Why do I need an engineer’s certificate when removing walls in my ST unit?
Hi, I’m a first-time property owner and I have plans to redo my kitchen and bathroom.
My unit is on the fifth floor – which is also the top floor of the building. My ceiling is a solid concrete slab as the roof is flat and the water tanks and satellite dishes are on it.
I want to remove an interior wall and also move a part of my bathroom wall to make it bigger. The walls are single-brick thick.
I notified my trustees of the planned renovations and they came for a visit to see what I’m planning to do.
When I showed them the planned changes they said I may not remove or move the walls without an engineering certificate as they fear for the integrity of the building’s structure. They say they don’t know if the walls are load-bearing and the water tanks are above my flat.
Most contractors I speak to say that the wall I want to remove is not load-bearing as it is a single-brick wall. They say the bathroom is the same.
They only say I need to get it drawn on the unit’s building plans by an architect and get them approved by the local municipality.
My question: Do I really need an engineering certificate or will the alterations to the building plans, approved by the municipality authority, be sufficient?
If I do need one, what type do I need? I found no clear information on who will need to draw up such certificates.
The second concern I have is this: they also want a letter stating that I take full responsibility for the alterations and that I waiver the body corporate of any liability and responsibility.
I can understand taking responsibility for any alterations done to my unit, but then why do I have to sign and give a waiver to the body corporate’s trustees?
To what extent would such a waiver apply?
I raise these question as it seems that most renovation topics only speak in terms of full-title owners, and sectional title where common property is involved (such as stoep extension or changing of the building aesthetics). Never about the interior of a unit (everyone says you can do what you want inside).
I don’t want to cause trouble or be inconsiderate to the body corporate, but I also don’t want to be take advantage of.
Your help on this matter will be greatly appreciated. – Jan
Dear Jan, I am not a lawyer, but I can provide you with my opinion as a property inspector with knowledge of the Sectional Title Schemes Management Act.
This is an excerpt from the act:
Use of sections and common property
The body corporate must take all reasonable steps to ensure that a member or any other occupier of a section or exclusive-use area does not—
(d) make alterations to a section or an exclusive-use area that are likely to impair the stability of the building or interfere with the use and enjoyment of other sections, the common property or any exclusive-use area
Your unit is referred to as a section. The body corporate insures the buildings and all common property, and for them to want an engineer involved is the correct way of doing it.
If you remove walls you believe not to be structural walls, and they are, you will be compromising the integrity of the entire building. If something happens, the insurance will not pay out and the engineer who originally signed off the building and the slab on top of your unit, is not liable, because you made changes to the building.
The other reason is that if you enlarge your kitchen and bathroom, and it looks good and some of the other owners want to do the same thing, it will have more of an effect on the integrity of the building.
You must also remember that a builder is not an engineer, and the builder might think it is ok to remove the wall, but as he is not an engineer, there is no guarantee that everything will be okay. You might have a builder with a lot of experience and who is capable, but you might also have a “cowboy” for a builder, and not realise it.
My advice is to employ a structural engineer to design the exact way the walls should be removed, let him inspect the work and sign it off. That will mean that he takes responsibility that the work was done correctly and his professional indemnity insurance is then liable should anything go wrong.
If you do it this way, I am convinced that the body corporate will not require an indemnity from you, and you will be able to negotiate with them. I suggest they send the engineer’s certificate to the insurance company as well for verification of this.
This will also set a precedent and the body corporate will have a way forward for anyone wanting to make changes inside their unit. I suggest they communicate this to the entire block and would also suggest they appoint an engineer to handle all these types of requests, but the owners who want to make the changes are liable for the engineer’s fees.
When you lodge plans for approval to the municipality, they have to be signed off by an engineer. This structural engineer can then sign the plans for you as well.
It might feel as if the body corporate is being unfair, but they have a responsibility to the entire block and can be held liable if there is a structural issue due to owners making unsafe changes to their units and insurance refuses to consider the claim, or refuses to insure the building. Your bank will also not be pleased.
Marisia Robus, of Gauteng Property Inspections, is a property inspector and a Timber Construction South Africa (ITC-SA) registered roof inspector