Owning a heritage home has several benefits. Many of these properties are in prime locations and they often have well-proportioned rooms and more space than modern homes, which tend to be smaller. Also, well-cared for heritage homes frequently feature elegant and costly finishes, which considerably add to their charm.
On the downside, heritage home owners need to take into account a long list of restrictions on how the property may be altered. This means that if you are the owner of a heritage property, you will need to get in touch with the relevant heritage resources authority for your area before you can go ahead with any structural changes to your home.
In terms of the National Heritage Resources Act (25 of 1999) (NHRA), restrictions on renovations apply to any building that is more than 60 years old.
According to the Act: “No person may alter or demolish any structure or part of a structure which is older than 60 years without a permit issued by the relevant provincial heritage resources authority”.
A copy of the NHRA can be found on the website of the South African Heritage Resource Agency (SAHRA) – the guardian of all historically significant sites and buildings in South Africa. In addition, each province has its own heritage resources authority, which govern buildings and sites that are considered significant in a provincial context.
There are three grades of classification for historical significance.
• Grade I heritage sites caters for buildings with national significance - such as Robben Island or the Union Buildings - are protected by SAHRA.
• Grade II heritage sites is for buildings that are considered significant within a province - like St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town - are protected by the relevant provincial heritage resources authority.
• Grade III heritage sites under which most heritage homes would fall – applies to any other site or building that may be worthy of conservation. These are also under the protection of the provincial authorities.
Depending on the degree of historical significance of your property, you may be eligible to apply for a grant or a loan to help defray the costs of upkeep and maintenance of your home, which can be considerable.
Renovating a historic property often entails limitations on design and workmanship as well as building materials. The approval process is also time-consuming, and specialist architects and contractors who can meet the requirements come at a higher cost.
If you would like to follow up on this, you can apply to your provincial heritage resources authority for your property to be declared a provincial heritage site. Apart from the age of your property there may well be reasons that could classify it as a heritage site.
The relevant authority will take into account the aesthetic, architectural, historical, cultural scientific, social, spiritual, linguistic or technological value of the property to make a decision.
Once a building has been declared a heritage site, the relevant authority may then enforce regulations governing heritage sites under its control. You should be aware that you could incur severe penalties if you carry out alterations without the permission of the authority, or fail to comply with relevant regulations.
If you do go ahead and buy a heritage home, you should always keep in mind that you are buying a slice of South African history. You need to make sure that you treat the property with the respect it deserves to preserve it for generations to come.
Visit the South African Heritage Resources Authority at www.sahra.org.za for more information.