Don't Break the Law...Any Law

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Newspapers have been awash with stories about unhappy people and the lengths to which they are willing to go in order to pull errant neighbours back in to line. Homes that have been built without planning permission, and properties that have been left to go to wrack and ruin, enticing squatters to move in, are becoming major issues. And sadly, the stories that make it into the press are undoubtedly only the tip of the iceberg.

Litigation costs a great deal of money and while those living in affluent suburbs may well be able to afford the costs, the average man in the street can't. You would think reporting a neighbour who has decided to add an additional story to his home or who has elected to build a granny flat directly on a boundary line would be a very straightforward process. After all, there are laws in place and a quick call to the local municipality should sort the problem out in a jiffy.

Unfortunately, this doesn't appear to be the case in many areas anymore. The problem, it seems, is two-fold. Either the erring neighbour chooses to simply ignore the municipality's calls to halt further construction or in the worst case scenario, the municipality concerned doesn't bother to visit the property to serve papers ordering the homeowner to stop.

Of course, it may well be that those who have been affected by neighbours who flout the law have bigger fish to fry and are so busy trying to address other, more serious problems that they have neither the time nor the inclination to complain about some bloke's lack of building plans. Does this make the illegal building any more acceptable and why is it that so many appear to have adopted a policy of build now, submit plans later, if and when someone complains?

Most of us have been affected in some way by the rising crime levels that now plague our country. However, it seems that some crimes are more acceptable than others and indeed, choosing to build a structure that has not been approved is one such example. It may be that those who chose to take the illegal route use the argument that thousands of people are building illegally and surely what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Unfortunately it doesn't work like that and just because it appears that all and sundry and breaking the law with seeming impunity doesn't mean that you can.

Sadly, it seems that the problem is becoming so widespread that larger municipalities lack the manpower to tackle the issue head-on and even when they do go out and inspect the property, the homeowner, knowing that it will probably take years to sort out, carries on building regardless.

Perhaps the time has come for municipalities to clamp down on this sort of behaviour once and for all. We recently reported that the courts ordered that a law professor's upmarket home in the Eastern Cape be demolished because he hadn't followed the correct planning procedures. Unfortunately, the outcome of the court case, while welcomed by the neighbours, took years and a great deal of money to achieve. Interestingly, the law allowing municipalities to exercise this option had been in place for years - although it appears this judgement was a first.

Whether other municipalities choose to take this extreme route remains to be seen, but it's pretty clear that something needs to be done sooner rather than later if we want to stem the flood of lawlessness that is beginning to invade our suburbs.

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