What building alterations require approval from your municipality?

Private Property South Africa
Martin Hatchuel

It’s an accepted tenet in the law that you have the right to the ‘proper enjoyment of your property’ - but this doesn’t mean that you have the right to do anything you want when it comes to building alterations. Especially since a whole raft of new laws and regulations seem to have complicated the issue enormously over the past few years.

So what’s an owner to do?

“Ask for help,” said architectural technologist Jacque Cronje, of Cape Town-based www.timberdesign.co.za.

He said that you should probably begin by talking to the planning department of your local municipality. “Whether you want to build a new wall around the property; build a swimming pool; add on a room, a second story, or a new wing; or even if you want to change the internal configuration of the rooms - for example by knocking down walls to create a single, open-plan space out of a number of smaller spaces - you could require planning permission, and, perhaps permission from the environmental or heritage authorities.

“Every case is different, and the regulations can be a bit of a minefield - but your local building inspectors will usually advise you of the process,” he said. (Just the process, though: they won’t do any of the planning work for you).

PROFESSIONAL SERVICES

Jacques said that the extent of the work you’re planning, conditions laid out in the title deeds, the ages of the buildings, and the position of your property would generally determine which planning professionals you’ll need to appoint.

“You’ll want to consider three basic areas: zoning, heritage, and the national building regulations", he said.

The zoning scheme regulations that cover your property will dictate factors like the uses to which you can put the land, the number of residential units you’re allowed on your stand, and so on. “You may have to get consent use from your neighbours if you want to deviate from the regulations - and your architect or architectural technician would be able to help you with that process,” said Jacques.

“Besides physically drawing the plans for your project, he or she will also advise you on what you need to do to comply with the new energy-use regulations. If your building was originally built before these new regulations came into effect, you will probably need to consider a number of options that will bring you in line with the new rules for energy efficiency - and your planning professional will help you with this.” (See our recent interview with Jacques - ‘Go green or go home’.)

He cautioned, though, that the law now requires that local authorities can only accept building plans for approval from people who are registered with the South African Council for the Architectural Profession (www.sacapsa.com).

“But you’ll find that your professional’s knowledge of the regulations will make his or her fees worth while.”

HERITAGE AND ENVIRONMENT

Jacques said that you should check the heritage status of your building: if it’s older than 60 years, you’ll need to approach your provincial Heritage Authority before you make any changes - although your local municipality’s Heritage Desk will possibly also be able to advise you. (For a general discussion, and information about the regulations concerning heritage and the built environment, see SAHRA - the South African Heritage Resources Agency.)

“Depending on what you want to do, where you want to do it, and under which version of the environmental legislation your title deeds were registered, you may also need to comply with certain provisions regarding the environment when it comes to larger alterations or projects - and you might even need to commission an environmental impact assessment before you begin,” he said.

“This is a complicated and specialised field - so you’ll need to appoint a registered environmental consultant to your team.”

For overviews of the process of building plan submissions, see (amongst others):

· City of Cape Town: ‘Building plan approval process’ (infographic)

· Durban (eThekwini Municipality): ‘Building plans submissions inspectorate’ (article)

· Joburg: ‘Building plans’ (article).

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