Nov 162011

Design, Planning and Supervision of All Construction Work Must Follow a Legal Process

Each section of SANS 10400, the Code of Practice for The application of the National Building Regulations (NBR) is presented with the relevant extract from the building regulations (which is law), and is then followed by a general commentary explaining how the law should be interpreted to “satisfy” the law.

Generally the regulations themselves are remarkably short, while the deemed to satisfy rules (now referred to as deemed-to-satisfy requirements) are quite lengthy. But in Part A of SANS 10400, General Principles and Requirements, the regulations cover about 15 pages. By contrast, the regulations section relating to excavation covers just half a page.

You can download the standards (as published in 1990), as well as the most recent version of the regulations (the Act) published in its entirety, HERE, as well as the recent amendments to the Act. Just be aware that while the amendments to the regulations are complete, the SABS commentary in these documents, that explains how the regulations should be interpreted and applied, is not.

You can buy specific sections of the most recent edition of The application of the National Building Regulations SANS 10400-2011 from the SABS, either at one of their offices, or online at the SABS Internet store.

What is Covered in Part A: General Principles and Requirements

This section of the NBR covers details of requirements for plans, drawings and various documents that MUST be submitted to your local authority before you are allowed to build any sort of structure. For instance, you need to have:

  • a site plan,
  • layout drawings,
  • a fire installation drawing,
  • drainage installation drawings,
  • particulars of any existing building or structure that is going to be demolished – and you need to state how it will be demolished,
  • and any other plans and particulars that your local authority requires.

These general principles and requirements also specify the details that must be included on different plans, as well as the size and scale required on plans and drawings. They also state what colours to use to identify different materials on plans. For instance, new masonry must be shaded red and new concrete green. All existing materials are shown in grey.

When architects, designers and engineers draw plans, they use symbols to identify certain details. These are also specified in Part A.

There is also information regarding building control officers and their qualifications; specifications relating to plumbers and anyone doing plumbing work – only trained plumbers are permitted to do this work – specifications of who may design buildings, as well as inspect and assess them.

Changes to Part A of The application of the National Building Regulations

Previously referred to as SABS 0400-1990, these regulations were totally overhauled in 2008. This meant that the deemed-to-satisfy elements had to be overhauled and rewritten too. Reasons given for the overhaul were:

  • the fact that the apartheid system had been abandoned
  • the fact that South Africa’s population had doubled since the regulations were first written
  • the fact that local authorities throughout the country had been completely restructured
  • formation of the National Home Builders Registration (NHBRC)
  • the introduction of much more complex building control and systems
  • the introduction of an increasing number of innovative, new construction system for building

Furthermore, Section 24 of the Bill of Rights in the South African Constitution states that everybody has a right to: “an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being”. So if our buildings aren’t healthy, and aren’t built with our health and welfare in mind, they are essentially unconstitutional!

Perhaps the greatest change – certainly the one that will impact on both individuals and the building profession – is the fact that all applications to build must now be accompanied by a declaration by a person registered in terms of a built-environment professional council, as to how the applicable functional requirements are to be satisfied. All plans must also be submitted by a “competent person” who is professionally registered in terms of the Engineering Professions Act, the Architectural Professions Act, or the Natural Scientific Professions Act. So unless you are a qualified architect, engineer, designer or somebody specifically with the required “education, training, experience and contextual knowledge” to judge whether a dwelling will meet the functional regulations, you are not a competent person!

Class of Occupancy of Buildings from the NBR

The NBR classifies all the different types of buildings, and when you look at the regulations, you need to be sure that what you are referring to refers to the correct type of “occupancy”.





The following table shows what the “design population” is for each of the occupancies above. In other words, it shows how many people are allowed in the various buildings, which area categorized according to function. Design population

Structural Design



  449 Responses to “General Principles & Requirements”

Comments (442) Pingbacks (7)
  1. My neighbour’s house is built in such a way that the outside wall of the house is on the boundary between our properties. He is now looking to install a window in this wall to allow natural light into his house. Is this legal and would it be approved by the council? I spoke to an architect who advised that this is illegal for two reasons: it is a fire hazard/risk and it encroaches on my privacy. Can you confirm that this is in fact illegal and the clause within the building regaultions that I can refer to when I reply to the neighbours request for consent of his plans.

    • I agree with the architect you have spoken to. Also, unless the two properties were developed together (e.g. semi-detached) I wouldn’t be surprised if the building itself is illegal. There are strict restrictions in terms of the distance from which house walls must be from boundaries. I wouldn’t wait for them to ask for your consent; I would contact your local authority immediately and find out if the wall itself – and the way the house has been built – is legal. To be allowed to build on a boundary, the original owner would have had to have firstly consent of the local authority (and a really good reason why this should be permitted); and secondly the consent of neighbours. I am absolutely certain that even if he (or a previous owner) had permission to build on the boundary, he may not tamper with the wall in any way at all – e.g. by making a hole or window in it.
      You might also want to check that the wall actually IS on the boundary. If it encroaches on your property, you can demand that your neighbour demolishes it – or pays you compensation.

  2. hi im doing my first project on desighning a building (a reception office ) ,where can i find specifications on how much space is needed around a toilet ,basin,ect. ? I can’t find information,please help
    thank you

    • These are design specs which you are more likely to find in some sort of architectural text book, rather than within regulations. This information comes from my book Bathrooms for the South African Home which unfortunately is long out of print. The measurements given are MINIMUMS.
      Allow 200 mm on either side of the toilet, basin and/or bidet.
      Allow 600 mm in front of toilets, basins and bidets.
      If a toilet faces directly opposite a basin, then you can allow an overlap of about 150 mm.
      Allow 700 mm on the side of a bath or shower – if the two face one another then the space can be common.
      I hope that helps you.

  3. Which part of SANS covers parking requirements for various building types?
    I have only seen parking for people with challanges.



    • SANS 10400-D, Public Safety covers pedestrian entrances to parking areas in buildings. I don’t know of any SANS that covers parking requirements though. I did a search on the SABS site and it doesn’t come up with anything except, as you say, facilities for disabled people. (Section S of 10400).
      I have found a reference to parking requirements in relation to shopping centers:
      Local authorities do have their own requirements; so maybe contact yours and see what they can tell you.

  4. Hi Penny,

    I own a house that is next door to a double-storey complex. The garages for the complex are next to my boundary wall. I have just heard that the owner of the flats wishes to demolish the garages and build more double storey units – blocking both my view and sunlight and also overlooking my property. Will I be asked for my approval at any point? What laws are there to protect me from my neighbour having a negative impact on my property?

    Thank you

    • Andrew there are several similar queries on this site. Off the top of my head, I am pretty sure that they must have got special permission to build garages next to the wall because there are minimum building distances – 3 m being the most common. At that stage they would have had to get neighbors’ permission. But this permission would be for garages and not any type of living unit. So if you know this is to happen, go to your local authority and draw their attention to the issue.
      In terms of laws protecting us from what our neighbours do, I don’t think there is any straightforward legislation you can rely on. For instance if a neighbour decided to build a triple storey building, provided it was within the building line/height limits, you aren’t going to be able to stop him or her. I think the only other alternative would be to take legal action on the grounds that the development will devalue your property. Costly and not failsafe. Sorry I can’t be more helpful.

  5. Hi Penny, we recently move into a complex where we rent a unit. there is no outside lighting and the pathways leading to the units are dangerous and very poor workmanship especially at night time. What does the law say about common area lighting and safety of tennants

    • Dennis this isn’t something that is covered by the building regulations, but safety is a priority of the law in general. I suggest you complain to your agent or the person from whom you are renting.

  6. Hi Penny,
    Is there a regulation for new developments of how many Indigenous trees must be kept? Who would be the appropriate people to contact for more info?

    • Edgar, I am not sure what you mean. Are you referring to indigenous trees that are being cut down? If so, it is only endangered trees that are protected. If a property owner has a plot covered with indigenous trees, and they are not endangered, he/she can cut them ALL down. i.e. They can clear the plot and build whatever is allowed in the area. If I have misinterpreted the question, feel free to let me know.

      • Hi, As far as I know it varies. In our area we have to replace any indigenous tree felled with minimal 10 seedlings of the same species. In my opinion put in twice as many. The world needs plenty more of them.

  7. Hi penny,

    What are the requirements to owner build. Does the owner builder need to have or provide evidence of any specific skills relative to building? Further to that which specific roles need to be performed by a licenced or registered tradesperson in cottage building?

    • Steve,
      Anyone can owner-build, as long as you draw on the required professional assistance to ensure it is legal. If you want to lay all the bricks yourself, you can, but you will need a “competent person” to submit your plans and ultimately oversee your workmanship.
      The newly revised copy of my book, Owner Building in South Africa should be in the bookshops round about now. It covers this question fully. Cottage building is not a specific variation; building is building. Because the dwelling is smaller doesn’t matter at all.
      The most important roles that relate to “licensed or registered” people are plumbing and electricity.
      I hope this helps.

  8. hi penny,we have a business concern next to our duplex with business rights,They now wish to extend their boundaries from 4,5 metres to within 1,5 metres from our boundary and build a problem is if this is allowed to go ahead they can in future apply to extend their double storey building almost on our building line and thus blocking almost all sunlight as well as infringement of privacy.
    the municipality requires me to accept or reject tis building alteration from the standard.What legislation is in place to provide evidence of a solid objection ?

    • Your municipality will be able to tell you exactly what the situation is. But if you are concerned, reject it. I doubt very much that they can go ahead if you DON’T accept it. That is the general law… MUST have neighbor’s consent. And don’t let them bully you either.
      It sounds like a horrible plan which could easily go further, and possibly more easily next time.

      • You cannot reject the alterations out of hand as this may be prejudiced. You need to give reasonable and fair objections to the infringements before they will be considered.

  9. Hi Penny

    …It was an assignment…

    I would like to know, What the National Building Regulations have to do with “Total Quality Management” ?

    Is there a check list that the Local Authorities use to check if the newly constructed buildings comply with sustainability requirements? For example the new regulation that requires all new buildings to have atleast 60% of their hot water come from sustainable energy.

    • The short answer to your question is that the National Building Regulations simply provide the requirements to ensure that buildings are designed and built in such a way that people can live and work in a healthy and safe environment.
      The NBR = legislation which everybody needs to follow, but they provide MINIMAL guidelines.
      I am sure that all the local authorities have their own way of working. Why not contact your local authority and ask them?
      It’s an interesting question… Let me know what you find out.

  10. Dear friend

    Ineed definitions for two terms in a Title Deed:


    2.”STOREY” Please help me.
    Thank you and greetings
    Felix Bosch

    • Hello Felix,
      Terms like these are usually defined in legislation or national standards.
      I haven’t come across a “legal” definition of attic – and an SABS search for the term gives no results. This of course doesn’t mean that it isn’t defined in one or other standard. The dictionary defines attic as space OR a room in the roof.
      Storey is defined in the Building Regs. [NB This is not word for word, but gives the general idea.]
      Basically a storey is the part of a building situated between the top of any floor and the top of the floors above it.If there isn’t an upper floor it is the portion between the floor and the ceiling above it (including a mezzanine floor, catwalk or gallery).
      The regs also list different storeys:
      Ground storey: on ground level
      Basement: below the ground storey
      Upper storey: any storey above ground level
      Further, the height expressed in stories is the height above the level of the ground storey – and doesn’t include the basement.

      So as I understand it, if an attic is habitable, and has a floor as such (many don’t), then it would be loosely defined as a storey. I am not sure why you need this information, but if it has to do with habitable space, many attics are constructed for storage. Some may be converted into habitable space, depending on the pitch of the roof.
      Let me know if I can help further.

  11. Hi Penny
    I wish to build my own house,I live in the Natal midlands on a family farm and want to slowly build on my time off.
    Am I allowed to build with no plans what so ever !!! Is that illegal? (having nothing passed) Or do I have to follow the `correct` route? I have the land but not the lump funds to outlay on a house.
    Many thanks

    • Hi Jonathan,
      No you are not permitted to build without any plans – although I have discovered that many farm buildings in SA are built without plans. While many people seem to “get away with it” (i.e. building illegally without plans) if the local authority gets wind that you are building, or if you sell one day and the purchaser needs a bond, you are going to be in trouble. If an entire house is built without plans, the local authority may demand that you demolish it! So not a good idea.

  12. what are the impact of building regulations on a quality management system in building project for the Public sector?

    • This sounds like a question for some sort of assignment! I think you should familiarize yourself with the building regulations and come up with your own answer. Good luck.

  13. Good Day

    I would like to know the following about the South African Building Regulations. . .

    What is the purpose of the current South African Building Regulations?
    Why was this document drafted?
    Does it have any disadvantages or negative impact on the construction industry?
    How does government ensure that the rules and regulations are inforced?

    • Are you doing some kind of test? As the regulations themselves state: the legislation aims “To provide for the promotion of uniformity in the law relating to the erection of buildings in the areas of jurisdiction of local authorities; for the prescribing of building standards; and for matters connected therewith.”
      The legislation and its amendments is available free from the Department of Trade and Industry – you can download it via this site. The legislation is also published as part of the SABS publication South African Standards Code of Practice for The application of the National Building Regulations SABS 10400. These are “deemed-to-satisfy rules” that describe methods of design or construction that is deemed (or considered) to comply with a particular functional regulation in the legislation. These are available from the SABS at a fee that varies according to section.
      The “deemed-to-satisfy rules” are non-mandatory and provide invaluable comment about the regulations and how designers (including architects and engineers) and builders should interpret them. More importantly they expand on ways to ensure that all construction work results in buildings and homes that are safe.
      The impact of the regulations and accompanying code of practice is positive and mainly aimed at safety elements. They do not aim to limit, for example, design specifications or innovative building methods.
      The government doesn’t ensure that they are enforced – this is up to the local authorities that have been established in all our major cities and towns.

  14. can we please get more

  15. hey i would like to know the impact of NBR in Public Sector

    • I am not sure what you mean Peter. Are you wanting to know how it affects the construction of Government or quasi-Government and/or local authority buildings? If so, the NBR apply equally to ALL buildings. Any person or organization, institution – whatever – MUST comply with the legislation and the deemed-to-satisfy guidelines published by the SABS in the form of SANS.

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