Many homes without approved plans

South Africa’s banks increasingly insist that any residential property to be sold, or in need of a bond, cannot be assisted unless the property has up to date building plans which have been approved by the local municipality.

To be fully compliant, says Rowan Alexander, Director of Alexander Swart Property, the seller or the buyer must be able to show that the building was awarded an occupation certificate, confirming that the construction was done in accordance with the approved plans and the regulations pertaining at that time.

“To qualify for such certificates, the building will have had to be inspected at specified stages by a licensed building inspector. The same process should have been followed on any subsequent alterations or extensions,” says Alexander.

“Quite often, the inspector will have been called in during the initial stages of construction but not towards the end – with the result that no occupation certificate was ever issued. It frequently happens that extensions and alterations were done without any plans being submitted to the municipality for approval, or without the building inspector being brought in. In nine out of 10 homes that I have been involved with as an estate agent, the building plans are either missing or more frequently, not up to date.

“In a typical scenario,” he says, “the owners will add on a patio without permission and then, a few years later, enclose it as a braai room; again without any plans being submitted. Or they may convert a garage into bedroom, again without any attempt to make it legal.”

Sometimes owners simply don’t know when they need to get approved plans. Others think that by doing the work themselves they are saving considerable sums of cash – forgetting that later this will make it difficult to sell or pass the home on to heirs. Similarly they may employ a substandard builder who either ignores or does not know the regulations.

Alexander says every home owner should check that  plans are available and if so, that they correspond in all respects with the building as it now is – and is compliant with the building regulations.

“If it transpires that there are no plans, they can try to get copies of those lodged at the municipality. If owners feel they are unable to check whether they conform, they should consult an architect to assist them. In the event of defaults, owners should take steps to rectify the omissions and errors. In some cases it will be necessary to ask the architect to redraw the entire plan of the home as it now is and resubmit this for approval. This could be expensive – but there may be no other option.

Some home owners, says Alexander, take the attitude that as they don’t intend to sell the home in the near future, they can leave the gaining of approvals for a later date, or to others, such as their heirs.

“Experience has however shown that people regularly have to sell earlier than they expect, for example, for health or financial reasons. As getting fully approved plans can take months, it is better to do it now. To delay will simply compound existing difficulties –and could place big burdens on others.”