The ABC of Certificates Of Compliance

When selling a property most home owners focus on preparing the residence for show days; adding a lick of paint, neatening the garden and so forth. What many neglect to prepare until the property has been sold and is ready for transfer are the required Certificates of Compliance (COCs).

Before the transfer of any home can be registered it is the duty of the seller to provide the relevant transfer attorney with a number of COCs - the most common being an Electrical Certificate of Compliance as well as a Plumbing Certificate of Compliance. The remaining certificates are dependent on whether the property has a gas installation, electric fence or, is located in a coastal area and thus requires a Certificate of Clearance for Woodborer beetles. 

"While obtaining these COCs do add an extra cost for the seller they are required by law in an attempt to safeguard both the buyer and the seller," says Bruce Swain, MD of Leapfrog Property Group, "in that they serve as assurance that the wiring, plumbing etc of a property is up to standard - ensuring the seller that they're not purchasing a problem, while also protecting the seller from later claims against him by the buyer".  Essentially these COCs are a necessary component of any property sale but, which COCs are required, how are they obtained and, what do they actually mean?

Shock-free wiring

According to the new electrical installation regulations of May 2009 an Electrical Certificate of Compliance may only be issued by a person or body approved by the Chief Inspector (CI) in terms of Regulation 5 to carry out inspections, tests and investigations on electrical installations. 

The new regulations also specify that the certificate may not change ownership if it is older than two years. Should the certificate be older than two years a new one will have to be obtained.

Making sure the plumbing works

A Plumbing Certificate of Compliance will only be valid if the issuer belongs to IOPSA (the Institute of Plumbing South Africa) - something that can be easily checked on their website. According to the Plumbing Industry Registration Board a certificate needs to be issued for the following:

- Where the total value of work, including materials, labour and VAT, is more than R1500.00 (material costs must be included, regardless of whether the materials were supplied by another person)
- The installation, relocation or replacement of any Electric Water Heating System, regardless of the cost
- For every separate installation on a site.
- The construction, installation or alteration of any above or below ground sanitary drain; regardless of the cost
- The installation, relocation or replacement of any Hot Water Solar Water Heating System
- The installation, relocation or replacement of any Heat Pump Water Heating System

At present there doesn't seem to be a set period of validity when obtaining a plumbing certificate and transfer lawyers recommend getting a new certificate issued when selling a property.

No hassles with gas

Essentially the gas COC works like an Electrical Certificate of Compliance in that so many people are now installing gas in their homes (due to rising electricity costs) and thus the law has made provision for another COC to cover this specifically. "By now people are well aware of the need to provide an electrical certificate but often overlook the in-built gas braai in on the patio. However all gas installations now also have to be certified before sale", says Bruce Swain.

Woodboring beetles

Commonly referred to as Beetle Certificates, this COC is most often needed only in coastal areas of the Western Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal as the wood destroying beetles are rarely found inland. Principally the certifier needs to establish that there are no Hylotropes bajulus or Oxypleuris nodieri beetles present on the property, though many certificates will also refer to the Anobium punctatum  - the most common beetle, but one that's not considered to cause as much damage.

"When living in a coastal area it's a good idea to get a Beetle Clearance Certificate as the majority of financial institutions will ask for one, even if the purchaser does not", advises Swain.

Checking up on electric fences

With more and more home owners opting for electric fencing as a security measure an Electrical Fence System Compliance Certificate is now also required where applicable. Carol McDonald from the Southern African Legal Information Institute (Saffli) points out that "The requirement does not apply to a system in existence prior to 1 October 2012. However, as with an electrical compliance certificate, this certificate will be required where an addition or alteration is effected to the system or where there is a change of ownership of the premises on which the system exists if the change of ownership takes place after 1 October 2012".  In other words such a certificate will be required for the sale of any property, surrounded by an electric fence, for which the sale was registered after 1 October 2012.

"It is important to note that an Electrical Compliance Certificate and an Electric Fence System COC are two different documents. It's also imperative that an electric fence system is certified by an approved installer - an ordinary electrician's assessment won't be accepted", Swain points out.

Safe swimming pools

Home owners in Johannesburg may soon be in for a nasty surprise should a new by-law for the safeguarding of swimming pools be enacted. The proposed draft requires that owners of swimming pools apply for a permit within 90 days of circulation of said by-laws.  Once an application for a permit has been received an authorised official will be dispatched to inspect the pool. In order to qualify for a permit the pool owner will need to have erected a fence around it which meets the following criteria:

- be strong and durable;
- entirely surround the swimming pool; 
- be not less than 1,2m in height;
- be so situated, constructed and maintained, that a child is not able to climb over, crawl under, squeeze through or otherwise gain access to the swimming pool, except through the gate or door forming part of the enclosure if it is open;
- have fitted to every such gate or door an approved self-closing and self locking device, and exit alarm and a catch inaccessible to a child from the outside which device and catch shall be maintained in good working order.

The proposed by-law does make provision for indoor pools, gates and possible exceptions. "While the municipality is undoubtedly trying to prevent drowning with this draft by-law I struggle to see how it will effectively enforce it, should it be enacted? At present it just seems like more red tape for home owners to deal with", says Swain.  In the meantime Swain advises home owners in Gauteng to look out for any further developments in the matter.

Swain believes that "obtaining all of the relevant COCs when selling a property may seem like a lot of money and time wasted they are intended to provide both the seller and the buyer with a measure of protection, and as such are a necessary evil".

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