clause 55 requirements must also be met, including those relating to overlooking, side and rear setbacks and solar access to open space. A secondary dwelling will not require a car space under Clause 52.06 or any other provision, and a subdivision must not create a new lot which only contains a secondary dwelling.

The secondary dwelling's location must be on the same property as an existing dwelling and be the only secondary dwelling on the property. If a dependant persons unit is already located on a property you can’t have a secondary dwelling.

Secondary dwelling applications will be subject to two planning permit assessment pathways:

Application type by their planning permit assessment pathway 
Application type Pathway
Applications which meet the code criteria and specified clause 55 standards.

Applications affected by a Special Building Overlay​
Take the VicSmart assessment pathway.
Applications which do not meet the Code criteria – or are on land affected by an overlay with a buildings and works permit trigger.
Can still be considered but will be subject to the standard assessment pathway to enable more time for all matters to be considered.

Secondary dwellings are designed to be small homes with good internal amenity for people who don’t want larger homes. The reasons for downsizing include environmental or financial factors.

The specified secondary dwelling size allows for comfortable living. The size also takes into consideration minimising possible amenity impacts on neighbours.

Larger secondary dwelling permit applications to go through the regular planning permit process.

Following consultation with key stakeholders we developed the code with:

  • State, local government, industry technical reference groups.
  • The four pilot Councils.
  • Similar codes in other states also informed the development of the code.

The four councils involved are Murrindindi, Moreland, Greater Bendigo and Kingston. We selected these councils because they:

  • represent a mix of metropolitan and regional councils,
  • use a majority of the residential zones where the code applies and,
  • have a large number of suitably sized residential lots.

The pilot program aims to trial the code through the VicSmart pathway. The purpose of the pilot program is to optimise the code through identifying any minor refinements and adjustments. Data will be collected for the first eight months of implementation.

The program will run from August 2020 and conclude in March 2021– during which time data will be collected by the pilot councils. Data from the first eight months of implementation will be analysed and any refinements and adjustments made to inform the consideration of introducing the code into all Victorian planning schemes.

A 'secondary dwelling' is assessed and approved under the requirements of clause 51.06, so must contain:

  • a kitchen sink,
  • food preparation facilities,
  • a bath or shower and,
  • a toilet and washbasin.


Yes, if your application meets the requirements of Clause 51.06.

However, your application will need to be considered through the standard assessment pathway if the overlay contains a building and works permit trigger.

No. Unlike a Dependent Person Unit, there are no requirements around who may live in the secondary dwelling. A secondary dwelling is a permanent dwelling.

A Dependent Person Unit is a movable building on the same lot as an existing dwelling. Used to provide accommodation for a person dependent on a resident of the existing dwelling.

Data collected during the pilot program will inform the consideration of introducing the code into all Victorian planning schemes for use.

Page last updated: 04/09/20