Building approvals and permits

Exploring Planning Permits and Building Approvals

Before a land owner can undertake development on their land, they will in most cases than not be required to apply for planning approvals and building/project permits. The applications for approval are made to a County or sub-county authority. Nonetheless, it is prudent to talk to either a physical planner or county official to find out whether or not a planning approval or building permit will be required before undertaking a particular project.

Applications for approval are made by a registered physical planner in the case of planning permits and an architect in the case of structural and architectural drawings to the county or sub-county authority. There are applicable fees required to be paid by the person making the application at the time of submitting the same and these fees differ depending on the nature of the development or planning use for which approval is being sought.

When do you require a planning permit?

We explore the various instances when a planning permit will be required before a registered landowner can develop or deal in their land as follows: –

  • Change of use– this involves conversion of land from either agricultural to residential, residential to commercial, agricultural to commercial, single dwelling to residential multi-dwelling or from agricultural to mixed use, as per the approved zoning regulations or as indicated in the conditions noted in the title document for the land in question.
  • Extension of use– this is necessitated when a landowner wants to expand the permitted use of land. An example would be where pursuant to an approval for change of use, a limit on the area to be affected had been noted and the landowner now wishes for the area to be expanded.
  • Extension or renewal of lease– this is applicable where the affected land is held under a grant from the government or on leasehold terms from either the national or county government. The application is made before the term expires and in most cases at least three to five years before expiry of the term to prevent the land from reverting to the head lessor.
  • Sub-division– this is required when a landowner wants to sub-divide their land.
  • Amalgamation– applies where a landowner wants to merge two or more adjacent parcels of land into one.

Building permits

On the other hand, a building permit is required before embarking on construction of a proposed building or development. The permit essentially confirms that a proposed building is compliant with the set design and construction standards and regulations. It is key to note that both planning and building permits are usually valid for a period of two years and if the purpose for which the approval or permit is given is not commenced within two years from the date of approval, then one will be required to apply for a renewal or in some cases apply afresh for approval.

A good number of counties have implemented the e-Development Permit System which is an online platform through which architects and structural engineers can submit their drawings to the County for consideration and approval. The procedure is such that the architectural plans are submitted first and once approved, the structural plans are then submitted by the structural engineer. Below are the documents required when submitting a new application: –

  • Architectural drawings by a duly registered architect or firm of architects;
  • Structural drawings by a duly registered structural engineer or firm registered;
  • Copy of the title document for the land on which the proposed development is to take place;
  • Land rates clearance certificate for the current year;
  • Original land search report for the land which should not be more than three months old;
  • Survey plan or Registry Index Map (RIM) from Survey of Kenya; and
  • Receipt confirming payment of the requisite fees.

Once the application is successful, the architect receives an approval notification and will in some instances still be required to submit hard copies of the plans to be stamped by the County. The structural engineer must also do the same after the architect’s plans have been stamped. Construction of a development can commence once the drawings have been approved while the application for a building permit is being processed.

Large developments

In the case of developments, the relevant approvals must be obtained prior to commencement of construction and the three main agencies that are involved in the approval include the county government, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the National Construction Authority (NCA).

The Environmental impact assessment is the application to NEMA and it shows how the proposed development is likely to affect the environment and the measures that are intended to be put in place to ensure that the development will meet set environmental standards and prevent negative effects. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) study is carried out by a licensed environmental expert who should be registered by NEMA. The EIA report is then submitted to NEMA together with approved county drawings for NEMA approval and registration. The NEMA approval is a crucial document in large developments and failure to obtain one before commencement of construction can result in dire consequences including demolition of affected buildings.

National Construction Authority (NCA) Approvals

A qualified contractor, one who is duly registered with the National Construction Authority and holds a valid license for the current year makes the relevant application to register the proposed construction project with NCA using a form which can be downloaded from the Authority’s website.

A temporary certificate that confirms that the registration is under process is issued upon submission of the application after which the contractor then submits the project registration form to the authority with the below documents: –

  • Approved architectural and structural drawings;
  • NEMA certificate;
  • Bill of quantities Summary;
  • Contract documents signed between the Contractor and the developer;
  • Contractor’s certificate of registration;
  • Quantity surveyor’s practicing certificate;
  • Architect’s practicing certificate;
  • Engineer’s practicing certificate; and
  • Developer’s KRA PIN certificate.

If the authority is satisfied with the documents as submitted, an NCA compliance certificate is issued and this must be displayed at the site where the development in question is being undertaken.

It is important to note that all the above approvals and/or permits may be granted with or without conditions or in some instances denied. In all instances however, the title documents must be clean and legally held.

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