There is a common misconception that building plans are needed only prior to the construction of a new home. Homeowners often overlook the fact that many alterations and improvements made to their home also require a building plan, which must be approved by the relevant municipality. In most instances, a building plan is required when an alteration changes the structure of the building. However, one should be aware that a building plan may even be needed for additions that are done outside of the home itself but are located on the property, such as:
- Perimeter walls exceeding 1.8m (height is dependent on the municipality’s by-laws),
- Erection of new buildings such as a flatlet or garage,
- Retaining walls,
- Conversion of existing garage into a habitable room,
- Drainage alterations (applies to internal structures too.).
As a rule, any alteration or improvement that requires a foundation will require a building plan. You should contact your local municipality’s town planning department to check if a building plan is necessary, before starting with any alteration. Each municipality will have their own building regulation by-laws which will dictate when an approved building plan is necessary. These by-laws may be found on the municipality’s website.
Alternatively, one could contact a building professional to enquire about local building regulations. It is important to be aware of the cost attached to having a building plan approved. A fee will be charged by the professional (architect, draughtsmen or engineer) who is contracted to draw up the plan, as well as the municipality’s town planning department, where the plans will be submitted for approval.
The cost involved should not deter one from obtaining an approved building plan, as failure to have an updated and approved building plan may result in serious consequences, such as the demolition of the ‘illegal’ alteration, hefty fines or even prosecution. Although one might think that this happens only in extreme cases as building regulations may be poorly enforced, there are occasions where not having a building plan can have other severe consequences.
Insurances companies will not cover insurance claims to any improvements to the property, where there are illegal alterations or improvements (no approved building plans are in place). Again, it must be stressed that even if these illegal structures are not attached to the main (home) structure it will result in the invalidation of the entire claim for all improvements. Insurance companies will not pay for damages to the home even if the illegal structure is a perimeter wall. This is further compounded if there is a home loan on the property, as the owner will need to maintain bond repayments, irrespective of the house being damaged and the insurance company not being prepared to pay for repairs.
It is crucial for home owners to ensure that there is an approved building plan in place for all improvements to the property and that potential home buyers ask for a copy of an approved building plans when purchasing a home.
If you make an alteration or improvement to your property, you must increase the insurance cover to include this, failing which the insurer will only pro rata any claims for damages that they receive.
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