04 Jan 2011
While many municipalities in South Africa might not have sufficient building inspectors to keep tabs on all alterations to homes in the many different suburbs, the reality is that building plans need to be approved by the local authority before work begins.
There have been numerous cases of building work being done on sites without the requisite approval and, while in practice it may seldom happen, the reality is that the local bylaws make provision for the council to stop building work on site and to demolish work done but not approved.
The Johannesburg council points out that any new building and any alteration that adds on to or changes the structure of an existing building must get approval prior to any work being done from the city council.
To complicate matters, any property that is more than 60 years old – effectively those built before 1951 – also must have permission for changes from the council as these buildings are regarded as part of our national heritage.
This means that all properties built after the Second World War – when there was a huge building boom for returning soldiers – is considered to be part of South Africa’s national heritage and needs permission and approval before it is altered or changed.
These strict provisions do not include the interior walls of a property or the manner in which it is decorated. So anyone wanting to change two small rooms into a single large lounge can do so as long as it does not affect the structural integrity of the building and does not alter the external appearance.
The City of Jo’burg points out that building inspectors are empowered to halt all building work that is being done without planning approval and can impose a fine on transgressors as well as order that the work done is demolished at the owner’s cost and the building is returned to its original state.
Because of the shortage of building inspectors, the councils concede that many alterations are never inspected and as a result many illegal structures are completed without any interference from the council itself.
However, the council points out that when the building is sold and plans are requested from the council and these do not match those of the final structure then the existing owner will be compelled to provide plans and, if these do not fall within the council’s strict bylaws, may have to be demolished even though they had been standing for many years.
If a property is sold to a new buyer who wants approved plans for an alteration and the existing owner cannot supply these, the buyer has the right to cancel the sale or to compel the existing owner to supply approved plans.
Most of the councils use the same approval process for building plans and this comprises an application form from the owner of the property, a copy of the title deed, a copy of the site development plan, a certificate from a registered professional engineer or technologist approving the structural alterations along with detailed drawings for the actual alteration.
Additional designs or certificates may be required, depending on the extent of the alteration. The councils charge fees to approve plans and a scale of charges is available from most of the major metropolitan councils in South Africa.
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