You Don’t Need Plans for Minor Building Work … But you DO Need Permission to Build

minor building work

If this little 7.5 sq m garden building is to be used as a tool shed, you won’t need plans. If it is to be used as a child’s playhouse, you will.

Anything you build on your property needs plans, unless it is defined as “minor building work”. However the Act states very clearly in Part A: General Principles and Requirements (this was previously Part A: Administration), that any structural building work that is defined as “minor building work” requires authorization by your local authority’s building control officer before you can commence with any work. As long as you have made an application and have received the necessary permission from the local authority, you DO NOT NEED PLANS. But the law is also very clear in terms of compliance with the regulations; minor building work must comply with the regulations.


 Temporary Buildings

Temporary buildings also need authorization by the local authority. This includes builders’ sheds, on-site toilets, and any other structure you might want to erect (or be obliged to erect) for the construction project.

The local authority will not give you permission to erect a temporary building until you provide certain information, and they are able to assess it. At very least they need to know:

  1. what the intended use and life of the building will be
  2. the area in which it is to be erected (in other words where you are planning to put it)
  3. the availability of suitable materials from which it may be constructed

The Definition of “minor building work” in Terms of the Law

a) the erection of:

  1. poultry houses (hoender hokke or chicken coups) that are no more than ten square metres in size,
  2. aviaries that are no bigger than 20 square metres,
  3. solid fuel stores (for storing wood, coal, anthracite or similar) that are no more than ten square metres in area and no higher than two metres,
  4. tool sheds that are smaller than ten square metres,
  5. childrens’ playhouses that are no more than five square metres,
  6. cycle sheds no more than five square metres,
  7. greenhouses that are a maximum 15 square metres,
  8. open-sided car, caravan or boat shelters or carports that do not exceed 40 square metres in size,
  9. 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,
  10. any pergola,
  11. private swimming pool (although most local authorities do insist on plans),
  12. change room at a private swimming pool not exceeding 10 sq m in area.

b) the replacement of a roof (or part of a roof) with the same or similar materials,

c) the conversion of a door into a window, or a window into a door, without increasing the width of the opening,

d) the making of an opening in a wall that doesn’t affect the structural safety of the building concerned,

e) the partitioning or enlarging of any room by the erection or demolition of an internal wall, as long as it doesn’t affect the structural safety of the building,

f) the section of any solar water heater not exceeding six square metres in area on any roof; or 12 square metres if the water heater is erected elsewhere,

g) the erection of any building that the local council doesn’t believe plans are necessary for.

In the last instance, it is up to the building control officer to make this decision.

How This Affects You

We have had numerous queries on this site in terms of when and where plans are required. As you will see, there are a few exceptions, but ultimately it is up to the local authority to decide whether or not you need plans.

It also stands to reason that the structures defined as minor building work will all need to be fit for purpose. So you can’t say you are building an aviary (which can be 20 square metres in area), and then build a brick building with windows, suitable for human habitation!
Read more about this here: A Garden Structure

  452 Responses to “Plans & Minor Building Work”

Comments (445) Pingbacks (7)
  1. We have an existing pergola which is situated in a u-shaped courtyard. We’re considering covering this with a roof and the area is approximately 28sqm. What regulations would apply in this instance?
    Many thanks

  2. A friend of mine want to erect some temporary, pre-fabricated school

    What is the rules and regulations regarding temporary school


    • In a nutshell – you may only erect a temporary structure for a specified period of time (because it is temporary) – e.g. builder’s sheds for construction sites. Thereafter you must demolish them. If you want to use this type of structure permanently, you need approved plans.

  3. We are looking at buying a property but in the backyard there is quite a sizable building which they refer to as a lapa. The building how ever is completely bricked up with windows and a sliding door with a thatch roof. The seller has said that it is not registered and that we would have to get it registered.

    What concerns me is that this building is not on a foundation but has been built on the current paving.
    It’s is quite a sizable building, I’m not good at estimating a size but It is bigger than the master bedroom in the house and has electricity.
    In corners of the inside of the building are round wooden poles of the same poles holding from the roof into the ground, the same as the poles in the thatch roof and what you commonly see in a thatched roof.

    Is this building legal? When is a foundation a requirement?

    • First of all, if the seller says the structure is not “registered”, get clarification. He/she probably means that it was built without plans. The problem with this is twofold: 1) If you are getting a bond, the bondholder is likely to insist on plans. 2) If you decide to resell the house, the buyer is likely to insist on plans. The “issue” regarding “foundations” isn’t necessarily an issue.
      In general, a pole structure might be regarded as minor building work, but it isn’t defined as such in the regulations. See the link for a full description of minor building work. If it isn’t, then there should be plans for the structure, otherwise it’s an illegal structure.
      In terms of foundations, pole structures generally have foundation footings – i.e. They dig a deep-enough hole (depending on the weight the structure has to carry) for each upright and sink that into concrete. In this instance, if there is a floor slab, that won’t be what is carrying the weight. So a paved floor is fine – providing the foundation footings are adequate. The other option that people sometimes use for pole structures like patio pergolas, are post anchor supports. These are usually made of mild steel, and have a hefty metal peg that gets anchored in concrete in a foundation footing. But it wouldn’t be suitable for what you have described. The “new” regulations have various new references to pole structures and thatched roofs, but I don’t know off-hand what they say in terms of foundations (specifically minimum dimensions). A fairly straightforward open-sided carport (defined as minor building work), with a solid tin or fiberglass roof, built with either wooden or metal posts, would require foundation footings that were at least 600 mm x 600 mm square, and 600 mm deep.
      If I were you I would make my offer to purchase dependent on the current owner obtaining approved plans from the local authority for the structure. If they can’t get plans passed, the structure might have to be demolished.
      I hope this helps.

  4. To whom it may concern,
    I would like ot build in a braai on my patio and would like to know if
    there are any specific regulations with regard to this? Please can you
    point me in the right direction?

  5. Good day

    Is there a document describing the national building regulations for
    wendy houses?


  6. Good Afternoon

    Please could you provide information the SNS 10400 with regards paving

    We have a neighbouring property (Residential 1 Business zoning in
    2008) in residential area of Bramley, Johannesburg.

    They have flattened entire garden area (large acre property) in order
    to do paving and do “landscape treatment” and eventual carports for
    over 100 cars. When questioned about the legality of this they insist
    that there is only paving taking place, no building, and as such do
    not need to have Building Plans or council approval.

    What are the requirements or legal status for demolishing, leveling
    and paving of large area?

    We do have pictures of development taking place should you wish to

    Many thanks in advance

    Chet Diepraam

    • Hi Chet,
      Garden paving is not covered as such in the Building Regulations so plans are not needed. But there are definitely Regulations when it comes to excavations, demolition and carports. You can contact your local council and speak to the Planning Department and find out what they recommend.

  7. To whom it may concern.

    Please advise how to go about in order to get permission from the
    municipality for minor building work to be done on a residential

    Is there a formal form that needs to be submitted or does one simply
    have to write a letter requesting permission?

    Kind regards

    • Hi Sunet,
      The Local Authorities might vary in their requirements. It depends where you are in the country, some might need a form filled in while others need only a letter but some will need both. The best thing is to contact your local Planning Department and tell them what work you intend doing and ask what they need.

  8. I had verbal permission from a Body Corporate to erect a Sundeck –
    about 2.5x3m. Now 4 years later they are requesting plans – is this
    necessary. it is off my verandah.

    • Body Corporate rules and regs are exactly that – theirs. While they have an obligation to adhere to the NBR these are minimum rules. Further, while this might be perceived by your local authority to be minor building work, the body corporate may have other requirements – though if you originally had verbal permission you could try and dispute this. Have you queried why their attitude has changed? Maybe someone without the correct knowledge of the local authority requirements gave the verbal permission?

      • The reason this has now been bought up is becasue they have sold off some of the property to a developer who is building below my unit and in doing so disturbed the bank, and the bank is now sliding, I have requested a retaining wall be built at BC expense as it is Common property and they say no plans no fix – it is my problem.

        • Hi Cheryl,
          Site Excavations and Stability issues are covered under Part G of the National Building Regulations and is generally accepted that any excavation related to any building work that is carried out on a site, and if those excavations may impair the stability of any property, the owner of the site must take adequate preventive measures to ensure that the safety and stability of those properties or services is conserved. If they have disturbed the bank causing it to slide then it would seem that they have to put that right. You must contact your local Planning Department and request that they send an inspector to the site to make a ruling.

  9. Hi Penny,
    Im still getting my head around all the new building regs,
    Do we need to do the SANS calculations for a new double garage?
    (as its not a dwelling space)

    • Hi Tersia, I am not sure what you mean by “SANS calculations”? All structures must be built according to SANS 10400. Other SANS must also be adhered to.

      • Hi Penny,
        What I meant was the SANS energy & fenestration calculations, I was wondering if a simple plan for a double garage would require the calculations submitted as it isnt a dwelling space.


        • Tersia, I really haven’t come to grips with this lot either, but looking at the new SANS it seems to me that garages are excluded.

  10. Its quite frustrating because you are right. But the Local authorities need to assess an application and how can they do that without a plan?
    We even need to get a structural engineer to sign for a carport and a solar geyser even though the regulations say that a solar geyser less then 5M squared is a minor building work.
    So there arent hassles when you put it in but when you do further alterations then you have problems.
    Windows are another issue the regulations say you dont need plans to change windows as long as you are not going smaller but what about XA?
    So you change your timber windows to aluminium then you do major alterations and the plans cant be approved because the original plans show timber windows but you have replaced them with aluminium and the energy calculations are way over sans 204. Plans wont be approved unless you change all the glazing.
    So after a R3000 rand fine – from AMAFA because you changed the windows without heritage approval You now have to add film to your windows for energy efficiency pay for an engineer for an existing solar geyser and remove the carport that you put up without plans because it is over a servitude and the council wont approve anything over a servitude.
    My advice get plans in the first place

  11. Hi Penny
    I would like to build a 4mx3m wooden cabin on my property do i need plans for it
    ur help will be great thank you

    • Fanie, if you look at what is regarded as minor building work, in terms of the legislation, a 4 m x 3 m cabin doesn’t figure. You will definitely need plans unless your local council says it isn’t necessary – which is very unlikely.

  12. Hi, I want to build a back verandah, basically a roof extending off the exiting roof to create a shaded area directly behind my house. This will be used for outdoor entertainment and will be open to the elements on two sides – the remaining two side encompass the main house and the garage. Does this qualify as minor building?

    • I think it does. But strictly speaking, as stated in my article about minor building, you still need to notify you local authority of your intentions. So if anyone is likely to object, give them a call before you start work.

      • Its a structure you need a plan even though its minor building works .
        A lot of awning companies tell you that you dont but you do.

        • Nikki, the building regulations (legislation – not the deemed to satisfy rules) state very clearly that when “minor building works” are in keeping with the definition given in the Act (as specified in the article above), they do NOT need plans. Part A of the Act states though that, “An application shall be made to the building control officer to erect any building defined as minor building work or to carry out any work falling within the ambit of such definition, and any such erection or work shall not be commenced before such authorization has been granted.” THIS IS THE LAW.
          Awnings are not specified as minor building work in the Act, although they would qualify if they were part of an “open-sided car, caravan or boat shelters or carports that do not exceed 40 square metres in size”, in which case plans would definitely not be required. In addition, you need to note that where the local council “doesn’t believe plans are necessary”, usually because they consider the structure to be minor building work, plans won’t be necessary either – though permission from council WILL still be required to make the structure legal. I am sure that some (many) municipalities/councils regard awnings in this category.

        • I know what the regulations say and I am not arguing with you.
          Unfortunately the local authorities dont all interpret the regulations the way you do.
          Our LA regards any awning that is built without a plan as an illegal building.
          It is becoming more and more difficult to get bigger plans approved because of structures that have been built previously without approved plans.
          As a professional it can be quite frustrating when a client tells you that they didnt know they were supposed to have plans.

          • The local authorities have the right to impose additional regulations. i.e. They have the right to over-ride the NBR which are MINIMUM standards. But not the other way around. What part of the business are you involved in?

  13. Can you please send me the building regulations on a boundary wall between two neighbours. I need to build a collapsed wall but want to do it according to the regulations. I also want to require about the storm water drainage holes in a boundary wall. Your help will be much appreciated.

    • I think you need the help of a qualified builder. There is no available building regulation “on a boundary wall between two neighbors”. There are too many variables. The National Building Regulations simply give the minimum requirements for the construction of walls per se. But when it comes to storm water drainage, you need the assistance of a QUALIFIED AND REGISTERED PLUMBER. Otherwise the wall is likely to collapse again. BTW if you want the building regs you will need to purchase them from the SABS. They are available online. Several apply to walls including Part H: Foundations, and Part K: Walls.

      • Hi Penny
        We just bought a house with a collapsed retaining wall (between us and the neighbors), it has been left like that for about two years already. The neighbors have said that this wall is not theirs and they will not pay to fix the fallen retaining blocks since it is our property’s wall ( not sure how a boundary wall can only be ONE neighbors responsibility). We took it upon ourselves to fix this wall, but instead of doing retaining, we decided to build a proper steel foundation solid wall on the actual boundary within our side.I got the plans from the municipality and saw that the precast wall was not erected on the lots boundary line. The builder informed us that we do not need an engineer signing off on the wall because it is not more than 3m high. A municipality building inspector has also visited our property twice and informed us that we were not allowed to put any sort of weep holes or anything that will let our rain water drain onto our neighbors property. But he said as long as we put it on our plans we can proceed because he knows of this problem and it needs to be fixed. We are replacing the drains and pipes that were in our lawn and obviously blocked to lead the storm water to the road. Now my question to you is, have we followed the correct procedure here with regards to our wall? We are updating our plans to include this wall on it. Also we have spoken to the neighbors before the building had commenced and have told them that some of the plants will have to be removed since its right on the boundary line. Now that the plants are removed we are worried that the wall might be over the boundary a little and we don’t want the neighbors to be more fussy and demanding as what they’ve already been. How can I determine my exact line of boundary to show them that I am still within my own property? They are demanding to see OUR plans and have someone look at it and want to know if it was approved. I’m just in disbelief about the audacity since I know it is within my property and does not concern them AND since I am carrying the cost of this wall alone. D they have a foot to stand on to make these demands?

        Thank you

        • I am planning to both research and write a LOT about boundary walls, because they cause a lot of grief! We are constantly getting queries related to similar issues. In the meantime let’s see how I can help you.
          In terms of wall “ownership”, usually people claim it is theirs rather than the other way around. But the principles are the same. If a wall is on your property obviously it is yours – especially if you erected it. But in the absence of proof that a boundary wall is entirely on your property, then it becomes a party wall – which means that it is presumed to be half on one property and half on the other. You could check these by having the property surveyed.
          To complicate the issue though, some municipalities say that where there is a “party” wall, each side is owned by the property owner on that side, and the two parties share the servitude of support. Other municipalities say that a party wall is owned jointly by the two property owners.
          Where there is a so-called party wall, neither party may do anything to the wall without the consent of the other party. If a party wall is destroyed by an act of God (which I presume would be the case in your instance, since it has collapsed) either owner has the right to rebuilt it, but each “owner” is obliged to contribute to the repair – as well as to the maintenance of the structure.
          Both parties have the right to alter or improve there side of the structure.
          So two things here: 1) you could check exactly where the boundary pegs are located (or should be located)-if these are not indicated on the plans you already have, then you can get a site plan of the area from the Surveyor General’s office in Pretoria (I’m not sure what the procedure is, but phone them and ask); 2) you can check with your local authority to see what their policy is.
          Since you say you want to determine the boundary line – basically all plots are surveyed when a subdivision is done – and the pegs are inserted at each corner. Most times these are removed once the plot has been developed. You will need to get a qualified surveyor to check according to the Surveyor General’s drawings. Diagram numbers should also be on the title deeds.
          The National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act states 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,” is minor building work (CLICK on the link to read more). So the issue here is that if the wall is higher than 1,8 m then you needed approved plans for the wall – which it sounds like you have. Further, these would need to be drawn by a competent person (CLICK on the link to read more) who would need to “sign off” the structure (certificate). If you read the link you will see that a competent person does not necessarily need to be an engineer. It simply needs to be someone qualified in the built environment industry.
          I don’t believe they have any right to demand to see your plans. If the wall is on your property; you have approved plans; and you have built according to these plans … then you are in the clear. Even if it’s on the boundary, you should be fine.
          If you can prove that the original retaining wall was a “party wall”, then you can claim 50% of the costs from them – but you’d have to get a lawyer involved.
          I hope that helps.

          • Thank you so much, Penny. This really helps. 🙂
            Great website and forum – I am very ignorant with regards to building regulations etc, and this forum has cleared up a lot for me last night.

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