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Thursday Jul 18, 2013

Neighbours 'should be cautious in agreeing to building plan departures'

I had an interesting call from Brian (name has been changed) in Pinelands, Cape Town. Brian's neighbours want to put a second story on their existing thatched roof house, which like many older Cape Town properties has been built over the building line. This house is only 2 meters from the boundary.

Because the extension was a departure from the current municipal by-laws, the municipal planning had told the applicant to get the neighbours to give their written agreement to this departure.

Now Brian has no wish to be anything but neighbourly and would normally be more than happy for his neighbour to extend his house. However, Brian called me to ask: What if there is a fire in the thatch and because the thatch roof structure is so close to the boundary this fire spreads to Brian's house also. If this happened would his insurance company pay, asked Brian?

Good point. The National Building Regulations state that thatched roof structures in excess of 20 square meters should not be erected closer than 4.5 meters from any boundary. This distance has been determined taking into account the likely intensity of heat emanating from a burning thatched roof and its ability to ignite neighbouring structures.

Many older thatched structures are built much closer together, but the NBR governs new building. I am a little surprised that the municipality would even countenance this departure.

I suggested that Brian contact his insurers and ask them to state in writing that they are in agreement with the proposed departure and would honour their insurance cover over his house in the event of a fire spreading from the neighbour. I doubt, somehow that the insurers will agree to this.

In my opinion home owners should look very closely at the impact of any proposed departure from local and national building regulations and local by-laws and consider issues such as safety, privacy and future resale value before agreeing to a neighbour's request for a departure.

There is a time to be neighbourly, but being sensible should override this.

John Graham
CEO HouseCheck

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