Yes, you do need building plans

Building is expensive, so it pays to spend a bit more to get proper plans approved.

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All local authorities are bound by the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act, which promotes uniformity regarding the erection of buildings. Even a land owner living in a thinly-populated region is obliged to obey this law. Municipalities are by law compelled to only accept designs and drawings completed by registered members of the SA Council for the Architecture Profession.

While draughtsmen are permitted to design some buildings, those larger than 500m² may only be designed by an architect. Rough sketches or outlines are not acceptable for land tax purposes, whether you live in town or on a farm. No building-related activity may take place on any property within a municipality without written permission from the local authority. Moreover, specific guidelines apply to buildings older than 60 years or of historical value.

Doing it correctly
The best procedure is to make an appointment with the most senior person available at your municipality to establish the requirements for building. Local municipalities have their own council-approved by-laws, and fines can be imposed if you do not comply with them.

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Next, apply in writing for permission from the local authority for whatever you want to build on your property, indicating clearly what you intend doing. Ask what you need to get it done legally. Claims or other legal aspects are easier to negotiate if you have official documents to show that your plans were officially approved. Remember, there’s a spy in the sky! Google Earth can be used to check up on illegal structures.

Building inspectors
Once the job is in progress, there are certain stages that require on-site municipal approval. These differ from municipality to municipality, but should be indicated to the owner on the approved set of drawings. Usually, the stages that have to be inspected are foundations, floors, walls, roof, plumbing and electrical work. Each inspection should be confirmed by a completion certificate.

Owners are not charged for inspections. Sometimes, a building inspector is not available. In this case, the owner is unlikely to have a problem if he or she has properly designed drawings and the details in the plans complies with minimum specifications.