July 10, 2018

Renovating Your Heritage Home

Painting of Victoria House, Cape Town, by Kirsten Burgess

The time has come. You have some cash saved up to start renovating your heritage home. That extra garage, additional bathroom (you really need a relaxing bathroom, free from kids’ toys!) or entertaining area in the back garden can finally be built. You are ready to get cracking, and start talking to a local builder. Together you predict everything will be finished by the time your in-laws visit in December. Your house may be old, but that shouldn’t be a problem, right? I mean, everybody seems to be upgrading their old houses these days.

But the more research you do about renovating heritage buildings, the more you start hearing odd things like “HPOZ” and “conservation body’s consent“. You start to feel anxious, worrying that the whole process will be so complicated. Where should you even begin? If only there were someone to hold your hand through the process. Or maybe if you just quietly build your extension at the back of the property, no one will even know. Why should you have to deal with the headache of council submissions anyway?

At this point I would jump in and shout:


And here’s why:

  1. If you illegally alter a heritage building, it is considered a heritage crime and you could be slapped with a heavy fine or even a prison sentence.
  2. When selling your home in future, be prepared to provide updated plans that have been approved by the Local Authorities.
  3. Illegal building in heritage areas not only causes conflict between neighbours but also degrades the area’s value.


  1. If the original dwelling is older than 60 years, alterations will require approval by Heritage Western Cape (HWC).
  2. Your home may be a graded building. Heritage sites have been graded according to heritage importance, from Grade I (most important) to Grade III (least important – mostly concerned with maintaining the streetscape). To find out the grading of your property, visit the City’s Planning offices. You can also check the City Map Viewer for more information on your property.
  3. Your property may fall within a Heritage Protection Overlay Zone (HPOZ). You can download this document to learn more about HPO Zones in Cape Town.

Source: The NEW Heritage Protection Overlay Zone


Before you do anything, you should hire a professional architect or draughtsperson who can guide you through the process. The best part is – they can take care of all the anxiety-inducing plan submissions and approval applications! That alone makes it worth the extra costs.

  1. Once you are happy with the plans and are ready to submit, your architect will send these, along with photos of the existing dwelling, to the Local Authorities as well as your local registered conservation body in order to obtain supporting comments. These comments will form part of your application for a Permit at HWC. There is a useful map showing the different conservation bodies in Cape Town.
  2. You can then go through the HWC Application Checklist, fill in an application, pay the application fee and submit your HWC application.
  3. Once this application has been made, you (or your architect) can submit your plans to the City’s Development Management Branch, which will continue the usual process of plan submissions.
  4. If your property falls within the HPOZ, once you have submitted your plans to the city, you will be required to go through a Land Use application to obtain consent to do work within the HPOZ.
  5. Once your plans have been approved and stamped, you can start building!


By now, with a little more understanding of the process involved, you are excited about your renovations once again. It is so worth maintaining the heritage and character of your home through good design practice.  You may find the paperwork and forms to be completely daunting and overwhelming. But that is why it is so important to recruit a professional architect or draughtsperson who can guide you along every step of the way and take care of the whole submission process on your behalf. Not only will this save you from potentially paying fines further down the road, but your property value is likely to increase. On top of that, you will be able to maintain good relationships with your neighbours and local community.

And hopefully you won’t have to share the family bathroom with rubber duckies (and your in-laws) by December…

If you would like to know more about heritage, renovations or need more information, please feel free to contact me








2 Comments on “Renovating Your Heritage Home

Ashley W
July 11, 2018 at 4:42 am

60 years is surprisingly young.I thought it would only apply to older buildings that that – maybe from 75-100 years. The Heritage Council must be very busy!

July 11, 2018 at 6:45 am

Yeah – and if you think about it, that means any building that was built before the 1960s – that doesn’t even seem that long ago! There also aren’t many people in the Heritage Council so they are indeed incredibly busy. I think that’s why comments from local registered conservation bodies are so important – to help streamline the process so files don’t just sit on desks for ages!


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