You discover that there are no plans of the existing buildings, buildings in progress or alterations on a property you’ve just purchased…they’ve gone into the dreaded ‘file 13’, NOW WHAT?!

WE WANT TO BUY A PROPERTY BUT THEY DON’T HAVE APPROVED PLANS, WHAT NOW?

thatI deal with this question all the time from people who want to purchase a property and then find that there are no plans for additions or alterations.

By law the seller has to provide approved plans for what exists. It’s important to make sure that the plans have a council stamp on, similar to the image adjacent, and then to go through them on site to make sure that what is approved is what is built. Often plans are provided but they are either not approved or do not represent what exists.

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL???

Municipal approval is a safety mechanism as plans should be drawn by competent, registered persons, in accordance with the national building regulations (NBR) which are in place for public safety. An engineer also has to be appointed to design and sign off the structural components of the building.
Where no approval has been obtained there is high likelihood that work is not in accordance with the NBR, and that the structure could be substandard. When the municipal approval process has been followed building inspectors also perform inspections and issue an occupation certificate at the end of the build, rendering the building compliant. Where no approvals were obtained, the built work in question constitutes ‘illegal buildings’.
This could render home owners’ insurance null and void, as an occupation certificate was never issued. For example, there was a case where a Macro store burnt down and the insurer refused to pay on grounds that an occupation certificate was never issued, so it’s an important piece of paper! Banks are also less likely to grant finance where there are no approved plans.

SO WHAT THEN?

Plans need to be submitted for work that is not approved; these plans are treated as ‘new work’, which has compliance implications, as building regulations get updated from time to time.
In 2011 building regulations were revised and energy efficiency regulations (SANS10400XA) came into effect. In a residential building these have an impact on the insulation of the shell, and energy use within the dwelling. Please see some of my other posts for more about this. Plans submitted for ‘illegal building work’ would have to comply with all regulations including energy efficiency.
This approval process will have a time and cost implication as plans will have to be drawn and approved, (at government department speed). An engineer will also need to inspect and sign off the works. The works may also need to be remedied to pass as compliant.

ARE INTERNAL CHANGES EXEMPT FROM SUBMISSION?

The NBR part A states that no plans, particulars or approval are required for work which has become necessary as result of ‘ordinary wear and tear’ as long as the work has no structural implications. This is the only category of work where submissions are not required.
There is a category of works referred to as ‘minor works’, in part A of the NBR, that is exempt from submitting plans, but that is not exempt from approval. Approval still needs to be obtained but submission of plans is at the building control officers’ discretion. Items that are classified as ‘minor works’ are defied as follows by the NBR:

a)   The erection of any:

  1. Poultry house not exceeding 10m²
  2. Aviary not exceeding 20m²
  3. Solid fuel store not exceeding 10m² in area and 2m in height
  4. Tool shed not exceeding 10m² in area
  5. Childs play house not exceeding 5m² in area
  6. Greenhouse not exceeding 15m² in area
  7. Open sided carport where are dos not exceed 40m²
  8. Any free standing wall not exceeding 1.8m² in height that does not retain soil
  9. Any pergola
  10. Private swimming pool
  11. Changing rooms not exceeding 10m² in area at private swimming pool
b)   Replacement of a roof or any part thereof with a similar material
c)   Conversion of a door into a window or window into a door without increasing width of the opening
d)   The making of an opening in a wall which does not affect the structural integrity of the building
e)   The partitioning or enlarging of any room by the erection or demolition of an internal wall if it does not affect the structural integrity of the wall.
f)   The erection of any solar water heater not exceeding 6m² on a roof or 12m when not erected on a roof

However, all of the above are at the discretion of the building control officer, who may require that plans be submitted.

SO WHAT IF I HAVE, OR AM BUSY WITH ‘ILLEGAL BUILDINGS’?

Where building work is in progress, without approval, the council can issue a stop order. When work has been erected illegally the council can issue a court order that the work be removed, or altered to become complaint.
Approval needs to be obtained for all, and any building work, and while plans may not be deemed necessary for the items listed above, approval is. Building is expensive so it makes sense to do it properly in compliance with the laws of the land, in order to project your investment and the buildings occupants!