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An introduction to municipal by-laws in South Africa

If you have not given yourself the opportunity to learn about municipal by-laws and how they affect you, here is your chance.

Noise complaints, keeping of animals, hijacked buildings, operating a business in a residential area, homeless persons, and the preservation of the environment are all issues that are covered by the various municipal by-laws that are applicable in the different municipalities across the country.

If you have not given yourself the opportunity to learn about municipal by-laws and how they affect you, here is your chance.

In South Africa, the local authorities have the power to determine the use and development of land within the city’s area of jurisdiction. We will specifically be dealing with by-laws in the city of Johannesburg. The City of Johannesburg’s by-laws may be found in the City of Johannesburg Land Use Scheme, 2018 and also the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act 103 of 1977.

One of the most common transgressions of municipal by-laws we encounter pertain to the extension and renovation of buildings as well as zoning for the operation of a business in a non-commercial land use area. In a densely populated city like Johannesburg, the demand for accommodation is enormous and with that many homeowners resort to building back rooms for rental purposes and other residents want a bigger house. As a result, they then extend the house and include more rooms on the property.

It is therefore compulsory in terms of Section 4 of the National Building Regulations Act to have drawings of plans and specifications submitted to the city for scrutiny and approval before one commences building. Failure to make the applications as stated can result in the local authority laying criminal charges against the transgressor and if conviction a fine will be imposed by the courts. Therefore, it is important to make the necessary applications to the city to ensure your erected building has passed the necessary tests and is not deemed illegal.

As stated above, the Johannesburg Land Use Scheme 2018 regulates and applies to all properties within the jurisdiction of the City of Johannesburg. Any form of structural change, alteration or conversion of a building to alternative use shall not commence until the local authority has approved the building plans.

For example, an operation of a spaza shop on a residential property is prohibited unless one has consent from the local authority. A person can only operate upon making an application to the city and subject to the city giving consent. A hair salon at a residential building needs the city’s consent and day care centres with 6 (six) or more children need the city’s consent as well. These are a few of many examples that need the city’s consent before one runs such a business.

Once the City’s inspectors have been alerted to a contravention and upon them attending to the premises where the contravention has taken place, they will give a notice to the owner or whoever is in charge, a certain period to remedy the contravention namely by making the necessary application. If the notice is ignored, the City will instruct its attorneys to commence legal action.

Once this has taken place the best way is to go through the formal process of applying for consent from the City and the City will revert with an outcome of your application. Always use suitably qualified persons to do the applications on your behalf.

The consequence of not following procedures is sometimes – but not limited to – getting a court order, ordering the demolishing of the erected building if the court is satisfied fully of the reasons given by the local authority, interdicts to stop operation of any illegal business and the sheriff may be called to give effect to that court order if non-compliance continues, and a further rates penalty may be imposed by the city as a deterrent.

Article by Herbert Mncube, Molefe Dlepu Incorporated

Herbert Mncube is an attorney at Molefe Dlepu Incorporated. He holds an LLB degree from UNISA. He practices in the areas of civil and criminal litigation, family law and municipal law.

Molefe Dlepu Incorporated is a legal services provider comprising of attorneys, conveyancers and notaries. Visit us at or contact us at


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