SA surveyors seek planning law reform

By on 1 October, 2013

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South Australia’s surveyors are calling for changes to the State’s Development Act to give home owners greater certainty about boundaries before they commence major upgrades to their homes.

The Surveyors Board of South Australia says it will be making submissions to an Expert Panel considering changes to the State’s Planning system to prevent boundary disputes that could potentially cost home owners thousands of dollars.

The State Government set up an Expert Panel to review the State’s Planning system earlier this year.

It is expected to report to Government and State Parliament by the end of next year.

Mr Michael Nietschke, the Board’s Chairman, said there was currently no requirement for home owners to check their boundaries before commencing major home upgrades and extensions.

“Home owners often seek to maximise their property by building right up to the boundary,” he said.

“Usually they assume that the fence is the boundary.

“Unfortunately, this is not always the case, especially in older suburbs which may not have been surveyed for decades.

“We are aware of increasing numbers of instances where people have built on or close to what they thought was the boundary, only to find later that they had encroached on their neighbour’s land.”

Mr Nietschke said the consequences for getting it wrong could be severe. The offending homeowner could potentially be liable for thousands of dollars in compensation, or could even be ordered to remove the encroaching part of the building.

He said the Surveyors Board would seek changes to the Development Act to require anyone wishing to undertake building work near title boundaries to get a boundary survey undertaken by a licensed surveyor before any work could commence.

This would go a long way to preventing any later boundary disputes.

“While most encroachments are usually only a matter of a few centimetres, there have been cases where this has been metres,” he said.

Mr Nietschke said that boundary disputes could end up in the Supreme Court, which had a range of options to overcome the problem, including requiring the encroachment be removed or ordering a land division.

Where this took place, the person who had encroached on the land of their neighbour was required to pay compensation based on three times the value of the land transferred.

“In older established suburbs where land values are high and blocks are large, this can easily run into thousands of dollars in compensation,” Mr Nietschke said.

“Where an encroachment subsequently prevents a neighbour from being able to sub-divide, further compensation also may have to be paid.

“It’s a case where stepping over the line can cost home builders thousands of dollars.

“The Surveyors Board believes the most efficient way around this would be to require anyone planning to build on or close to a boundary to have a licensed surveyor undertake a boundary survey.

“Given that boundary issues are one of the major causes of neighbourhood disputes, this may also help prevent many arguments from flaring.

“The State Government has previously said it is not prepared to introduce compulsory boundary surveys before the sale of a house, but we are hopeful it will introduce compulsory boundary surveys where applications are made by people wishing to build on or close to the boundary.

“It will ultimately save taxpayers money.”

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