We all know the saying, “Strong fences make good neighbours.” But what if your neighbour is kicking up a complete raucous while erecting that fence? Or erecting a structure that is sure to bring down the value of the neighbouring properties? There must be a way to do the neighbourly thing and stop them, right?

Unfortunately, the short answer is no.

Disputes between neighbours often ensue once home renovations occur. The noise alone is often enough to make working overtime or dinner at the in-laws seem like an absolute dream. Unfortunately, regulations regarding noise are not set in stone in South Arica (with building noise generally being acceptable between 06:00 and 18:00). The National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act 103 of 1977 (NBA) does, however, promote uniformity in the legislation relating to building projects within the jurisdiction of local authorities.

So, once a neighbour’s property renovations begin to affect the value of another property, many homeowners may start seeking any available recourse to halt the process. However, this recourse may not always be available.

While the NBA is concerned with protecting the right of others during building projects, it does not include the legal requirement for homeowners to inform neighbours of building plan applications. It also does not allow for neighbours to object to building plans. Once the local authority approves building plans and deems that the rights of the neighbouring owners are not infringed (according to Section 7 of the NBA), aggrieved neighbours do not have any recourse available to cease the renovations.

However, the legal requirement for an owner to notify their neighbours of the building plan application does exist in the following cases: 

 • Where the building plan application lodgement coincides with a rezoning application

 • Where the removal of a restrictive condition is applied for (such as the relaxing of a building line)

The local authority may invite neighbours to view the building plans beforehand at its own discretion. Even when an objection is submitted during this stage, it does not necessarily mean that the building plans will not be approved. These discretionary viewings merely allow the local authority to ascertain whether the neighbours’ rights are infringed in any way.

However, if the owner did not follow the necessary procedural steps to gain the necessary building plan approval, neighbours may find recourse in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act 3 of 2000 (PAJA). However, cases brought forward in terms of PAJA will only be founded if a legitimate expectation exists for the neighbour to have been informed of the application beforehand and if all other remedies have already been exhausted. 

The best recourse available to homeowners is to do the neighbourly thing and talk it out. But when that fails, it may be time to consult a legal expert who has your best interests at heart.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

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