Avoid Illegal Home Renovations for Awesome No-Fuss Alterations


Whether your home feels tired and outdated, your growing family needs more room, or you’re hoping to increase the value of your property, home renovations can be exciting and rewarding!

But, before people start knocking out walls like it’s a Hulk free-for-all, we urge homeowners to familiarise themselves with South Africa’s building regulations first. Avoiding illegal home renovations may seem like an inconvenience, but doing your due diligence could save you from massive losses and penalties in the long run.

Let’s take a look at what home renovations require approval, which ones truly are a free-for-all, and what the consequences of non-compliance could be.

Restricted and Illegal Home Renovations

It’s easy to avoid the major pitfalls of illegal building alterations, when you know what they are. Here are the major culprits of non-compliance with building regulations.

Home Building Extensions

According to South African building regulations, “no person shall, without the prior approval in writing of the local authority concerned, erect any building…or alter or add to any existing building”.

This means that if you want to extend your home – in other words, add floor surface area – you need to submit these plans for approval first. This impacts adding rooms, extending a room by building outward, building a second storey, and even adding a garage.

Boundary Walls and Fences

Boundary walls and fences over 1.8 metres in height are considered permanent structures, and will need to be approved by the authorities. Regulations restrict the erection of any freestanding brick, stone or concrete wall on a property within 1.5 metres from any public road or street boundary – or from an adjoining site which is at a higher level.

Non-Compliant Building Structures

Structures that don’t comply with the safety standards set out by the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act, or that are clearly unstable and pose a risk to people, are considered to be illegal. Avoid using cheap builders who cut corners to “save costs” – many of their structures deteriorate faster, becoming a danger and a liability over time.

Electrical and Gas Re-Fitting

Few homeowners realise that building and renovation projects are required to proceed at pace, and not be left unattended for an extended period of time. In fact, your alteration could be considered an illegal home renovation simply for abandoning the project for 3 months or more. If reported, you could be instructed by authorities to resume building, or face demolition orders.

Abandoned Building Projects

Older homes that need to be rewired, and homes being re-fitted with gas appliances, like a stove or oven, need to undergo the relevant compliance assessments. Skipping this important step is not only illegal, with costly penalties, but it’s also dangerous.

Legal, No-Fuss Home Alterations

So, what can you do without the permission of building authorities? Thankfully, most aesthetic alterations present no problems, as well as non-permanent structures.

Remodelling Interior Layout

As long as interior alterations do not impact the structural integrity of your home, you can even go as far as knocking out internal walls to create open-plan areas that offer more free-flowing space.

However, even if you hope to dodge costly, time-consuming building approvals, you shouldn’t plan to dodge the expertise of an architect, engineer or qualified construction company. An expert will help to ensure that you don’t accidentally remove a load-bearing wall, which could have catastrophic consequences for your home.

Giving Your Interior a Facelift

Remodelling your kitchen or bathroom does not fall within illegal home renovations territory, and you’re free to install new cupboards, wall finishes and tiles, new flooring, new appliances, and new paint trends  at your leisure. As long as the home structure remains safe and intact, your personal decorative and design preferences are free game!

Non-Permanent Structures

You can update small outdoor structures without having building plans approved as long as they fall within certain parameters:

  • Carports

    Carports should not exceed an area of 40sqm. These can be attached to the main home building, or standalone structures. Anything larger will need to be submitted for approval or will be deemed an illegal home renovation.

  • Garden and Tool Sheds

    Garden sheds or tool sheds should not exceed 10sqm. These are usually simple structures that do not even require a foundation.

  • Greenhouses

    Greenhouses are a wonderful addition to your home garden, as long as they’re smaller than 15sqm, you can happily construct a greenhouse without having to worry about building authorities.

  • Patios and Pergolas

    Give your patio the shade it deserves with a simple pergola. As long as it’s an open-sided, non-permanent structure smaller than 20sqm, you can erect a perfectly lovely pergola without having to submit any plans.

Are Swimming Pools A Grey Area?

Most people believe that swimming pools are not governed by any building regulations, and that they can build a permanent swimming pool in their yard, without permission. According to regulations, a private swimming pool is considered “minor building work”, which means it’s not as strictly regulated, but there are some legal considerations around swimming pools that property owners should pay attention to.

In a nutshell, you still need building plans for your swimming pool, to ensure compliance with safety conditions, zoning and building codes. These plans display pool location, depth, dimensions, drainage and safety features.

Technically, any permanent pool is governed by the building act, but according to our research, there are some scenarios where exemptions might be made to these regulations. Some examples of where you could apply for exemption are:

  1. You’re planning to build a pool with a surface area of 10sqm or less, which would be a simple plunge pool.
  2. Your pool will have a depth of 1.2 metres, or less, which automatically makes it less complex to regulate.

It’s important to note that sectional title homeowners may still need to apply for permission from their estate body corporate before building a swimming pool of any size or depth.

So, yes – swimming pools can be a grey area. That’s why we advise that you consult with an architect before you begin digging any holes in your backyard… or it might become a hole in which you lose a lot of money!

Not Sure If You’re Planning Illegal Home Renovations?

Never be shy to ask. Chat with a professional in the construction industry and get the low-down on building regulations, rather than diving headfirst into what could be an expensive mistake. Illegal home renovations are taken seriously in South Africa, and carry the risk of costly fines, or being forced to demolish your home addition.

Make your house alterations memorable for the right reasons, and work with experts, like Jukka Construction. Got questions? Give us a call about your home project!