Building Lines and Servitudes

Two types of building line

First question, what is a building line?

A building line is a part of your erf, or yard, that you are not allowed to build on. Most yards in South Africa have four building lines. These are set against the boundaries of the yard. The side boundaries will typically have a building line of two meters, meaning that you are not supposed to build within two meters of your side boundary. The rear boundary is often also two meters, although it can be more.

The street boundary is usually more, three meters for a house and up to five meters for a garage.

The first type of building line is described in a document called a zoning certificate (obtainable from your local council). These are usually the two, three, and five meter building lines described above.

The good news is that many councils will relax these building lines, allowing home owners to build over the lines, sometimes right up to the boundary.

There is, however, another type of building line which causes much bigger problems. In many of the older yards’ title deeds, building lines are also described. These are usually street building lines, and they can be anything from nine meters to fifteen meters. This means that you cannot build within that distance from your street boundary.

(A note on the street boundary - the boundary is not the edge of the street, it is the edge of your yard. The pavement area, typically the area where pedestrians would walk, is seen as part of the street.)

The problem here is that the local council does not have the authority to allow you to go over this building line. If you need to build within this area you will have to have the building line clause removed from your title deed, a costly and lengthy procedure best taken on by a city planner or other professional.

For this reason it is a good idea to get a copy of your title deed and study it before you start planning a new building or addition. If you have a bond on your house, your bank can provide you with an electronic copy of your title deed.

See an example here. (Picture will open in a seperate window.>


Think of servitudes as areas of land that you own, but which someone other than you has a right to. The municipality has the right to lay services under your property. Such services would typically be the municipal sewer system, and they will be in such servitudes. You may not build over such servitudes without permission. Many title deeds have a clause that will read something like this:

“The erf is subject to a servitude, two meters wide, over any two boundaries, other than a street boundary”

Panhandles usually have additional servitudes, while the servitude area for sewer lines have recently been increased to three meters.

You can apply for permission to go over such a servitude, but if there is any existing municipal structure already in place, the application is almost certain to be turned down. (A note on the example, I have icluded servitudes on both sides of the erf to show where they could be. Typically though there will be only one side servitude, BUT, the municipality gets to decide on which side that servitude is located. To get permission to build in a sevitude area, the legal department of the council must first approve such an encroachment.

See an example here. (Picture will open in a seperate window.)

Take the two together

You have to read the Zoning Certificate and Title Deed in conjunction, and then determine in what areas you are not allowed to build. So, after drawing up these sketches, we find the area where you are allowed to build. Like this. (Picture will open in a seperate window.) If all of this looks and sounds too complicated, don't worry, it's my job to understand it!


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