By PENNY SWIFT
The City of Cape Town recently ordered builders to halt construction of a Gordon’s Bay house because the project did not comply with the National Building Regulations (NBR). In fact work has been stopped several times, and only after repeated complaints over a period of months. This in spite of the fact that excavations had undermined a neighbour’s boundary wall; a gable wall had previously collapsed on the site; and building was not according to approved plans.
Prior to stopping work on the non-compliant site late last year, a City representative had assured SANS10400.co.za that the project was “constantly monitored” and that an engineer had been “appointed to oversee, and take responsibility, for the structural integrity of the building.”
SANS10400.co.za has no affiliation with the SABS that produces “deemed-to-satisfy” guidelines that ensure compliance with the NBR, but has a mission to share information that will help improve the general standard of building in South Africa – particularly residential housing and owner-built houses.
Council Investigation into Non-Compliant Site
In an email dated December 9 last year, Daan Visser, district manager, Helderberg of the City’s Planning and Building Development Management, said (in spite of his assurance that the project was “constantly monitored”) that if there were any “complaints with regards to this project” they should be submitted in writing so they could be “investigated and addressed appropriately.”
Prior to this, on November 25, SANS10400.co.za had already notified the Somerset West-based Planning Department via email that brickwork was substandard and that concrete stairs inside the house did not comply with the NBR. Unfortunately by the time the building inspector got to site, the gable wall had been plastered and this shocking brickwork remains part of the structure.
A large portion of the concrete floor slab had to be demolished to allow sufficient headroom to comply with the NBR and allow people to use the stairs.
We also pointed out that illegal scaffolding had been used, but that this had been rectified and compliant scaffolding was in place.
In fact the building inspector had been notified a month before this (on October 24) and he had notified the Department of Labour which is responsible for Health and Safety on building sites. But no action was taken. Instead, it took a Facebook discussion that drew the attention of Department of Labour manager, David Esau, to get results. Mr Esau immediately visited the non-compliant site and stopped all activities; and the builder was forced to use scaffolding that complied with the relevant South African National Standards (SANS).
On December 9, I notified Mr Visser that SANS10400.co.za would be running a story about this build because:
What has happened over the past months is horrendous and people need to be aware of what they can do as responsible citizens to help avoid this kind of disaster. Penny Swift www.SANS10400.co.za
I also pointed out that we have numerous queries and complaints via this website every day and that I was sure he would agree that this was the type of scenario that needed to be avoided at all costs.
I told him I was aware that:
- Initial building work early this year potentially destabilized a neighbouring property and the council had to take urgent action to force the owner to stabilize the embankment (Feb/March 2014)
- The owner’s engineer was not able to inspect the foundations of the building because he was not notified – and he only did the inspection AFTER excavations and construction work were completed. I asked for proof that council had inspected the foundation trenches as required by the NBR (which has not been supplied) and said I knew that the owner’s engineer had threatened to resign from the project at this stage.
- There had already been a wall collapse on this site (in October 2014) – of the very same gable wall as shown in the pic (above) and I knew council was also aware of this.
The authorities had to be called in to force the builders to use scaffolding that complied with the regulations. (Oct 2014) and I said we were aware this was a health and safety issue.
Surely council should have been watching more closely to ensure that building standards were improved and compliant with the NBR? Penny Swift, www.SANS10400.co.za
By law all commercial builders must be registered with the NHBRC, so I asked if this had been checked.
“I do not believe that the builder is registered with the NHBRC – which would make him an illegal builder. Has council checked whether the builder and house are registered with the NHBRC? I know this is not your function, but in the circumstances I believe it is something that you should have done – or if you haven’t done it, should do.
“I also suspect very strongly that whatever plans have been lodged with council do not match what is being built. I have had contact with a tradesman who only last week was asked to quote on work to be done on the building – and the owner/builder was not able to supply plans for him to quote off. Their explanation was the plans they had did not match the building.
“In these circumstances, surely building should be halted and a full investigation done?”
The roofing contractor was on site that day, but the next day (December 10) all work had stopped. The portable toilet, which, in terms of the NBR, must be on site during building operations as well as the rented scaffolding were removed.
On January 12 work resumed on the roof, but once again the regulations were ignored. As a result SANS10400.co.za notified council that there was no toilet and no scaffolding on site, even though the roofers were working.
What concerns me is the flagrant disregard of the owner of this property when it comes to health, safety and generally complying with legislation relating to construction. Further, people in the neighbourhood are concerned that he has made it public knowledge that he intends to move in prior to completion of the house. Penny Swift SANS10400.co.za
A week later Mr Visser notified SANS10400.co.za that the senior building inspector who had been dealing with the matter was no longer “in this office,” however both the builder and “appointed structural engineer” had been asked to “immediately act on matters” the building inspector had previously identified.
He said “their responses and actions” would be monitored and if not to the satisfaction of Jaco Theron, section head for Building Development Management, “they will be handed over for legal action against them.”
Roof work was halted, and at present the site is deserted.
Threat of Legal Action
Ironically, this time last year the City of Cape Town threatened legal action against the owner of this same property.
In a notice issued in terms of Section 12 of the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act, dated 21 February 2014, he was ordered to:
- Secure the building
- Appoint a registered engineer at his cost
- Stop work on the property
This followed an inspection of the property by the council, that revealed excavations had undermined a neighbour’s boundary wall and might have destablised the neighbouring property.
Comment from the City of Cape Town
Mr Visser said he was not able to comment on the non-compliant site unless comments were officially cleared by the City’s media centre.
Therefore, on January 20 I asked for official comment and posed several questions:
- Is there anything that Mr. Visser has told me that I cannot include in my article?
- Were plans approved by Council prior to construction starting on this site? If so, when were they approved?
- Are there approved plans lodged with Council that match the house as it stands? If so, when were they approved?
- Since there were clearly no plumbing plans as of December 2014, are there now approved plumbing plans. If so, when were they approved?
- How is it possible for an engineer, appointed after the fact, to ensure “the structural integrity of the building,” since the foundation trenches were never checked? If I am wrong in this regard, can Council supply proof that the trenches were checked as required by the NBR? If so specifically, when were they checked and by whom? Was the concrete mix checked and did it comply?
- Since the brickwork is highly suspect (I have pictures taken this month that show bricks coming loose from walls and falling out – which I will use in my article), has there been any attempt to check the mortar mixes being used on site?
- Has the concrete stairway been checked by Council since the instruction was given to demolish certain sections of the structure, and does it now comply with the NBR?
- I understand that there was originally a homeowners’ association for this area and that while it is no longer functioning, it is still “registered” with the Council. Is this so and/or relevant? ie Would neighbours have to sign off documentation in terms of the association requirements? I understand someone has been asking neighbours to sign documentation related to the association and acceptance of building plans.
- What is the time frame allowed for completion of this house? I understand that building has been going on for about two years.
- In light of the fact that building has been going on for so long, and there have been so many problems, surely Council should have been watching more closely to ensure that building standards were improved and compliant with the NBR? Following on from this, I presume that Council needs assistance from the public in identifying non-compliance?
- Last of all, does Council ever check whether builders are registered with the NHBRC? If not, why not?
On January 30 the City’s senior media liaison officer, Jean-Marie de Waal apologized for not responding to my queries “due to time constraints.” She did though give permission for Mr Visser’s comments to be included in the article.
We continue to ascertain that all municipalities require assistance from the public in identifying non-compliance.