Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Regardless of legalities and approved plans, there are times when property owners build beyond their legal limits. Often, these infringements, intended or not, cause more harm than just crossing a borderline.
This overlooked topic now comes to the forefront with global pressure on South Africa to better manage its natural ecosystems, carbon admissions and impact on nature.
South Africa is pushing forward as a country, with various programmes driving a new environmentally conscious culture. As a result, the government is greenlighting initiatives placing a mound of attention on the subject.
An example of this increased focus, according to the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment. “It is estimated that nearly 5.7 million hectares of untransformed land in South Africa has been degraded. To optimise the benefits from this land, there is an urgent need for a country-wide land restoration programme to address this challenge.”
Focussing on towns and cities, municipalities are required to handle these said areas with significant commitment. Especially when it comes to property owners going beyond their boundary lines, developing into green belts.
Recently a property in Signal Hill, Newcastle, was brought to our attention. Where a developer extended a piece of the property beyond its legal borderline, going into a said green belt area. After some research, we established that despite the government insisting on adherence to said laws, many are taking a “rogue” approach in smaller communities.
Explaining greenbelts and their role, Senior Portfolio Manager for WWF South Africa, Angus Burns, describes that Green Belts are allocated as per town planning and strategic planning framework.
He explains that the reasoning for this is simple. “Green Belts are important, as they mitigate flooding and potential runaway fires.”
Further stating that Green Belts act as urban heat islands. This means they absorb heat.
For this reason, residential areas are usually much cooler than the CBD, where there are fewer trees and other flora, clarifies Burns. Green Belts also allow different species of fauna to migrate without travelling through areas populated by humans.
Furthermore, Burns points out that there is also a safety perspective to consider. “Green Belts are also put into place, as the land might be unsafe for development. For example, there may be sinkholes.”
Therefore, he stresses that building in a Green Belt is illegal. “There are laws and bylaws in place to protect them and it is up to the municipality to take the relevant steps to uphold them.”
According to DBM Attorneys, the legal repercussions for people playing loss and fast with building plans is a dangerous game.
Renowned for its legal expertise, the law firm explains that each landowner has the right to uninterrupted use and enjoyment of their property. “However, this right is not unlimited and is subject to certain limitations imposed by legislation. Each landowner has a reciprocal duty to refrain from engaging in any conduct which could potentially infringe his neighbours right to uninterrupted use and enjoyment of his property.”
When a landowner erects a structure built over or inside the building line, the landowner clearly violates the town planning legislation. “In order to determine where the building lines lie, you can request a copy of the properties zoning certificate from the municipality’s town planning department.” The Newcastle Municipality’s website explains that town planning falls under the Department of Development Planning and Human Settlements.
According to the government entity, Town Planning Directorate is responsible for the municipality’s planning and building management functions. This includes preparing spatial frameworks, local area plans, and developing long-term strategies while ensuring physical, economic, environmental alignment and integration of all sectors.
The Directorate is also responsible for providing efficient and effective land use management and building inspectorate services for residents who are property owners, developers and investors.
The Town Planning Directorate has four functional units: Land Use Management, Spatial and Forward Planning, Building Inspectorate and GIS. Click here to learn the full responsibility of Development Planning and Human Settlements.
After inspecting the zoning certificate and determining whether the landowner violates town planning legislation or not, an affected party may report the landowner to the town planning department. The department will then attend to the matter and open an investigation.
“Should it be found that building lines have been crossed, an order will be issued instructing the landowner to demolish or move the structure so that it no longer crosses the building lines,” affirms DBM Attorneys.
Landowners must be aware that a demolition order may be applied for from a court if the accused fails to demolish or move the structure. “The municipality may also penalise a landowner by charging an increased municipal rate on the property.”
Should you be dissatisfied with the conduct of your neighbour concerning a boundary line, the law firm explains that the appropriate relief could take the form of an interdict to prevent or stop the erection of the structure. An order for the removal or demolition of the structure or an order awarding suitable compensation in circumstances where the cost of removing the structure would be high, could be imposed.
For more information, click here to read the full National Building Regulations Building Standards Act:
Studying the response of DBM Attorneys and the Senior Portfolio Manager for WWF South Africa, Angus Burns, it is evident that landowners need to be cautious when conducting construction.
Seeking clarity on the matter and how it would be dealt with, the Newcastillian – Online News requested comment from the Newcastle Municipality on 15 September 2021. However, no comment was forthcoming from the Newcastle Municipality at the time of publication.
Concerned residents can also contact the Newcastle Municipality to discuss steps to follow.
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