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Has a neighbour ruined the value of your property?

18 Jun 2019

Many residential property owners in South Africa have been through the frustrating experience of finding that the value of their home and the pleasure they derive from it, are suddenly greatly diminished by what their neighbour does with his property.

Before buying a home, check with the municipal planning department on the size and position of homes allowed on the property as well as on neighboring properties in the area.

In some cases, says Rowan Alexander, Director of Alexander Swart Property, the problem will be due to breaking the law or municipal regulations. For example, additions to the original building or the erection of a new building will, on investigation, be found to be contrary to what the law allows.  

The neighbour might proceed without planning permission from the local authorities, or has disregarded zoning rulings or restrictions such as height and distance from the boundary. Owners of such buildings can then be reported to the local authorities who have the power to stop work and/or order a demolition.

If the offender fails to take action, the courts have the same power and in addition, may order the offending party to pay compensation for the trouble and disruption caused to his neighbour or other nearby property owners. He says in some cases this compensation is paid out while allowing the illegal building to remain intact.

In most cases, however, says Alexander, undesirable buildings are erected in compliance with the law and local regulations and the neighbour has no legal basis on which to get matters altered, even though the new building may be completely unsuited to its environment and aesthetically offensive.  

“There have been many cases where large double or triple storey homes were erected on the northern side of smaller homes, obstructing their views and sunlight,” he says. “In almost every case the new buildings were perfectly legal, with the result that the neighbour had to accept the situation.”  

Find out what the zoning status is for an area before you buy a home

“On the West Coast of the Cape Province an owner tried to prevent a large home from being built in a dominant position, where its occupants would overlook his home and invade his privacy.  When requesting that the new home be reduced in size or even prevented from going ahead, the complainant was told that he should have examined the municipal master plan for the area before buying his own home.”

Alexander says had he done so, the complainant would have realised a strong possibility that his eventual neighbour would overlook his entire property.

“If a homeowner objects to a neighbouring property because it lowers the tone of the neighbourhood or is architecturally displeasing or blocks the view, there is usually nothing he can do about it provided the new building complies with municipal regulations. 

“In some cases, if the new neighbour is befriended by those around him he may be amenable to altering his plans. This is certainly a course worth pursuing.”

Alexander says his advice to prospective home buyers is “Caveat emptor - let the buyer beware. 

Before buying a home, check with the municipal planning department on the size and position of homes allowed on the new property and the neighbours’ erven.

This information is freely available from the local municipalities and potential buyers can find out what the zoning status of properties in their area is, he says. “If the buyer has difficulty with the terminology, a reputable estate agent will be able to clarify his rights and those of his neighbours.”

Many do not know what rights are applicable to the properties they hope to buy, says Alexander. “For example, the Cape Town City Council usually allows an owner to erect a second dwelling on a single residential erf and is willing to permit an owner the right to open a B&B or to establish a child care facility in the home.”

This does not need the consent of neighbours he says. “Those who are unaware of these and other facts, very often end up in conflict with their neighbours, even when they have no legal right to support their objections.”

Fortunately in most cases, the rulings prevent regrettable incidents, says Alexander. “Developers, who insist on pleasing conformity design rules, are almost always doing their buyers a favour.”

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