Stellenbosch Municipality

Overarching drive to act against illegal building activities, structures in Stellenbosch

By: Stephanie Nieuwoudt

Stellenbosch residents who erect illegal buildings on their properties or who are using existing structures for purposes other than what the municipality had given permission for, risk being prosecuted. They also risk losing their insurance cover if the property is damaged in a disaster.

This is the warning of Dupré Lombaard, Director: Planning and Economic Development at Stellenbosch Municipality. The Municipality initiated a drive in March this year to act against owners of illegal structures. This drive is overarching and includes farm owners and restaurateurs as well as home owners who rent rooms to students.

According to Cllr Johannie Serdyn, Mayco member for Planning and Environment 14 cases have since March been handed over to the lawyers.

It is estimated that there are more than 1 000 properties in the municipal area where owners erected buildings without prior building plan approvals, or changed the use of the buildings without prior land use approvals.

“The municipality is aware of these illegal land uses and unlawfully erected buildings in the rural areas, mostly on farms, zoned for agricultural use and in the urban areas, zoned for single dwelling use, but used for student accommodation,” says Lombaard.

Conrad Sidego, Executive Mayor of Stellenbosch says: “In Stellenbosch, Innovation Capital of South Africa, we strive to keep all our residents safe and to ensure a dignified lifestyle. By acting on illegal activities, we minimise the risks of possible tragedy.

“There is always a need for accommodation in the town Stellenbosch and in the surrounding areas. And there will always be those who will try to secure an income from this need. One has respect for the entrepreneurship shown in the process, but as a municipality it is our responsibility to maintain law and order. We cannot just allow illegal building and the erection of illegal structures as this could easily lead to chaos.”

The National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act, 1977, Act 103 of 1977 (NBR), defines buildings and structures and the requirements for the erection of them. Land owners often argue that farms and properties outside of urban areas were exempted from the need to submit building plans.

“However, at no time since the implementation of the NBR was any property exempted from having to submit building plans, other than specifically exempted informal settlements,” says Lombaard.

“All farms and land holdings, mines and quarries, state properties included, must have building plans for the structures erected thereon. Owning properties with buildings and structures for which no building plans or other approvals were granted, holds significant risks for the owners.”

The Stellenbosch Municipality wishes to assist land owners to regularise the use of their land and to gain approvals and authorisations in terms of the relevant statutory provisions. In order to reduce the risks to land owners and the problems faced by purchasers, the Municipality started with a drive to investigate and act on illegal structures in March.

“Some farm owners who have permission to run guesthouses are renting out accommodation on a long-term basis. We encourage tourism to Stellenbosch as it boosts the economy and creates jobs. However, when units meant for tourists are let out to long-term tenants, this does very little to bring in revenue or to create work opportunities,” says Lombaard.

“We are also acting against business owners who have illegally erected structures which serve as restaurants and we are investigating private residences where 8 to 10 rooms are let to students. This is in contravention of the Stellenbosch Zoning Scheme which stipulates that a maximum of 2 non-family members (students) may be accommodated in a private residence.”

According to Lombaard the municipality is using aerial photographs and GPS data to determine whether structures are newly built. This is supported by inspectors who visit the relevant properties. Residents who are found to have acted illegally, could face a fine or be forced to demolish the structures. The ideal would however be to legalise the desirable structures and uses.

Lombaard emphasises that the Municipality is keen to help residents to follow the legal route.

“If you already have a structure which might be illegal, speak to us. We will advise you on how to go about obtaining legal permission for the building.”

  • The NBR defines a building to include " any other structure, whether of a temporary or permanent nature and irrespective of the materials used In the erection thereof, erected or used for or in connection with - the accommodation or convenience of human beings or animals, ... the cultivation or growing of any plant or crop, … any wall, swimming bath, swimming pool, reservoir, ... " etc. The effect of the aforementioned is that buildings or structures erected without approved building plans are in conflict with the provisions of the NBR, LUPO and the relevant Zoning Scheme.
  • The Land Use Planning Ordinance, 1985, Ordinance 15 of 1985 (LUPO) and the regulations made in terms thereof, contain provisions on the illegal use of land and rectification thereof. Moreover, the zoning schemes applicable to the Stellenbosch Municipality contain further limits and prescripts within which land owners may or may not use the land.
  • According to the Consumer Protection Act, 2009, Act 68 of 2009 sellers of property are obliged to declare all legal defects – including illegal structures.