Understanding the Concept of Competent Persons & Competency
When South Africa’s National Building Regulations were updated in 2008, several new definitions were added to the legislation, and some were rewritten. One of the most important changes was to the term competent person, because a “competent person” is now required to draw up plans and submit them to the local authority. In the past, an owner builder could do this without the mandatory assistance of an architect or designer, simply because the concept of competency, and more specifically the definition of “competent person” was vague in the extreme.
What the Law Used to Say About Competency
Previously the building regulations stated that: “‘competent person’ means a person who is qualified by virtue of his experience and training.” So if you knew how to draw plans, and followed the rules set out in Part A: Administration in the regs (as well as any additional requirements laid down by your local municipality), you could go the full DIY route.
In fact, when we first wrote The Complete Book of Owner-Building in South Africa, in 1992, having just owner built our own home (with the help of a qualified draughtsman), we got to know the head of planning at the Western Cape Regional Services Council, and had a few laughs about the standard of plans submitted by some people. On one occasion, he told us, somebody had submitted hand drawn plans on notepaper. I don’t know the ins and outs, or what changes were demanded by council, but the house was built without the owner having to employ any type of professional to help him with the shoddy plans.
At the time, an owner builder who claimed to have the required “experience” could often “walk” the plans through council to hurry the process up. Not any more.
What the Law Says Now
The new definition of a competent person means “a person who is qualified by virtue of his education, training, experience and contextual knowledge to make a determination regarding the performance of a build or part thereof in relation to a functional regulation or to undertake such duties as may be assigned to him in terms of these regulations.”
And that is just the beginning.
There is a completely new regulation in the 2008 legislation:
AZ.4 Complying with the requirements of the National Building Regulations
Apart from anything else, this regulation explains the concept of a “competent person” further, stating that he or she must be registered in “an appropriate category of registration” in terms of:
- the Architectural Professions Act, 2000
- the Engineering Profession Act, 2000
- the Natural Scientific Professions Act, 2003,
- any other relevant Act.
In spite of the vagueness of the old legislation, the authorities have always considered it necessary for qualified people to design houses and draw up plans. Previously the law stated that a person performing such function was required to be registered as an architect OR to have “a specified qualification, certificate, status or other attribute or to have had experience or training of a specified nature or for a specified period”.
It is clear that this was a loophole, which is why A1 now states that the “designing, planning and the supervision of the erection of any building or structure” must be a qualified professional, namely someone who has a qualification in terms of the laws listed above, or the Professional and Technical Surveyors’ Act, 1984.
Historically South Africa has a record of appallingly shoddy workmanship in the construction industry, with fly-by-night operators building structures that simply didn’t stand the test of time. So it stands to reason that professionals should take control of the industry.
If an owner builder wants to take full control of a project, the very least they will have to do is appoint and retain the services of somebody who is registered in a professional category of registration in terms of one of the councils for the professions identified in the Council for the Built Environment Act, 2000. Even if an owner builder is able to draw his or own plans according to the requirements of the Building Regulations (but isn’t a “competent person” in terms of the Act), the professional they “employ” will need to submit the plans to the local authority and make a declaration that specifies the complexity of the project (low, medium or high), specifies site sensitivity in environmental or heritage terms (low, medium or high), and state in a precise manner how the functional regulations will be satisfied.