Sellers – Are Your Property Plans Approved?

Property owners with properties that are illegally constructed, or don’t have approved municipal plans, could be in for an unpleasant surprise from the local council.  For many years property owners have, wrongly, made minor alterations to properties without obtaining the necessary planning permission – something that the municipality is picking up on.

In some instances, even major alterations have been made without council approval.  We’ve seen cases where current structures breach building lines and are technically illegal.  In other cases, the typical “granny flat” scenario contravenes the single residential zoning restrictions, where no more than one dwelling is permitted on an erf.

If you own a property you would do well to obtain copies of the approved plans from council to see if the plans represent the improvements as they currently stand.  If not, it would be prudent to arrange for a qualified person to draw up revised plans and submit to council for approval.

It becomes quite a serious matter when you sell a property without approved plans.  Whilst it’s not technically illegal to do so, it is a legal requirement that you disclose to a purchaser whether or not the plans are approved should you be aware that they aren’t.

It’s also currently the responsibility of the purchasers’ to enquire as to whether or not the plans are approved.  In doing this, it would be wise to ask for a copy of the approved plans just to confirm you are buying a legal structure.

What do you do if you realise the property you want to buy doesn’t have approved plans?  It’s important to determine if there are any building contraventions – building lines breached or dual dwelling zoning issues.  If there are, then be aware that once you’re the owner, these problems become yours and the municipality will, at some time, place the responsibility on you to rectify these.  In some instances, this could even involve demolishing an illegal section of the building if the necessary consents cannot be obtained.

Rather than take that risk, many purchasers make their offer subject to the seller having plans of the current improvements approved by council before transfer – but appreciate this will delay transfer for a number of months.

If there are no contraventions and it’s just a question of having the plans updated, submitted, and approved, then a potential purchaser may well want to proceed with the purchase but would allow for the cost of having the plans revised and approved.  In most instances, this is not a huge expense, but we’ve seen it vary between R 5 000 and R 20 000 – depending on what’s involved.

As a property owner, you have a lot invested in your property.  It would be prudent to deal with any planning issues in good time to avoid future problems from council.  Failure to do so may well result in significant costs, and possibly even legal action against you from council – or from a purchaser to whom you didn’t disclose the lack of approved plans despite being aware of the fact.


Steve Caradoc-Davies

Principal of Harcourts Platinum
Director of Harcourts South Africa

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