Do you need planning permission for a Wendy house in Cape Town? The truth!

Do you need planning permission for a Wendy house in Cape TownIf you are going to pay someone money to build you a Wendy house in Cape Town, a garden shed, or any other structure of this type you need to understand about planning permission. I have seen first hand how much of a grey area this is for Wendy houses. And unfortunately, even the best in the industry really likes that it is so murky!

The first step in this is to understand the process and the players involved.

There  is:

  • you, the buyer;
  • the municipality, the regulator;
  • the Wendy house company, the builder.

I will absolutely guarantee you that the regulator is the villain of your story, some horrible pantomime character who wants to add unnecessary time and cost to what should be a simple project- and our hero the builder has some advice that will help you defeat this evil tyrant, and get you your building on time and below budget.

Well, I’m going to set the record straight on that- the planning office is not the villain in this story, they are merely there to protect all parties. And that includes you! Any Wendy house manufacturer worth the spit will tell you that they comply to SABS standards, and comply to all regulations etc… but who is going to make sure they do? You? A building inspector, who will appear like magic once the project is  under way, does know these things, and will tell you, and the builder, if things are not as they should be. That doesn’t sound like a villain to me!

I had a garage built from vibracrete, for which I got all the necessary planning permission. As the job was completing the building inspector turned up and first thing he did was measure the thickness of the roof beams- it turns out that half the garages he sees half roof beams that are too thin for the purpose. I would not have known that until the roof collapsed on my car (the beams on my garage were to code but if they were not I would have not known to even check my self).

To the Wendy house industry, the first rule of planning permission is that you don’t talk about planning permission!

And this is industry wide, planning permission is that which shall not be named. I once brought this up in a meeting with the management of a very large manufacturer which had just changed hands, I proposed, having reviewed their web site, that the biggest issue out there was on planning permission, so why not include a guide on their web site? Some head nodding, and murmured assents from the new owners… until… the old hand in the room said, “That’s a really bad idea, we’d never get any more business.”

So here’s Rule number 1…

Rule #1

Never, ever take the advice of the Wendy house company for granted when it comes to planning permission. The reputable ones will at least give you an honest answer to a direct question, but they are not likely to volunteer information, and they might not fully understand the regulations themselves- its a complex issue. If you don’t believe me, try to read the by-laws for planning! Don’t get me wrong, they won’t mislead you, and they are experts at what they do, but what they do is build Wendy houses, not get planning permission.

But the disreputable ones might outright lie to you to get your money.

Here’s the truth, you don’t want to go through the horrible process of getting planning approval, and the Wendy house companies want your money as soon possible. They will build your structure for you, planning permission or no because they know that if they insist that permission is in place before they begin, then you will find a competitor who will do it without.

Which bring us to

Rule #2

At the end of the day, its your Wendy house, on your property, and its your responsibility to make sure its legal.

And its you who will have to face the consequences if it isn’t!

Those consequences could be severe, from a wrap on the wrist, to fines, to having to pull down the structure (at your expense), to actual jail time!

So what is the position regarding planning and Wendy houses?

Rule #3

The planning by-laws are very clearly laid out in a very legal document… which the average person is neither going to have the time nor the patience to read, and probably wouldn’t understand it even if they did.

You could ask a lawyer for help understanding them, but by far the easiest, cheapest way of getting clarification on if you need planning permission or not is to go to your local planning department and ask them. Or you might be able to get your local building inspector to come to site and go through with you what you want to do and what the planning implications are. They are not the enemy, they are there to help you!

Planning permission is a complex issue, you might not even need formal planning approval, but it is in your interest to have some form of documentation that you asked and were told you didn’t need it rather than assuming, or taking the advice of someone not from the planning department. But you cannot possibly base your decision on stuff you found on the internet- there are so many factors to do with size, location, usage, to name but a few.

Here are a few things that you can take from the by-laws:

  • there is no mention of ‘wendy house’ in the by-laws; if you build a property to live in it then it doesn’t matter if its made out of gingerbread and is held up by mushrooms, its a residential dwelling.
  • wendy houses are not classed as `temporary structures` just because they have no foundations.
  • even if they are classed as temporary because of their use they are still subject to planning regulation.

Rule #4

Even if you get away with not having planning permission for years, if you come to sell the property that the illegal structure is on it will catch up with you. Either you won’t be able to sell it, or you will have to pull down the structure. You might get retrospective planning approval, but don’t count on it, and it is going to cost you.

Unwritten Rule #1

Not all parts of Cape Town are created equal!

I know of one manufacturer who won’t build a thing in some areas without planning because he knows that every project will be stalled as soon as the inspector passes by, if everything isn’t in place, but he will build in others without a second thought because nobody seems to care. In some areas the building inspector will be poking his nose in as soon as a van turns up on site to start work.

If you build something without planning permission in some neighbourhoods, the chances of your neighbour grassing you up are high. And don’t rely on the fact that your current neighbours are your best friends and they don’t mind- people move, new neighbours might not be so understanding, and they might look into whether the structure is legal, because some people think like that, and have the money to be able to find out.

Unwritten Rule #2

Even if its a neighbourhood where a big blind eye is being turned to planning you can’t rely on that lasting for ever- what if there is a crackdown? If its a garden shed you might not care so much, but what if you invested R200,000 in a small home? Not only are you out of pocket if they tell you to pull it down, you are also now homeless! All because you wanted to save some time and a few hundred rands?

Some structures are erected for business purposes- do you really want to jeopardize your business for sake of a little bit of time and money?

Unwritten Rule #3

You might be worrying over nothing- you might go to the planning office and be told all you need is to fill in a form so you can get some kind of clearance letter or something.

Unwritten Rule #4

90% of the people who have read this article are just going to ignore the advice anyway because the guy from Dodgy Wendys told them they will be fine without planning permission so why pay over the fees and go through all that waiting for approval?

There are so many variables that will make your project different from any other that it seems pointless even trying to make a list of what and when, simply make a quick trip to your planning office… or don’t, its your call, just as long as you are aware that its your responsibility to comply with the laws, and its you who will be liable if you choose to ignore them.

26 thoughts on “Do you need planning permission for a Wendy house in Cape Town? The truth!

  1. Nerise says:

    I don’t need a quote!
    But to date this is the best article written in trying to create awareness and educating our fellow humans out there!
    Loved your article and it is 100% on point!
    *Thumbs up!

    1. Nanette says:

      Im still not clear , do you need a permit or not?

      1. Russell Hepworth says:

        No idea, you would need to ask your local planning department.

  2. Helen Alicia Matthew says:

    Very informative. Thank you

  3. Hendricks says:

    Thank you for this article. Myself and my wife are thinking to buy a plot and set up a nutec house for are family.

  4. Ricco says:

    I found this article very helpfull since i am in the market for a nutec structure/ home .

    Good to know that i need a plan and approval. Thumbs up

    Pls share this article, make the public more aware .

  5. Zuraida says:

    Thank you for taking the time and shoring information that I had no clue about. I came across your acticle as I was browsing, so now I know more that what I did before I tapped on this topic.
    Information useful for me

  6. Catherine says:

    90% will ignore your article because of bs like this: “it doesn’t matter if its made out of gingerbread and is held up by mushrooms, its a residential dwelling.” really? and because 90% of taxpayers are fedup of being treated differently than the rest of the country that abide by no bylaws. I am told I need an architect to draw a 3sqm toolshed on my building plans. a toolshed that I will remove when I move away. and you are really telling me the municipality, “the regulator”, is not the villains? but part of my neighbour’s roof hangs over into my property? really tell me how the municipality is trying to “protect” me. your article praising the municipality is a load of bs.

    1. Russell Hepworth says:

      Then rule#2 applies- your property, your responsibility, your ass if the you have to face the consequences, your choice if you want to ignore the advice. You’re building a tool shed, big so what, there are people reading this article who are building properties to live in, and many such properties are being built all over Cape Town- for good amounts of money- that are illegal, sub-standard, and in some cases, down right lethal (un-certified, substandard electrical work done by unqualified labourers). That’s putting people’s lives at risk when it could be solved by people being more accepting of the proper process. So build your shed, do what you want to do, I’m sure you will be perfectly fine, and get away with it forever, but don’t attack me for giving the correct advice just because your self justification leads to a willingness to ignore the law.

  7. Steven says:

    I would like to know how do you get planning aproval, in a brick house you need to hire an architect to draw up plans and submit them to the local authority, so since the company has plans already can you just take those to the local authority?

    1. Russell Hepworth says:

      You would need a qualified draftsperson to put the structure plans onto a plan of the plot so that approval can be sort for boundary distances, usage, and development % of the plot.

  8. WM Matthew says:

    I live in an upper middle class neighbourhood & just taking 1sq kilometer around me there are several houses with Wendy house, Lapas & all kinds of home “add ons” ignoring the boundary regs. completely & speaking to some of them regarding plans they just laugh at me!!!

  9. Rodney Viljoen says:

    Hi Russell,
    You perfectly correct, the penalties might not come now but trust me when I say the old saying ” Ignorance of the law is no excuse” they will come. Just wait until you want to sell your property. Inspectors just had a friend of mine pull down five flats an even the court could not help. R400,000.00 later, lesson in this dont trust the company.

    1. Russell Hepworth says:

      exactly, and it is absolutely the home owner’s responsibility to ensure proper planning is obtained.

  10. Phillip says:

    Thanks for the post. I read on another site that a 10m2 temporary building does not need plans. So basically a 3×3 Wendy is the biggest you can go…

    1. Russell Hepworth says:

      I’m not going to claim to know all the intricacies of what is a legal document, I’m certainly not going to commit to it in print in case of legal ramifications further down the line, which is why I constantly advise people that the ultimate authority to contact if they are at all unsure is their local planning department. However, it is my understanding that their is no minimum size, its more a question of what you are going to use the structure for- I would think a small garden shed or tools storage built with a wooden floor, mounted on bricks, is not going to need planning permission- at most you will need something signed by your neighbors. But any kind of utility in it, even a simple light fitting, and that all changes- even having windows has a huge bearing on what you can and cannot do. A company who builds such structures is under no legal obligation to get planning permission before building commences- that’s the property owner’s responsibility. A builder will get paid for the work they do- and might even get paid more if you have to now pull down or seek retroactive planning approval. Their stance is always going to be to keep quiet because if one company will not build without planning then another will, so you will always be easily able to find a company who will build you anything you want without any planning- they may even tell you you don’t need planning, just to get the job done. But the correct response to planning permission is to assume you need it until the planning officer tells you you don’t. It won’t even cost you anything to find out, just get a rough sketch of your plans, take some photos on your phone of the site as it is now and go into your local planning office. Show it all to the person behind the desk and ask them if you need planning permission.

  11. Liza says:

    I am staying in an informal settlement, Do i still need planning or permission to build a nutec house, caus it’s safer and better then a ibr shack.

    1. Russell Hepworth says:

      Legally its still a structure you plan to live in, so yes, but lets be real about this- 1. I don’t know how you would have proper plans drawn up to submit them in the first place- its a formal process involving getting land plans from the surveyors office- I don’t know how that works for something that is defined as being ‘informal’, 2. having a building inspector in an informal settlement full of cobbled together tin-shacks seems to be both a waste of time and like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. So I wouldn’t want to put myself in the position of telling you not to get planning permission-legally I will always say to check with your local planning department, but on a practical level I really can’t see how you would have an issue- and I know that thousands of units are built in some areas of Cape Town without a single question being asked, but in other areas you so much as think about building something and you have the building inspector sniffing around.

  12. berenice Genade says:

    Building of a 7mx9.9m
    Nutec complete structure to Erracted on top of the Garage do i need permission from council?

    1. Russell Hepworth says:


      1. Allies says:

        We needed extra storage space for garden tools etch and our Sporting equipment.
        A friend who works with this kind of thing re size of wendy house without plans etch says that 4x3m is the max size you may build because its a temporary structure.
        Is this correct?
        and if it looks neat and not an eyesore for the neighbors is this then ok?

        1. Russell Hepworth says:

          I always recommend that you ask your local planning office for advice. You can go in, or phone, or get hold of your local building inspector- you can probably email them.
          The reason is its not that simple.
          Size and whether its temporary or not has no bearing on planning. Its more about use and location.
          I think there is a provision for small sheds but the size is way under 4x3m, but, as always, you can either wade through the exact wording of the by-laws, or you can ask your… you get it.
          There is also a distinction (and this might help you) between a garden shed and a garden cupboard. I had it explained to me that a cupboard is designed so that you don’t have to enter the structure to get at the stuff in it- the planning for something like that is going to be very lax, and I would think you wouldn’t need planning unless it was huge- especially the small ones like they sell at Builders.
          But please, please, please, I can’t bang on about this enough… check with the planning office before you start any work. The shed builder is not your friend (I don’t mean your actual friend, I mean in general) here, they get paid to build a shed, they want to make profits not wait around for planning. You are the one who will get fined and incur costs if you don’t follow the planning rules.

  13. Walied says:

    So for any wood structure on my own property I must have a plan if am correct

    1. Russell Hepworth says:

      No, that is not correct. You should assume you do until you have asked your local planning office to confirm that you don’t.

  14. Waleed says:

    I have Neighbour who has put up a Wendyhouse right up against the back wall that seperates my property from him. How far back should it be legally?

    1. Russell Hepworth says:

      Unfortunately, as with much to do with planning- it depends. Different areas and properties have different rules to do with boundaries. And I can’t give you legal advice, anything I say is just my opinion. Your best bet is to get the building inspector in- but be prepared for relations with your neighbour to go very south because once the building inspector calls and finds anything amiss action will be taken. A softer approach would be to go to your local planning office and then decide if you want to go scorched earth. What I find very hard to believe is that there isn’t some kind of building line, and that to build outside that they would need your approval on the variance. One of my neighbours applied to build up to his property edge and had to send out approval letters to half the neighbourhood (it looked like a radius- properties that were two streets away were on the list)so I would think that building up against your house would need something from you to say you were ok with it.

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