Local councils are responsible for regulating sex services premises in their area. Sex services premises must comply with the local council’s planning policies and may need to apply to council for permission (consent) to operate the business. They apply by lodging a development application (DA).
Councils focus on:
Councils consist of:
Planning regulations for the local sex industry may be found within Local Environment Plans (LEP) or Development Control Plans (DCP). Some councils have specific planning policies for sex services premises, and others use the same policies for all commercial business.
Council planning policies usually identify the:
The consent status of sex services premises can be classified by councils as:
To find out if your premises is affected by the local council’s planning policies you can:
NOTE: The council can use any information you give them as evidence against the business.
Most council brothel planning policies do not recognise the different types of sex services premises and consider brothels, a private sex worker’s premises and massage parlours as the same type of business.
Not every local council is ‘brothel friendly’. Their planning policies may limit where brothels can be located and how they can operate more than for similar types of businesses. Councils often say sex services premises can only operate in industrial zones and sometimes in commercial zones. In most councils they are not allowed to operate in residential zones. So private workers working from their own premises may be considered unauthorised or prohibited ‘brothels’.
SUGGESTION: Before you apply to council for a DA to set up new sex services premises or for approval for existing premises, get advice from a qualified and experienced planner or lawyer.
There are several steps to getting development consent or approval. The development assessment process includes:
Most local councils require a DA to be lodged to gain development consent to operate as a sex services premises. For a DA you need:
After you lodge the DA, the council advertises it in the local press and calls for public comment. Council’s assessment should address the relevant planning issues raised in the application and submissions from the public. Moral concerns about brothels are not relevant to the planning assessment. But they have been known to influence the final decision of the councillors.
NO CONFIDENTIALITY: Your application to council is not confidential—it is advertised so the public can respond to it. But the application does not have to be lodged by you and can be lodged on your behalf by another party.
The majority of DAs are determined by council planning staff. In some councils all sex services premises DAs - or DAs that attract a significant number of complaints - may be determined by the councillors at a council meeting.
Determinations of DA can include:
Council approval is given to the building or land, not to the operator of the premises. Some operators have done the work and spent money to get council development consent, only to find that the building owner won’t renew their lease or plans to sell the building or land for use as an authorised brothel. Business operators cannot relocate the consent to set up a business in other premises—the approval stays with the building.
Development consent is usually permanent—unless the consent contains a time period after which the consent will expire. Development consent can also:
Where there is evidence of adverse impacts relating to the operation of a sex services premises, Council can seek a court order to restrict the operator from using the consent. But these powers are rarely used. If this did occur, another operator may continue the use of the premises as a brothel.
Premises operating without consent can face legal closure action by Council. You can request council review the decision and/or appeal in the Land and Environment Court against a decision to shut down your business.
For more information: See 'Closing down sex services premises' to read about closing down sex services premises.
Some premises may need council approval to operate as sex services premises. Others—such as escort agencies or home occupation/private sex worker premises permissible without a DA—may not.
In a few council areas, you do not need approval for home occupation private worker ‘brothels’. They may be ‘exempt and complying development’ under the council’s planning policies. This is different in each council area, so home occupation or private sex workers will need to check their local councils ‘brothel planning policy’.
Commercial scale sex services premises need development consent from the council—unless the premises are in a zone where brothels are permitted without development consent. Premises that need, but do not have, development consent from the local council may face legal action to close down.
If a sex industry business requires but does not have approval from the local council then the council can request that the business:
If the premises is not closed, the operator and building owner could face criminal charges. As the operator of a business you need to balance the potential cost of fines, court costs or orders to close against the cost, benefit, and/or risk of seeking and gaining approval.
If you are a sex worker who works at but does not own a sex services premises closed by council, you are not liable for any fines or charges.
If a business already has council approval but is operating outside the terms of the approval—for example, by operating for longer than the approved hours—council can ask the owner to fix the problem or face further action.
If a business already has council approval for one use—such as a massage-only service—but is operating as another use without consent—such as a sex services premises—then council can take legal action to cease the unauthorised use.
Council action can include inspections, verbal and written requests to change business practices, fines, orders to close, legal action and in extreme cases withdrawal of the approval. If a business owner disagrees with council’s actions they can request an internal review and/or take the matter to the Land and Environment Court.
Four brothels in the same area received a letter from council stating they ‘were a brothel operating without council approval’ and should ‘cease operating or lodge a DA with council to gain approval’. As businesses providing commercial sexual services they were now classified under council planning policies as ‘brothels’ and therefore required council approval to operate.
(1) The operator of an existing unauthorised brothel decided to lodge a development application to operate as a ‘brothel’ after:
Despite some opposition from local groups, the application was approved because it complied with the council policy. The approval placed restrictions on the opening hours and number of work rooms and required the operator to make design changes and enhance staff facilities, safety, health information and equipment, lighting, fire exits, and sharps waste management systems. The value of the property and the commercial lease was increased as an ‘authorised brothel’.
(2) The operator of an existing unauthorised brothel lodged a development application to gain consent as a brothel. Despite complying with council’s policy, the application was rejected due to opposition from local groups. The operator had the choice of:
After choosing the third option, the premises closed following legal action by council.
(3) The operator of an existing unauthorised brothel in a residential building continued to operate without consent. The premises closed following complaints from the strata management to the owner of the premises and threat of possible legal action from council.
(4) The operator of an existing unauthorised brothel lodged a development application to gain consent - but as a massage parlour. The application was approved as it complied with the council policy. The approval placed restrictions on the use of the premises as a brothel, meaning sexual services could no longer be offered. Continuing to provide sexual services would put the business at risk of legal action by council.
SUGGESTION: Seek the advice of a property lawyer before signing a lease.