Property owners face hefty fines for illegal building work in Cape Town

A total of 117 building and land use cases, concerning contraventions of the Municipal Planning By-Law and National Building Regulations, have been finalised in the City of Cape Town’s municipal courts between the 1st of April and 30th of June 2021

According to the City of Cape Town, most of these cases involved building work without approved plans with fines ranging between R500 to R5 000 each, depending on the nature and extent of the contraventions.

Up to 101 of the finalised cases relate to wrong and unlawful building work without prior approved building plans. The illegal work took place across Cape Town, from Durbanville, Milnerton, and Khayelitsha, to Mitchells Plain, Delft, Table View, Langa, Noordhoek, Mfuleni, Strand, Kuils River, Retreat, Gordon’s Bay, and Heldervue.

Up to 16 of the finalised cases relate to contraventions of the Municipal Planning By-Law where residential properties were being used for business purposes without prior consent from the municipality.

The City says that residents and business owners are required to submit building plans to its Development Management Department for approval before they can commence with any construction work on their properties. All construction work including alterations and additions to existing buildings, building of walls or outside entertainment areas require prior approval from the City. This is to ensure the plans comply with the National Building Regulations and the development rules applicable to the property and area.

All land units that fall within the City’s municipal boundaries have a base zoning that determines what the land can be used for and how the land may be developed. This zoning, among others, is indicated in the Development Management Scheme (DMS) and the DMS is included in the Municipal Planning By-Law (MPBL).

The City says the MPBL and DMS have an impact on future developments and land uses, determine property owners’ rights, and provide clarity about what is allowed in the building environment, and what is not and the DMS and MPBL affect all who live in Cape Town because these legal instruments influence what suburbs and cities will look like a few years down the line.

Should a property owner want to use a building or erf for something other than what it is zoned for, they need to submit a land use application to the City for consideration and approval. The City may need to inform affected and interested parties of the application – these are mostly the neighbours of the affected property – and may provide them with an opportunity to comment or object, depending on the type of application that has been submitted.

Residents often report unauthorised building works or illegal land uses to the City as these affect them directly, either because the illegal building work is affecting their properties, or because whatever the property is being used for is causing a nuisance, disturbance, or affecting their living conditions and quality of life” says the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Spatial Planning and Environment, Alderman Marian Nieuwoudt.

Inspectors from the City’s Development Management Department are obliged to go and investigate these complaints to determine whether the necessary approvals are in place. If not, a notice will be issued to the owner to either stop the building work or land use until such time as the plans or application have been submitted to the City and approved. In some cases, the notices are ignored, and the City has no alternative but to pursue these matters through the municipal courts to force owners to comply”.  

The DMS and the MPBL are important legislative instruments that ensure that the right development and building work happens at the right location, and that the property is used in accordance with the applicable zoning.

The NBR, DMS and the MPBL protect the rights of all of us living and working in Cape Town. It creates order and ensures that building work happens within the law, as prescribed by the NBR, and that land and properties are used as intended by the City’s zoning scheme. For example, zoning means your neighbour cannot use his property for a panel beating business when it is zoned residential,” concludes Alderman Nieuwoudt.