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Building a Granny Flat: Lesson 3 PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 22 February 2007

Getting municipal approval.

Lesson 3: Municipal Approval

I often get asked whether building plans are required for small changes needed to convert existing space into a granny flat and whether you still have to get municipal approval given that there are thousands of unapproved shacks in municipal areas throughout the country?

The answer to both of these questions is yes

Unless you feel very strongly about the matter and are prepared to put time, money and your stress levels on the line it's best to accept the unfairness of unapproved shacks and find something more worthwhile to fight about.

However if on principle or out of pure deviousness you choose not to get plans approved for your construction you can try and avoid getting caught out by the building inspector and you may well get away with it.

Building inspectors get tips about unauthorised building work from all sorts of places. These include your neighbours who are upset about the mess and noise or just hate you for being alive. They also patrol the streets at random on their way to other appointments looking for piles of building material and rubble on the pavements.

So if you have good neighbours and can store material and do the work out of sight you may well get away with it.

However, if the building inspector is vigilant or if your neighbours hate you, you'll probably see an exited civil servant type wandering around your building site writing on a clip board and he will leave a "NOTICE IN TERMS OF SECTION A25(6) OF THE REGULATIONS UNDER THE NATIONAL BUILDING REGULATIONS AND BUILDING STANDARDS ACT (No. 103 OF 1977) UNAUTHORISED BUILDING WORK" which will require that you cease all unauthorised building work forthwith and until an application has been submitted and approved by the municipality.

This notice also threatens all sorts of fines and imprisonment if you do not do so.

Don't worry too much about this, it sounds very threatening but is no real reason to panic. The best thing is to stop work and write a letter apologising abjectly for your wickedness, plead ignorance and promise to appoint someone to prepare and submit plans on your behalf.

Should you not get caught during construction you may get caught when trying to sell your house:

I have heard of municipalities threatening to inspect houses for unauthorised building work prior to issuing a rates clearance certificate at the time of sale but I think that this is unlikely to be enforced as most building inspectorates are understaffed (or rather staffed with under performing people) and are unlikely to cope with the additional demands on their time.

If you do decide to give in and do things the legal way the work will require approval at one of four basic levels:

  1. Minor works with/without drawings
  2. The National Building Regulations list several items of "minor building works" which do not require building plans. My experience has been that municipalities restrict this list somewhat and that very little building work falls within this category. Their policy seems to be "when in doubt call for plans"

  3. Building plan approval
  4. Most construction work will require the submission and approval of building plans. These show the existing buildings and the proposed new work. A draftsman (or architect if you're feeling rich) will prepare the drawings and make 3 or 4 copies for submission.

    The municipality will charge a fee probably based on the size of proposed work. If there are no errors or other problems with the plans they should be approved in about 6-12 weeks.

    Be aware that the approval process can take significantly longer and plans sometimes disappear into dark voids somewhere in the municipal offices: We did some changes to a building in Jo'burg a few years ago. The client was working to a tight deadline so we followed up on the progress of the plans approval constantly until they were approved. They would not release the approved plans as the approval letter had to be typed up but we started construction based on their OK. About a year after the construction was complete we finally got a letter saying the plans had been approved and we could start work!

  5. Relaxations and/or consent use
  6. Consent use allows you to do more with your property than the zoning allows. It includes the construction of granny flats, relaxation of building lines etc.

    The exact approval process differs from municipality to municipality but it may include advertising in the newspapers, posting registered letters to the neighbours and displaying notices on your fence. You generally have to submit plans of the proposed work with your application. If the application is successful you will be allowed to submit building plans for approval.

  7. Re-zoning

Rezoning is a costly and time-consuming exercise. It's also a gamble in that you have to spend the time and money up front with no guarantee that your application will be approved. I won't discuss it more as it is generally not worth pursuing for the construction of a granny flat.

Old houses

In spite of the fact that your house may be as ugly as sin and falling apart it might well be regarded as a fine example of architectural history which someone thinks should be preserved. In KwaZulu Natal all buildings older than 60 years are automatically preserved and you’ll require another lot of authorisation before any construction is undertaken.

Paying an architect to prepare plans for your granny flat is a bit like paying a heart surgeon to trim your nails. I don’t know if heart surgeons have a union but architects have (they call it a professional body) which prescribes their fees leaving less room for negotiation.

Using an architectural technician or draftsman (let’s not get to politically correct even though many of the draftsmen I know are in fact women) is probably fine if they’re reasonably experienced. If you’re going to use their drawings as the basis for a building contract you may want to check that the specifications for materials and workmanship are sufficiently detailed to avoid ambiguity with your builder.

In the next lesson we’ll look at how to avoid getting ripped off when getting your place built.

Author: Pete Bowen


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