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Q&A with Handy Mac: Does my neighbours need permission?

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Jim has a problem with his neighbours

Q: I live in Kraaifontein and two to three weeks ago my neighbours began building, but have not come to inform us about this, nor have they asked us to sign documents. From what we can see, they are building a deck with wood and galvanised poles. Their stairs – or whatever it is – have made our carport quite dark. We want to know if this is allowed and what we can we do. Surely it cannot be safe to build a deck with wood?

A: I am always amazed by the amount of people who do not discuss things with their neighbours. I can think of nothing worse than living in a home and not being surrounded by friends. I need to know that if there is an emergency, Mrs Mac or I can run next door for help.

Maybe I am too considerate, but I wouldn’t think of doing anything that might offend a neighbour. Back to the practicalities. Broadly, no structure can be built without approval from the municipality. This means a plan must be submitted showing what is to be done and that it will be structurally sound.

To begin, contact your local building inspector and ask him to check that what is being done is legal. Don’t just accept your neighbour’s word – ask to see a copy of the approved plan.

If it is an illegal structure, the inspector has the power to halt the work until an approved plan is in place and, if this is not forthcoming, an order to demolish the structure could be issued. When a plan is submitted to the council, they will automatically say the structure needs to be accepted by the neighbours.

If the structure contravenes any of the by-laws that control things such as height or proximity to a boundary, the council will ask for the relevant forms to be signed by neighbours. For a plan to be approved, anything of a structural nature needs to be designed and signed off by a structural engineer.

This is to ensure it will not collapse, thus preventing potential injury to owners, neighbours or visitors to the property. Unfortunately, we are live in a country where breaking the law is becoming commonplace, mainly because we do not have enough qualified people to enforce the regulations, or have too many people willing to turn a blind eye in return for a “gift”.

It is important that we all report any building we think might be illegal as bad workmanship can lead to damage, injuries or even deaths. Contractors also need to step up to the plate. Do not accept a contract that does not have an approved plan – you could be held liable if things go wrong.

If you think about it, a client who has done everything correctly is more likely to have the money to pay you for a job. Someone who is happy to break the first rule is likely to be happy to break all the rules as the work progresses.

*If you have a question for Don, please send it to or SMS only to 0824463859. 


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