If you own a building that flouts, construction, safety or access regulations, your goose is as good as cooked. 15 areas you should work on to escape the inspection dragnet.
Kenya’s property sector has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons.
First, a building collapsed at Makongeni in Nairobi on December 17 last year, killing seven and injuring more than 15; and then, a few days later, on January 4, yet another building came crumbling down at Huruma, also in Nairobi, killing five.
Following the two incidents, Nairobi County Governor Evans Kidero issued a warning that all sub-standard buildings within the county would be demolished. He also suspended senior officials at City Hall who had been tasked with ensuring the safety of all buildings in the Nairobi metropolitan region.
Police arrested the contractor of the Huruma building, Francis Gikonyo Kamau, and charged him with murder. Also arrested was Jane Wanjiru Ndonga, the director of Housing and Development in Dandora, who was accused of approving construction of the building.
Those actions, and subsequent warnings by property experts that many more other structures around the country are not fit for human occupation, have stirred a debate on why the country’s housing by-laws are flouted with reckless and, as it often turns out, murderous abandon.
To survey the sector and understand the level or recklessness and sheer impunity that has been let to fester for decades, we studied the rules and regulations on housing, pitting them against the situation on the ground.
The results were astounding and heartbreaking. Developers seem to be unaware of by-laws on construction in the country. Either that, or they do not care. Or they have greased enough palms at City Hall and other local authorities that they can get away with murder.
But inspection officers are now on the ground, looking for structures that do not meet their standards. Theirs is going to be an onerous task, and it is hoped that, at the end of it all, they will prevent even more deaths.
To be on the safe side of the law, we compiled the most important pieces of legislation that you, as a property developer or owner, should adhere to:
This is likely to be the very first regulation that a developer will break. Unknown to many, all county governments have developed a zoning system used to classify areas around urban centres.
This system dictates which type of developments are permitted, the required population density, and minimum acreage of land per plot.
Mr Tom Odongo, the Nairobi County executive committee member for Lands, Housing and Physical Planning, says zoning helps to protect amenities and the environment in the public interest.
“How we live our lives is shaped by where we live,” he says. “Planning regulations, therefore, have to cover many situations that influence and shape the lives of every city resident and help protect the urban environment.”
According to the Nairobi zoning guide, for instance, buildings more than four storeys high are not permitted in Westlands, Kileleshwa, Kilimani and Riverside, although this guide is regularly flouted.
In addition, the smallest permitted acreage of land within the capital is 0.05 acres in high density residential areas and 0.1 in low density zones. Construction of residential dwellings at the Kariobangi light industries area, the Dandora industrial zone and Nairobi’s Industrial Area is also not allowed.
Every person who proposes to erect a structure that is more than 160sq feet — and it is not a plant, chicken or garden tool house — should have an accredited architect make a written application to the necessary department seeking approval to do so. The requirements usually differ from county to county.
This also applies if the owner of a building who intends to change its entire use or just a section of it. Major works like renovations, and drainage should also have an approval certificate displayed on a visible location.
If the scheduled works applied for do not commence within 12 months of their approval, the licence becomes null and void.
They should also be completed within two years of approval and if not, an extension should be sought.
During construction, the developer should provide washroom facilities for all the workmen on the project, and also erect and properly maintain a hoarding.
The hoarding protects the site and passersby from getting injured by falling material. It also keeps the surrounding environment free of dust and materials that may fall off the construction site.
The developer should seek an inspection from the council which will ascertain whether or not the work was carried out and supervised by competent persons.
Additionally, the developer should allow, upon completion and at any time during construction, reasonable tests to the structure to be carried out by an authorised officer from the local authority.
After ascertaining that the building is safe for occupation, the developer will receive a certificate of completion which will permit him/her to let in tenants. It is unlawful to occupy, or to permit the occupation of, any building before a certificate of completion is issued.
Space and access
A domestic building should have a space immediately in front which extends along the whole width of the building. The space should not be less than 20 feet wide or from the next building, and the occupants should have easy access to a street or road.
It is also mandatory for all buildings to have a secondary means of access.
Additionally, any building designed for residential purposes should have an open space on one side with a width of eight feet or more, measured from the boundary of the nearest plot. The width should extend all the way along the entire length and height of the building.
If it contains more than one dwelling, the structure should have a courtyard or open space free from obstruction of not less than 350 square feet. The minimum permitted space between any two buildings is four feet.
If a building is constructed mainly of wood or any other flammable material, it should not be erected nearer than a distance twice its height to another building or a plot boundary.
All boundary walls, screen walls, fences or other means of enclosure of residential plots should be erected to a height of not more than four feet and six inches where a building faces a main street, and not more than six feet in any other case.
Use of certified professionals
It is illegal for a developer to construct a building without using an architectural design, which should be done by a qualified architect, and who should submit it for approval on behalf of the developer working in consultation with a qualified structural engineer.
While submitting the plan, the developer should attach a land title and a copy of the licence of the architect who submits the plan on behalf of the developer. The developer is required to retain them for purposes of supervising the construction of the building.
During construction, the developer should publicly display the name of the architect, engineer, contractor and their names on a board at the site.
On completion of the work, the architect or structural engineer should provide the council with a document certifying that the work has been carried out in accordance with the design, and complies with by-laws and other appropriate codes of practice.
Stairs should have a constant and uniform rise and tread. The minimum permitted width of a stair case is two feet and six inches, the minimum rise is seven and half inches, and the minimum tread is nine inches.
The minimum headroom should be six feet and nine inches, and no flight of stairs should exceed 16 steps. Lifts should be provided to any floor exceeding 42 feet from the ground level.
Every domestic and public building should have a means of refuse disposal. The landlord should ensure that a refuse collection service is available before a certificate of completion is issued.
The plans of a building should show that an approved supply of wholesome water sufficient for the purposes to which the building is to be put will be provided.
In addition, every building should have a stored supply of cold water for domestic purposes, taken from the main water supply of the building.
Every habitable room should have a window or windows opening directly to external air. Each window should be able to let in daylight equal to at least one tenth of the floor area of the room.
A window is not deemed to be suitable if it is obstructed by another structure or another building that is less than eight feet away. It should also not face an internal open space of the same building.
Every building of two or more habitable rooms must have a kitchen that is not less than 60 square feet and a floor-to-ceiling height of not less than eight feet, a suitable sink and approved ventilation.
Size and height of rooms
Every habitable room in a house should be, at minimum, eight feet in length and not less than 75 square feet, and must have a ceiling.
The height of the floor to the ceiling in all habitable rooms should be a minimum of eight feet, except the bathrooms, water closets, ablution blocks and stores, whose minimum height should be seven feet.
Every building should have a reasonable means to escape in the event of a fire. In addition, any building that exceeds two storeys in height, or whose upper floor is more than 20 feet above the surface or ground level, should have a means to escape fire on all floors.
Low-cost residential buildings
Every habitable room should have a superficial area of not less than 75 square feet or a minimum area of 40 square feet for every person dwelling there. A latrine or ablution block should be provided, as well as a place to wash utensils.
For each family, or six persons, there should be one latrine or ablution, fitted with a shower, a water closet and a cooking area. Facilities should also be provided for washing clothes at the rate of one per six persons, measuring a minimum of three-by-two feet.
A building will be deemed habitable if the walls are properly plastered or finished with approved material. The floors should have a hard bearing surface that can be easily cleaned at all times. All windows should be glazed and, where privacy is required, obscured glass should be used.
The owner of the building should not permit it, or any part of it, to become dilapidated. If that happens, the council may give the developer a notice in writing to shore up, secure or repair the building, or even demolish it. Within three days of the expiry of the notice, the council can do the required work and charge the owner.