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National Building Regulations and Standards

Buying a home is likely the single largest expense any person will have in his lifetime. Unfortunately, court cases where things have gone wrong in the construction of the building are not uncommon. So, how does one manage the risk?

The National Building Regulation and Building Standards Act 19771 makes provision for uniformity in the laws relating to the erection of buildings and established building standards. It is administered by the Minister of Human Settlements, but effectively the Provincial Councils do the day-to-day nitty gritty. They are referred to as the ‘Local Authority’.

A. Local Authority approval

  1. It is a criminal offence to erect any building2 without the prior written approval of the Local Authority.3 4

B. Objectionable building

  1. The Local Authority can prohibit the construction of a building (or earthworks) if it is of the opinion that it will not be in the interests of health or hygiene; or will be unsightly or objectionable; or could be a nuisance; or will lower the value of adjoining or neighbouring properties. Any person who fails to comply with a notice to this effect commits an offence.5

  2. The same applies to a prohibition issued in respect of any building on a site subject to flooding, or improper drainage, or founded on refuse or decomposable matter.6

  3. The Local Authority can also order the demolition or alteration of buildings or earthworks, or the securing of land, which is dilapidated or dangerous to life or property, or showing signs of these characteristics.7 It can also order the cessation of any activities in relation thereto.8 Any person who fails to comply with the terms of a notice issued in this regard commits an offence.9

  4. It is also an offence to occupy or use any building in respect of which such a prohibition has been issued.10

  5. The local authority can order all persons occupying the building, directly, to vacate the building. It can also direct the owner to remove all persons from the building, and to prevent unauthorised persons from entering.11 It is an offence to fail to comply with any such direction.12

  6. There is, in fact, a duty on the owner of any land or building which becomes dilapidated, or dangerous, or which shows signs of either. He must notify the Local Authority forthwith, and commits an offence in not doing so.13

  7. The Act provides for the promulgation of a wide variety of regulations.14 They can also create offences.15

C. Certificates of occupancy

If the Local Authority is satisfied that the construction of a building has been completed in accordance with the Act, and any conditions it set for approval of the building to go ahead, it must issue a certificate of occupancy if requested by the owner.16 In the owner’s application, he must provide electrical installation certificates, and structural and fire protection certificates.

  1. It is a criminal offence to obtain these certificates, for purposes of requesting the Local Authority to issue the certificate of occupancy, by any fraudulent means.17

  2. It is also an offence to submit any false or incorrect certificates to the Local Authority, for purposes of a request that it issue the certificate of occupancy.18

  3. It is an offence to use, or occupy, or allow it to be used or occupied, a building which has not been issued with a certificate of occupancy by the Local Authority.19

  4. Any owner or person interested in the building who occupies or uses the building outside of the period specified by the Local Authority in the certificate of occupancy commits an offence.20

  5. It is a crime to use or occupy a building otherwise than is permitted by the National Building regulations.21

D. Building control officers

The Local Authority appoints qualified people as building control officers. Their function is to ensure compliance with the Act, and they have wide powers of entry and inspection.

  1. Any person who hinders or obstructs a building control officer (or any person authorised by the Local Authority) in the performance of his duties commits a criminal offence.22

E. Certain methods and materials prohibited

  1. If the Minister is satisfied that any method or material used or to be used in the erection of any building will not be in the public interest, or will be dangerous to life or property, he can, by notice in the Government Gazette, prohibit such use. This can be generally, or specific to a particular owner of land where a building is being erected. Any person who fails to comply with such a notice commits an offence.23
  1. As amended; the latest amendment was effected by Act 8 of 2008. 

  2. This means just about anything. The definition of ‘building’ includes any structure, whether temporary or permanent and irrespective of the materials used, and for whatever purpose. For example, even walls, swimming pools, drainage, and parts of buildings are included. 

  3. The application for approval must be accompanied by a site plan, layout and other drawings, and several other documents specified by the regulations – Government Notice R2378 of 12 October 1990. 

  4. Section 4(1) read with section 4(4). 

  5. Section 10(1)(a) read with section 10(2). 

  6. Section 10(1)(b) read with section 10(2). 

  7. Section 12(1). 

  8. Section 12(3)(b). 

  9. Section 12(6). 

  10. Section 12(5) read with section 12(6). 

  11. Section 12(4). 

  12. Section 12(6). 

  13. Section 12(2) read with section 12(6). 

  14. Section 20(1). 

  15. It is beyond the scope of this work to address regulations. 

  16. Section 14(1). 

  17. Section 14(3)(b) read with section 14(1). 

  18. Section 14(3)(a) read with section 14(1). 

  19. Section 14(4)(a)(i) read with section 14(1)(a). 

  20. Section 14(4)(a)(ii). 

  21. Section 14(4)(a)(iv). 

  22. Section 15(2). 

  23. Section 19.