How to look after your heritage property

Regular maintenance is essential for all buildings and is more cost effective in the long term than large scale work every 20-30 years. Attending to a minor problem can prevent the problem causing more extensive building defects.

Appropriate techniques should be used to ensure maintenance does not create other problems with the building fabric.

The Heritage Branch, NSW office of Environment and Heritage has prepared a number of publications that provide advice on maintenance of buildings. They are free to download from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage website and are found under the heading 'Maintenance Series.'These documents are not a substitute for professional advice. Employing a conservation specialist is usually the easiest and often, in the long run, the most economical way of ensuring the job is done well.

In all cases, you should follow a logical progression in carrying out conservation work:

1. Investigate the physical and documentary evidence of the place;
2. Assess the heritage significance of the place;
3. Develop a conservation and management approach based on the importance of the place;
4. Ensure you have obtained approvals (where necessary);
5. Carry out the work;
6. Record what you have done.

You should seek advice on whether consent is required or not prior to commencing any works. For more information, visit our Are approvals required? page.

Heritage Exemption

In most circumstances if you own a heritage item or property in a heritage conservation area you will need to seek consent for works that alter the building, including internal changes. However, if you need to do work, that is of a minor nature or for the maintenance of your property, you may be able to get an exemption and not need to obtain formal consent.

To seek an exemption you will need to make an application to Council known as a Heritage Exemption application. This application should be accompanied by information about the works you need to do including photos, description and if relevant plans or sketches. Council’s Heritage and Urban Design team will review your request and if possible issue an exemption. In some circumstances you may be requested to provide further information or to withdraw your application. We will only request you to withdraw your application if we are unable to issue an exemption.

If you would like further information on this option please ask to speak to one of our Advisory Duty Planners.

Should you wish to lodge an application for an exemption, you can use our online self-service website.

Go to online self-service

Researching your property

You may have just bought an old house and would like to know more about it, would like to restore your property or find out about who lived in it. Researching your property can assist you in understanding it and what it important about it.

1. Familiarise yourself with the history of your area

Look at published histories of the area, newspaper and magazine articles, photographs, maps and plans. Talk to long-time residents.

Contact a member of our Heritage and History team and ask about the Local Studies Collection.

Council’s Library holds a range of Local Studies material including:
• Council advertisements
• Local newspapers

The National Library of Australia has a large amount of online content. Additionally the National Trust or local Historical Societies may have useful information. Some historical societies include:
Ashfield and District Historical Society
Balmain Association
Haberfield Association
Marrickville Heritage Society
Heritage Group of Leichhardt District

2. Obtain the title deed for your property

You may have this in your possession or your bank may hold it. Work backwards through previous titles to the original Crown Grant OR work forward from the Crown Grant to the current certificate of title.

A plan deposited with the Registrar of Land Titles (NSW) shows the property boundaries each time a piece of land is subdivided and the record gives the names of owners of the land. Solicitors usually undertake the search at the time of purchase of a property. 

3. Look at maps and plans of the area

NSW Planning Portal provides current maps including planning layers.
Parish and Historical maps may assist you find out who the original landowner was.
Historical records from Land Registry Services 

4. Check Directories

Many directories list householders and businesses. Work backwards through the years to trace previous occupiers of your property.

Examples of directories are:

  • Sand's Sydney and NSW directories
  • Electoral Rolls - Held at State Library of NSW
  • Telephone directories - Held at State Library of NSW

5. Look at your house

Note its architectural style and carefully examine its design and construction. There are a number of resources that you can find at your local library that assist in identifying the style of your house.

6. Check local Council records

Work backwards through rates assessment records which contain occupiers and owners names and descriptions of building.

Council rates notice give the DP (Deposited Plan) number.

Council Archives and records usually include past rates, minutes and valuation records; correspondence; zoning information; heritage listings.

Council has archives which include Minute books, Rates and Valuation books, Correspondence, Maps and plans, House numbering plans, Subdivision plans, Building Applications and Register of Transfer of Land.

7. Check local Water Board plans

These plans locate buildings in outline and may include house names and numbers. Drainage plans of individual properties give owner's name, show positions of buildings and reflect changes in plumbing over the years. Sydney Water rates notice gives DP (Deposited Plan) number and many also provide the house name.

8. Web Sites

Web sites are changing all the time as more and more information becomes available so they need to be checked regularly.

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Page last updated: 23 May 2022