Who must submit a building plan in South Africa?
What happens if I don’t submit a plan?
What if no building inspector notices my illegal alterations?
How do I submit the plan for approval?
How much does it cost to submit an application?
How long does it take for a plan to get approved?
What course of action is open to me if my plans are rejected?
Why doesn’t the same rules apply for low-cost RDP housing as for upmarket residential estates?

According to SANS 10400, Part A2, the short answer is “any person intending to erect a building”. Building plans with sufficient detail and specifications of any new building and / or any alteration that adds onto, or changes the structure of an existing building must be submitted to the local authority for approval.

However, you don’t need permission to redecorate the interior or replace broken roof tiles, because you haven’t moved any walls around or altered the drainage system.

But if you make changes to the structure, for example, add on a carport, or even just move the front door, you do need permission, in other words, you need to proof that you will still comply with the National Building regulations and Standards Act.1977 (Act No 103 of 1977) YES, even if you live on a farm 50km’s out of town. Many people these days convert garages into living rooms by removing garage doors, and replacing them with sliding doors or windows. By doing so, you actually change the type of occupancy from a non-habitable room to a habitable room, to which different lighting & ventilation regulations apply, or the ceiling may be too low to comply with the minimum ceiling height requirements. With the new energy efficiency regulations SANS 10400XA, the installation of sliding doors will impact the energy efficiency of the dwelling and a competent person will have to certify that the building complies with these regulations.

When you plan a granny flat on the same stand, whether it is attached or detached from the existing dwelling, you must first make sure that your Title Deed doesn’t prohibit any second dwellings, and that it complies with the local Town Planning Scheme.

In the past building plans were only required for buildings within the municipal boundaries. Cities and towns were then surrounded by what was called the “peri-urban” area, which was some sort of rural administration. People on farms could build whatever they want and nothing would happen. However, today is a different story as the whole country is covered seamlessly by local government (municipalities) leaving no ungoverned spaces in between. So, no matter where you want to build, it will be within the boundaries of a certain municipal area, and you will have to submit building plans and documentations prepared by a registered professional – whether that municipality provides any services or not. In practice this is not happening yet, because there is just not enough building inspectors to patrol such a vast area.

If you choose to build without having the plans approved, a building inspector is still entitled to enter your property and order construction to stop immediately. He could even obtain a court order for the structure to be demolished, at your expense, and you will be held liable for legal costs as well. In serious cases, such as when the building or part thereof fails and collapses, causing death or injury, you could face criminal charges and a prison sentence. If an illegal building is occupied, the inspector may get an eviction order against the owner. The building shall then be vacated until such time that building plans have been approved, and a certificate of occupancy have been issued.

This could come back to haunt you years later and at much greater expense, for instance: when you try to sell the building the prospective buyer is entitled to see approved plans as he will then become the new owner, and therefore responsible in terms of the Law. So, if there are no approved plans available, he may ask you to have them drawn up and get it approved, or he may elect to employ his own architect at your expense. If you still get away with it and the sale goes through, he may decide to add on at a later stage only to discover that there are alterations that have not yet been approved. Both you and your estate agent may then be charged in terms of the Consumer Protection Act for misleading marketing. If your house burns down to the ground, your insurers will pay a visit to the local authority to see what has been approved, and they will replace / repair only that. If you install a pool without plans and without the proper protective measures in place, you may be charged for culpable homicide if someone else’s child drowns in it. If you decide to add-on or extend your house in future, your plans will not be approved, unless all existing structures have been approved. You will then have to pay your architect and the local authority the fees for those alterations as if it is a new project, and at the rates applicable today.

Your architect will assist and advise you regarding the administration and forms to be completed. Normally the architect will take care of these procedure so that he/she may answer technical questions and make small amendments on the spot, if so required. You may choose to submit the plans yourself to cut costs, but it is not always advisable.

What documentation will be required from me before council considers my plan?
Apart from SANS 10400 A – Form 1 completed by the architect and owner, the local authority / city council needs a completed application form, signed by the owner of the property or his/her authorised representative (proof of authorisation is required) together with a copy of the registered title deed.
(The title deed can be obtained either from the attorneys who handled the transfer of the property, the financial institution that granted a first mortgage bond over the property, or the Deeds Office)

At least two complete sets of plan copies, on set on durable media to be coloured as specified in part A of SANS 10400 Part A. All copies must be signed by the owner. Municipalities have their own by-laws which will have to be complied with.
Where an application for approval is submitted by a company or an organisation such as a school or a church, a letter must be provided by the organisation authorising one person to sign the application form.

A CK2 form may be required where all shareholders / members / declare their interest and percentage shareholding in the company. In the case where a Trust is the landlord, a Letter of Authority and a Trust Resolution will suffice.
A copy of the approved Site Development Plan is also needed, if this is required in terms of the zoning regulations that apply to the stand.

A separate form (SANS 10400-A Form 2) also needs to be completed by a “competent person” registered with one of the professional Councils within the Built Environment, for structural work such as reinforced concrete floor and roof slabs, special reinforced foundations, abnormal subsoil conditions, fire installations, air conditioning systems, lifts and so forth.
Different certificates or designs need to be submitted depending on the technical aspects of the plan. You should consult an architect or engineer in this regard.

In the case of non-residential developments (for example, offices, factories, shops, institutional buildings and so on), a zoning certificate with a copy of the most recent Amendment Scheme is to be furnished. In some instances, a traffic impact study or environment impact assessment may also be required.

Your architectural professional must complete an Architectural Compliance Certificate with proof of his/her registration details at SACAP. (You should verify your architectural professional’s registration from the outset – visit SACAP web page) On this form he will declare the sensitivity status of the site, the building classification and the complexity scale of the project.

Other forms relating to storm water disposal and electricity consumption may be required by different local authorities.
Some local authorities may ask for a clearance certificate from their treasury department as proof that you don’t owe council any monies. SANS 10400 XA also now requires from professionals to submit proof that the building in question will comply with the Energy Efficiency requirements as required in the regulations.

Fees may vary between different local authorities, and are calculated by the building control staff when you submit an application. No standardised set of tariffs exists- each local authority uses its own schedules. In a recent case study, a prototype warehouse building of 1000m² was submitted to a certain metro municipality. The fees to be paid amounted to R 11 500. The same proto type was handed in at a rural municipality in the Northern Cape, and the fees amounted to almost R 80 000! Another rural municipality charges a flat rate of R 280 per plan.

Some local authorities charge different rates for commercial, residential, industrial, group housing or town houses. It is a good idea to find out at a very early stage.

An approval or rejection decision must be made within 30 days for buildings smaller than 500 m² and within 60 days for buildings larger than 500 m² – this is a national statutory requirement. However, the postage time should be added, and if there are zoning issues, building line relaxations, alternative entrances or traffic impact studies involved, one should allow extra time.

If the architectural professional did his homework thoroughly, and adhere to the National Building Regulations, Town Planning Schemes, etc., plans should not be rejected. It is our experience that building control staff will not reject plans just because of a minor error on the plans. They will normally call on the architect to rectify the minor error, and then reconsider the plan for approval. In some cases “conditional approval” may be granted.

If the plans are rejected because of a major error, such as infringement on neighbouring property, over servitudes, contradiction with zoning etc., it will have to be amended by the professionals responsible for the design, and resubmitted as an amended plan.

However, if you acquire the services of an architectural professional only when the building inspector caught you out half way through the building process, or even to draw “as-built” plans of an existing illegal structure, unconditional approval cannot be expected. Your architect will then advise you on changes to be made in order to get approval.

The easy answer is that a person in an RDP house cannot afford the luxury of double glazing or thermal insulation on the ceiling by example, while those in luxury houses can and should do everything to accomplish safe and energy efficient designs. Conversely, if you are rich but want to be treated as if you are poor, you should go and live amongst the poor.

The new National Building Regulations makes provision for a Category 1 building, which can roughly be defined as any building (even school or church) with no basement and a floor area of less than 80 m² with no clear span exceeding 6m. These buildings do not have to comply with regulations regarding wind storms, earthquakes, attack by biological agents and rising damp. The requirements regarding maintenance cycles and accuracy of construction are also more lenient in order to make it more affordable.

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