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Why having up-to-date and approved building plans is vital

08 Apr 2019

South African banks are increasingly insisting that any residential property to be sold or in need of a home loan cannot be assisted unless the property has up-to-date building plans that have been approved by the local municipality.

Every homeowner should check if the building plans are available as soon as possible, and that these correspond in all respects with the building as it now is - and this is compliant with the building regulations.

This is according to Rowan Alexander, Director of Alexander Swart Property, who says that to be fully compliant, the seller or the buyer has to be able to show that the building was awarded an Occupation Certificate, confirming that the construction was done in accordance with the approved plans and the regulations pertaining at that time.

To qualify for such certificates, the building will have had to be inspected at specified stages by a licensed building inspector. The same process should have been followed with any subsequent alterations or extensions, says Alexander.

Quite often the inspector will have been called in during the initial stages of construction, but not towards the end - with the result that no Occupation Certificate was ever issued, he says.

“Often extensions and alterations are done without any plans being submitted to the council for approval, or without the building inspector being brought in. In nine out of ten homes that we have dealt with, the building plans are either missing or, more frequently, not up to date,” says Alexander.

“In a typical scenario, the owner will add on a patio without permission and then, a few years later, enclose it as a braai room without any plans being submitted. Or he or she may convert a garage into bedroom without any attempt to make it legal.”

Sometimes owners simply do not know when they need to get approved plans. Others think that by doing the work themselves and ‘sneaking the job through’ they are saving considerable sums of cash - forgetting that later this will make it difficult to sell or pass the home on to heirs. Similarly they may employ a substandard builder who either ignores or does not know the regulations, he says.

Every homeowner should check if the building plans are available as soon as possible, and that these correspond in all respects with the building as it now is - and is compliant with the building regulations. If it transpires that the owner has no plans, he or she can try to obtain copies of those lodged at the municipality.

If, once the owner has the plans and feel they are not up to checking whether the plans conform, they should consult an architect for assistance. In the event of defaults, the owner should take steps to rectify the omissions and errors. In some cases it will be necessary to ask the architect to redraw the entire plan of the home and resubmit this for approval. This could be expensive - but there may be no other way out, says Alexander.

Some homeowners take the attitude that as they do not intend to sell the home in the foreseeable future, they can leave gaining approvals for a later date, or to others, such as their heirs. However, Alexander says experience has shown that people regularly have to sell earlier than they expect, for example for health or financial reasons.

To obtain fully-approved plans can take months, so it is better to do it now - delaying will simply compound existing difficulties, and could place big burdens on others, says Alexander.

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