Homeowners building illegally

It’s probably every homeowner’s dream project, particularly those with growing families: put in an extra bedroom, recreation room or even a whole new floor or wing.

But there’s growing concern that, while South Africans are quick to use their savings or loans to improve or expand their homes, many are not complying with building regulations.

About R39 billion was lost to municipal coffers each year because of illegal building work countrywide, mainly by homeowners who put up alterations without the required permits, the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications, an entity of the Department of Trade and Industry, revealed in Durban recently.

“This is R39bn lost to the economy,” said the regulator’s technical adviser for architecture and the national building regulations, Rudolf Opperman.

“A large (number) of South Africans have an illegal structure in their homes. They are small changes that they make over a period of time… shacks are also a part of this amount”, he said, adding this ultimately had an impact on service delivery through lost funds.

And partly to blame for this are architects giving the go-ahead to their clients without plans being approved:

“The problem is very prevalent… They instruct clients to carry on,” said advocate Toto Fiduli, head of compliance at the South African Council for the Architectural Profession (Sacap).

“When we ask the public why are they carrying on with the building they tell us that the architects told them to do so,” Fiduli said in a presentation at the recent Building Control Officers’ Convention.

He accused building officers of not doing their jobs. “They should ensure that plans comply with building regulations.”

Fiduli said Sacap members had to follow a code of conduct which allowed for fines, warnings, suspensions or even expulsions – meaning they could not practise again – for breaches.

Since May, 13 members had received warnings for misconduct, said Sacap spokesman, Pappie Maja.

“We encourage people to check with the municipality to see if the architectural professional is registered,” Maja said, adding the public had the right to ask architects for proof of their registration with the organisation. They could also go to its website to check if they are registered.

In an interview with the Daily News on Thursday, the chairman of eThekwini Municipality’s housing committee, Nigel Gumede, said aerial photographs of suburbs were taken every four years to see if people have made alterations to their homes. In addition to this, building inspectors were assigned to monitor developments on the ground.

Gumede said if a person was caught in the process of making alterations or setting up buildings illegally, then the municipality put a stop to the building and demolished it.

“If a person’s building is already up, then we penalise them by increasing the rates that they pay until the plans are approved.”

He urged people not to start building without getting the required permission.

The conference also heard that the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act, which prescribes a R1 000 fine for non-compliance with regulation, does not work.

The delegates suggested penalties should be equivalent with the severity of the crime. It was also suggested that “cutting corners” and the lack of skills were responsible for the collapse of buildings.

Another shortcoming was the lack of applicability of the act to estates and RDP houses.

There’s also concern about inferior building products.

The Department of Trade and Industry was working with SARS’ Customs unit to check if imported products were up to standard. If a product was found to be sub-standard it would not be allowed to go onto the market, but “the tricky part is finding it”, said Dr Tshenge Demana, the department’s chief director.

He said the reason it was difficult to find inferior products was because some contractors used different tariff classifications when they were importing goods.

Meanwhile, Opperman also said the municipality had done a “sterling job” in trying to stop the building of the Tongaat shopping mall, which collapsed last year, killing two construction workers and injuring 29. The developer was accused of not submitting building plans for the mall to the municipality.


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