Strategic Planning of Boundary Walls and Fences

steel fence

A steel palisade fence on the street side boundary.

Boundary walls and fences are one of the most controversial topics facing homeowners. We are constantly contacted by people from all parts of South Africa who want advice – or have some sort of problem – relating to boundary walls and fences – often because neighbours have erected something that is offensive or clearly illegal.

There are laws that relate to boundary walls and fences, but more importantly, you need to check the boundary walls and fences policy followed by your local authority. Ultimately what you can and cannot do is up to them.

Boundary Walls and Fences and the Law

The two most important issues here are the position of boundary walls and fences, and ownership.

Positioning Boundary Walls and Fences

All properties are surveyed and pegged when land is zoned for residential use. But as soon as the land is built on, generally the pegs are removed. This is why it is so important to ensure that boundary walls and fences are correctly positioned in the first place. If there is a dispute between neighbours at any stage (and they could be completely different parties to those who owned the two properties when the wall was built), it may be necessary to get a land surveyor to resurvey the property according to the official diagram that is lodged with the Surveyor General in Pretoria.

If you decide to build a wall or erect a fence on the boundary, you may do so provided it is on your property. And this includes the foundationswhich of course will be wider and longer than the wall itself. The structure will then belong to you. [See minor building work for walls and fences that do not require plans.]

The law also protects the structure from any action that may threaten its stability. For instance your neighbour may not dig down next to your wall on his/her side if this is likely to wash away the earth if and when there are heavy rains. If he/she does some sort of excavation, they will need to erect a retaining wall (which will require plans) or some other structure that provides lateral support to the wall.

Ownership of Boundary Walls and Fences

Often, however, neighbours agree to share the costs of boundary walls and fences, in which case ownership is also shared.

In the absence of proof that a boundary wall is wholly on one or other property, ownership is usually presumed to be shared. Some local authorities state that each side is then owned by the property owner on each side; others say that the wall is owned jointly. If ownership is shared either way, neither owner may do anything to the wall – ie they may not raise it, lower it or break it down – without the other neighbour’s permission. If the structure is damaged in any way, both must share the cost of repair.

There are different laws that apply in agricultural areas (farmland).

Local Authority Boundary Walls and Fences Policies

While every local authority has its own policy for boundary walls and fences, there are many similarities. The information give here is based on the official policy of the City of Cape Town, drawn from a document that was published in 2009.

The official document Boundary Walls and Fences Policy acknowledges the fact that all fences and boundary walls that front onto public streets are “highly visible” and therefore have a direct bearing on the character as well as what they term the “visual amenity of neighbourhoods”.

Driven by an increased need for security, more and more homeowners are tending to install security devices on top of boundary walls and fences in an uncontrolled and haphazard manner. These devices take various forms and include different types of electric fencing, as well as razor wire, barbed wire and various kinds of ugly (though effective) spikes. Because of this, the City of Cape Town devised its policy in 2009, formally identifying which security devices may be utilized – and which should not be permitted.

At this stage, the City of Cape Town’s Building By-laws prohibited the use of certain materials including galvanized iron sheeting and asbestos sheeting (though it should also be noted that no asbestos materials may be used for building anywhere in the country), and barbed wire on street boundaries, but they did not make any provision for controlling security devices. While historically, the Occupational Health and Safety Act controlled the technical aspects of the installation of electric fences, there was no provision in the City’s Scheme Regulations to control the installation of security devices.

Their Boundary Walls and Fences Policy attempts to control the appearance of boundary walls and fences and the installation of security devices on top of walls and fences. They also point out that this policy precedes the formulation of a by-law.

The City of Cape Town’s Legal Mandate

As they state, boundary walls are considered to form part of municipal planning, which is a local authority competency in terms of Part B of Schedule 5 of South Africa’s Constitution. Note that this is why the decisions relating to boundary walls and fences are ultimately left to the local authority to decide.

In Terms of Section 156 of the Constitution, municipalities (or local authorities, including the various Cities – specifically Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban etc.) have the power to make and administer by-laws that will ensure the effective administration of all the various matters they have the right to administer – in this case, policies that relate to boundary walls and fences.

There is no provision made in the National Building Regulations to control the appearance and height of boundary walls. For this reason, control of the appearance and height of boundary walls has become part of municipal planning country-wide.

Rationale and Justification for By-laws Relating to Boundary Walls and Fences

Complaints Relating to Safety

In the absence of a standard policy throughout the city, or relevant by-laws dealing with these matters, The City Council stated that it was receiving complaints from members of the community concerning safety issues surrounding the installation of electric fences in particular. Specifically, concerns related to the safety of children and accidental contact with the live wires.

Complaints had also been received about the use of unsightly materials and the adverse impact that this has on the character and visual amenity of certain areas.

The document noted that the high crime rate was a concern to the community and that the protection of life and property had become a priority in most, if not all neighbourhoods of the City.

Boundary Walls and Fences Explained

A Definition of Boundary Walls and Fences

For the purposes of managing and assessing proposals in terms of their “new” policy, the City defined a boundary wall or fence as “any wall, fence or enclosing structure erected on or next to a property boundary and any other structures (including but not limited to security devices, for example spikes, electric fencing, barbed or razor wire) affixed to or on top of it.”

Specifications for Boundary Walls and Fences

There is now a list of specifications for boundary fences and walls that are:

  • located on street boundaries,
  • located on boundaries of public open space,
  • and lateral boundaries.

These must comply with the following requirements:

  • Solid boundary walls may not be any higher than shall 1.8 m on street boundaries, and no higher than 2,1 m on lateral boundaries.
  • Palisade-type fences may not be higher than 2.1 m on either street or lateral boundaries.
  • Fences may not be higher than 2,1 m on street boundaries.

[Note:  The National Building Regulations state that walls and fences to a maximum height of 1,8 m are regarded as “minor building work” and do not require plans. So whilst the City of Cape Town allows walls and fences to be a maximum of 2,1 m, unless they rule otherwise, plans will be required.]

  • The District Manager has the right to relax these height requirements at his/her discretion.
  • At least 40% of the surface area of any street boundary walls, including gates, if these are provided, must be visually permeable – ie you need to be able to see through close to half of the wall and gate.
  • Boundary walls and fences must be measured from the existing level of the ground that abuts the wall or fence. If the level of the ground on opposite sides of the fence or wall are not equal, the height should be measured from the higher of the two sides. If soil is retained by a boundary wall, the maximum permitted height of the retained soil is 2,1 m. This should be measured from the natural ground level in front of the wall. A balustrade wall not exceeding 1 m in height is permitted above the level of the retained soil.

[Note: Plans are required for retaining walls.]

  • Where two intersecting street boundaries of any property enclose an angle of less than 135 degrees, the maximum permitted boundary wall height above street level within 4, 5 m of the intersection of the boundaries is 1 m.
  • Electrified fencing and other forms of security fencing must also comply with these requirements.

Important Provisions of the NBR
and Building Standards Act

The provisions of Section 4 of the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act, No 103 of 1977 (ie the legislation), are applicable which means that prior written authority must be obtained from the City when erecting a boundary wall or fence. More specifically, Section 4 of the Act relates to: “Approval by local authorities of applications in respect of erection of buildings”, and states that people must:

  1. get written approval from the local authority after plans and specifications have been submitted to the local authority
  2. submit all applications in writing on the form supplied by the local authority
  3. supply the name and address of the person applying for permission to build together with the necessary plans, specifications etc. required by the National Building Regulations and Building Standards
  4. be aware that anyone who contravenes the Act will be guilty of an offense and liable (if convicted) to pay a maximum fine of R100 per day for every day spent erecting and building illegally.

The Building Control Officer has indicated that the provisions of Section 13 of Act 103 dealing with work of a minor nature are also applicable.

Note that this is not a reference to the section in the Act that refers to minor building work. 

Section 13 of the Act relates to “Exemption of buildings from national building regulations and authorization for erection”, and it states that any building control officer may exempt property owners from the need to submit plans or authorize erection of a building in accordance with specific conditions and directions.

Note that the City of Cape Town has seen fit to draw attention to this section in terms of walls and fences (not only buildings as such).


Boundary Walls and Fences Policy. City of Cape Town, Directorate: Strategy & Planning; Department of Planning & Building Development Management; Development Policy & Processes Branch. January 2009.

Reader’s Digest Family Guide to The Law in South Africa. The Reader’s Digest Association South Africa (Pty) Ltd. Cape Town. 1986.

  447 Responses to “Boundary Walls and Fences”

Comments (447)

    • Adrian it depends on several factors including whether the foundations are adequate, whose wall it is – if it is a common wall (i.e. not owned by either party) you will need your neighbour’s consent; and whether they local authority allows boundary walls to be built to 2.1 m without plans. Even if they don’t you will need to inform them that you plan to extend the wall. I suggest you check with your local authority first.

  2. Hi. My street boundary is currently a metre from the road am I allowed to replace it with a solid wall regardless of the distance from the road? I’m trying to get a car port going in my yard but my neighbors are rejecting the idea of us building to the lateral boundary wall, anyway I can bypass this

    • Andrea there are bylaws that specify how close to the road you can build – so it depends where you live, and what the bylaws are. Your local authority will be able to advise.

  3. hi i would like to know if i need a plan to erect a boundy wall at the
    back of my house to the height of 1.8mt from ground

    • Hi Tino,
      The regulations say that any freestanding wall built with masonry, concrete, steel, aluminum, or timber or any wire fence that does not exceed 1,8 m in height at any point above ground level and does not retain soil does not need plans but you will need to inform the council in writing what you are doing. Just be aware that they have the right to ask you for plans if they so require them. You must also make sure that you build on your side of the boundary, alternatively have a word with your neighbour and get his OK to build on the common boundary line. You should do this in writing so that there are no misunderstandings at a later stage.

  4. Hi, after signing an agreement to purchase a house, I discovered that the neighbours boundary wall was erected on the property that I am buying.he has used up approx. 17 square meters for the wall but when
    i- questioned the seller, she saidd to me that she allowed and agreed on approx 2 squre meters. What are my rights as a buyer and what is the legal height of a boundary wall. Thanks

    • Elvis, ask the seller for proof of what she agreed to. It must be in writing. If she can’t provide this you can cancel the agreement to purchase. I am pretty sure you can also cancel it on the grounds that 17 sq m of the property has been taken by the neighbour – and or reduce the amount of your offer. You will probably have to do this via an attorney.
      The National Building Regulations state that boundary walls up to 1,8 m in height = minor building work and so don’t require plans. Some local authorities allow building up to 2.1 m without plans. If any higher than this there must be plans and the local authority will need to approve them.

  5. Hello, We are wanting to replace the boundary wall on our property and build a 2.1m high wall between properties, and 1.8m wall on the street boundary. Do we have to submit plans or do anything before starting this project? We are based in Durban.
    When is a wall classified as a retaining wall?

    Kind regards,

    • Kelsey the NBR define a 1.8 m wall as minor building work. You will see from the link I have given you that you don’t need plans for minor building work, but you do need to notify the local council of the fact that you will be building. Check if there is a form they need you to fill in. Also some municipalities allow walls up to 2.1 m to be built without plans. Again, you will need to check with them. You will find contact details on their website.
      In Part K of SANS 10400, Walls, a retaining wall is defined as a “wall intended to resist the lateral displacement of materials”. Essentially they are built to retain earth behind them and there are specific requirements in terms of building design and construction.

      • Hi Penny,

        I finally managed to get in touch with someone at the Municipality, they have told me that no matter what height the wall is plans need to be submitted by an Architect??

        • Kelsey we’ve been trying to find their bylaws – zoning etc and can’t. The thing is that the Building Regulations are minimal requirements and the local authorities have the right to demand whatever they want! Durban is clearly a law unto themselves. If plans are required, they do have to be done by a competent person, but not necessarily an architect. You can get them drawn by a draughtsman or anyone else qualified in terms of the National Building Regulations’ requirements. They can’t argue with that.

  6. My property is a double story,my neighbours on my right are below me,during the last heavy rain the bank collapsed taking with it the fence that was dividing my neighbour and i, the wire fence was erected on top of what i thought was a retaining wall,turned out to be car tyres to pack up the wall,and hold the fence, i have just recently purchased this property………..after doing some research on the internet and getting people out to view the damage,i have now learnt that my property is unstable,and this is very dangerous as the next heavy rain could wash away my property……….i have contacted the insurance and they do not cover retaining walls not to specifications……… neighbour is reluctant to assist with the cost of securing the property,she has now moved and leased her property,and has also put it for sale,and says the new owners must attend to the damage…….what can i do? I need help urgently………i feel very unsafe

    • Brenda I’m not surprised insurance won’t pay; and if the house washes away they won’t pay either! Is the “retaining (tyre) wall” on your property or on your neighbour’s property? And do you know who constructed it? If it is on your neighbour’s property, then you should take urgent legal action to force them to take immediate remedial action. It’s going to cost a bit of money on legal fees, but better than losing your home. Alternatively you could get in an engineer and have a proper retaining wall designed and built. A system like Terraforce would probably be ideal.
      Let us know what the outcome is. Good luck.

  7. I need some clarity regarding a boundary wall. My neighbour just built his house. My house lies north of his so I expected him to be north facing. The problem is that his entertainment area looks over the 1.8m boundary wall into my front garden, driveway, garage and consultation room. My wife is a psychologist and this makes her clients feel uncomfortable. I spoke to the building contractor to lift the wall.
    This he did.
    who is responsible for the account?
    What is the minimum distance between walls and sliding glass doors?

    • Hi Christo,
      SA Legislation (though not the Building Regulations) states that when a house plan is being approved, the local authority must take into account the airspace that the house uses and that the neighbours privacy and the neighbours enjoyment of their respective properties must be protected. This is even though the house is built within the prescribed building lines. There is a precedent that was set in law, that I have quoted elsewhere.
      Unfortunately when it comes to the cost of the wall it does become more of a civil case rather than a building regulations issue and you will have to come to an arrangement with your neighbour about this. This should have been done before the wall was raised. Also, if it’s your wall, and you gave the instruction to the builder, I doubt that your neighbour is going to be willing to pay after the event!
      The minimum distances permitted between walls and sliding glass doors are affected by several Regulations and Standards, as well as your local council by-laws. For instance SANS 10400-T: 2011, Fire protection states:
      4.57 Single-storey category 1 buildings for H3 and H4 occupancies
      (Note H3 and H4 are Domestic Residence and Dwelling House respectively)
      “4.57.1 The minimum distances from an external wall of attached and detached single-storey category 1 buildings for H3 and H4 occupancies to the lateral and rear boundary of the site shall not be less than
      a) 0,0 m for walls with no openings and a fire resistance (stability, integrity and insulation) of at least 30 min;
      b)  0,5 m for walls with no openings, constructed with non-combustible external cladding and a surface area of not more than 7,5 m2, where such walls have a fire resistance of less than 30 min but which, when tested, comply with the requirements for stability and integrity for a period of not less than 30 min;
      c)  1,0 m for walls as described in (b) but with a surface area greater than 7,5 sq m;
      d)  that given in table 19 for walls similar to those described in (a), (b) and (c) above, but with openings, provided that the openings in walls at right angles to the boundary are at least 500 mm away from the boundary; and
      e)  4,5 m where walls have combustible external cladding, or non-combustible external cladding which does not have a fire rating of 30 min for stability or integrity, the entire facade should be regarded as an opening and the minimum boundary should be at least as tabled in table 2, column 2 (low fire load).
      Area of openings in elevation sq m ——- Minimum boundary distance meters
      up to 5 sq m—————————————1,0 meters
      5 sq m———————————————1,5 meters
      7,5 sq m——————————————-2,0 meters
      10 sq m——————————————–2,4 meters”
      In terms of the new energy regulations, his house has to be north facing.

  8. Hi Penny,

    We have a solid 2m virbracrete wall along our street boundary. I want to replace this with a brick/block wall of exactly the same height. Do I now have to have 40% visability in the new wall even though the wall I am replacing is solid ?


    • Hi James,
      Yes you can replace the old vibracrete wall with a brick one the same height. To play safe send a written note to your local council and inform them. You do not say what “visibility” the present vibracrete wall has. If it is the same then you should be fine. By-laws differ from city to city but mostly they take the gates into account when they calculate the 40%

  9. Hi, where can I go to find out if we need to get approved plans in
    order to put up a boundary wall on our stand? The area is Sandton,

    • Bruce, “any freestanding wall built with masonry, concrete, steel, aluminum, or timber or any wire fence that does not exceed 1,8 m in height at any point above ground level and does not retain soil,” is regarded as minor building work in terms of the National Building Regulations. So if it is no higher than this, you don’t need plans, but you will need to inform the council that you are building. You also need to be sure that the wall is on your property or you might need approval from your neighbour to build. Your starting point should be the planning department of your local authority – the City of Johannesburg.

      • Thanks Penny. I am also being told that I will need an engineer to sign off the wall as it will be 2.2m high and that the wall needs to be drawn up and submitted as a revised set of plans, is that correct? We are going to build an extension on a bedroom anyway, so we will need to submit a new set of amended plans anyway for approval. Is there no where that I can look online that details what I need to do in what circumstances? thanks

        • Bruce if it is 2.2 m then yes, you will need plans and they will need to be drawn up by a competent person. If your local authority says this person should be a engineer, then so be it. You may though be able to get drawings done by a draughtsman and then get the engineer to sign them off. You probably aren’t going to find the details you want on the Internet. There is some information in SANS 10400, Part A on this site. Part A is where the requirements for plans, info about competent persons etc is found. You will also find the forms that need to be filled in here. Since a competent person is required to draw up plans – and this person should know exactly what is required – I would consult with someone. If you want to see exactly what Part A says (it’s a 91-page document), then go to an SABS library and ask to see this section. Alternatively you can buy a copy online from the SABS. It costs R147 + VAT.

  10. Hi all,

    We live in Simon’s Town and renovated in 2011. We used a builder that told us that we didn’t need plans to raise sections of the boundary walls between us and our two neighbours, only that we needed written consent, which we obtained. We raised sections of the walls by a few bricks – nothing over 1,8m though.

    We were pretty naive to trust him and not double check, but my question is now – how do I go about getting plans, and then getting them approved at the council, since these walls have already been raised? I would like to do the right thing here, especially since we have just sold and the question has been raised.

    I don’t want my sale to fall through, so please could someone give me some advice?

    Thank you in advance!!

    • Hi Liz,
      Don’t worry you are not in contravention of the regulations as long as the walls are not higher than 1.8m. The regulations for “minor building work” state: “Any freestanding wall built with masonry, concrete, steel, aluminum, or timber or any wire fence that does not exceed 1,8 m in height at any point above ground level and does not retain soil” does not need plans. You can read more here: minor-building-works BUT you must inform your local council in writing that you have raised the height to the permitted height of 1.8m. You should also include copies of the neighbours consent as well. ** A quick update: “No solid boundary wall shall exceed 1.8m in height on a street boundary and 2,1 m in height on a lateral boundary” This is from the Cape Town Boundary Walls & Fences Policy – Jan 2009

  11. Hi

    we are homeowners in randburg, would we need to submit plans if we are going to break down our existing front boundary wall which is precast 1350mm heigh and replace it with 1800mm heigh double brick wall?

    • Hi Lukas,
      If you look at our page with the JHB Town Planning PDF here: town-planning-scheme-jhb Section 1, Part III, paragraph 6 it says that: “All erven shall be fenced and maintained if and when required, to the satisfaction of the Council. Boundary walls in excess of 1,8m in height required the written consent of the Council.” As you are changing the wall from a pre-cast to a brick wall you should, just to cover yourself, inform the council in writing that this is what you are doing. In addition the building regulations will class this as “minor building works” see the page here: minor-building-work

  12. dear reader
    I am planning to install precast wall between me an the neighbor.
    Do i need plans for precast walls?
    When do i need to get the neighbor approval?(wall is on the boundary/ or on my property)

    can you please help


    • Hi Gregor,
      A boundary wall up to 1.8m high is considered “minor building work” see the article here: minor-building-work and you do not need plans, BUT you need to inform the council in writing. You do need to check that the wall is indeed on your side of the boundary. See the paragraph on this page “Ownership of Boundary Walls and Fences”. If it is on the boundary or on their side then you will have to come to an agreement with them and I would suggest that you put any agreement in writing.

  13. Hi

    I am hoping someone can help me or direct me to someone we can contact. My parents turned our old garage into a 1 bedroom apartment many years ago which we rent out. This apartment is situated in the back corner of our property.

    Behind our house is a caltex garage and a neighbour on the adjacent wall.

    Now i am getting married and we want to build up on top of this one bedroom flat so only wanting to add 2 additional rooms on top of the exisiting flat.

    If it is a matter of privacy then we wont put windows on the side that faces our neighbour and the petrol station. Which i dont have a problem with. The windows will just be on the other walls that face the exisiting main house.

    In the past we have had intruders that scale the neighbours walls and even from the petrol station side and have jumped onto our flat’s roof which is a safety concern.

    But building a 2nd floor on the existinf flat would solve this problem as nobody would be able to scale our wall umless they are spiderman.

    Would the council reject such a proposal? Even if the neighbours agree.

    All we want is to build 4 more walls on top of our exisitng flat its not really asking too much.

    • Hi Mishkah,
      Firstly you must contact your local council and get a copy of the plans of the house and establish if there were plans submitted for the conversion of the building from a garage to a habitable room. If it is still labled a garage on those plans then you will have to rectify this and get plans drawn up and submitted, you might be able to do this all in one go. Approval must be obtained under the SANS 10400 Part A20 “Classification and Designation of Occupancies”. The next thing that you must consider is that the foundations for a single story garage will have foundations only for that structure. If you try to put another story on foundations that were made for a single story then the building could collapse. You would not get approval for such a build unless you underpinned the foundations and had an Engineers report to back it up. You will need neighbours approval for any building on the boundary.

  14. Penny
    I think we should have at least 2.2meter height of wall to install the electrical fence because 1.8meter is too short for the sake hazards towards children,especialy in the resisdence area.It must be by laws regulating electrical fence in the counrty.To avoid conflict between the neighbours.

    • Elvis, the information given here is quoted word-for-word from the City of Cape Town document regarding electric fences. i.e. This is quoted from the CT by-laws.

  15. Hi Penny,

    A quick question (and my apologies in advance if this has already been asked and answered):

    We’ve recently been burgled, and have noted several vulnerabilities in our perimeter security.

    We wish to install electric fencing on our side of a common (lateral) boundary wall. Our neighbour, in general conversation, has already expressly requested that we do not install the electric fencing (she believes that sending out positive energies will protect her..)

    Good neighbourly relations aside, are we required to obtain consent from our neighbour, if the electric fence is erected on our side of the boundary wall (and leans inwards, over our property)?

    I believe that the nature of the installation will required that several of the fence posts are pop-riveted through the vibracrete wall. That being said, our neighbour has already installed a latte fence on her side of the boundary wall, so any rivets will not be visible from her side.

    Your speedy answer to this question would be greatly appreciated!

    Kind regards,

    • Maxine, This is not controlled by the National Building Regulations, but rather by local authority by-laws; so you should check with you local council or municipality to see what their requirements are. I have some information about the City of Cape Town’s approach which I have pasted below. They don’t appear to require neighbour’s consent.
      A Definition of Electric Fences
      For the purposes of managing and assessing proposals in terms of the City’s policy, an electric fence means “an electrified barrier erected on top of a boundary wall or attached to a boundary wall or fence”.
      Specifications for Electric Fences
      Electric fences shall conform to the following:
      • Electric fences may not be any higher than 450 mm.
      • They must be at least 1,8 m above the level of natural ground at any point.
      • They may only be erected on top of walls and fences, or attached to them.
      • They may not encroach over site boundaries.
      • Regulation 11 of the Electrical Machinery Regulations promulgated in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, No 85 of 2003 must be fully complied with.
      In addition, the policy document states that freestanding electric fences may not be erected along any boundary in a position that would allow people to “inadvertently come into contact therewith”.
      Essentially the reasoning is that while electric fencing is erected to keep intruders out, it must not be erected in such a way that a passer-by could touch it accidentally.”
      NB THis information is in the article on this page!

      As is the case here, I would imagine that as long as you are erecting electric fencing on top of a wall or fence that is on YOUR side of the boundary, you would not need to engage with your neighbour. Have a look at the top of the article – the sections on Positioning Boundary Walls and Fences and Ownership of Boundary Walls and Fences for further guidance in this regard.

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