Owners of buildings and their tenants will be prosecuted if they don’t have a valid occupation certificate. This is the message that is being sent out by most of the major metropolitan councils and the others are soon to follow.

Any person or organization that occupies a building or a portion of a building without a valid occupation certificate is guilty of an offence that is punishable by law. The councils are taking action in terms of section 14 of Act number 103 that was already promulgated in 1977.

Action taken against defaulters includes spot fines issued by the Fire Departments, termination of services and legal action that is taken in certain instances. Mr. Jeremy Rossouw, spokesperson for Building Inspection and Certification Services (BICS), said that a number of tenants and landlords that the group consulted with felt that this is, as was stated by some, “the latest money making racket of the councils”.

The counter response to this is that the largest portion of these people doesn't understand the severity of the matter in as far as noncompliance is concerned. The Metros and Local Councils are obliged to take responsibility for the safety and security of its citizens and to uphold and enforce the laws of the country.

Owners of buildings and their tenants should also be made aware that insurance companies might refuse to honor claims that resulted from fire or public liability should the premises not comply with the Act at the time of the incidence.

Mr. Rossouw pointed out that noncompliance also effects the banks that finance these buildings since this will severely impact on the income potential of the property, which is in most instances, the banks security. In the case of a Council taking action income can be lost and this situation can be even worst in the case of fire or structural collapse. It is understood that some banks are withholding final payment on new developments until the lender can present the bank with a valid occupation certificate.

The only issue that is currently slowing down action from the Councils is staff shortages; however, systems are being put in place to accelerate the process. For the moment the Council’s are however coping with the resources they have and will refuse occupation and the connection of services to any new development with outstanding occupation certificates.

Another issue that most role-players in the property industry are not aware off is the fact that a new occupation certificate needs to be applied for every time a new occupier moves into a building, or premises within the building. In the case of a shopping centre the main occupation certificate for the centre is therefore only valid if all the tenants in the centre have a valid occupation certificate.

The best advice to all landlords and role-players in the property leasing industry is to request proof of a valid occupation certificate before occupation is granted. It is possible to obtain a temporary certificate from the council in certain instances.