If 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.
- 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…
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
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?
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.
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.