Demolition of illegal structureLocal government - Unlawful erection of building - Demolition


In Lester v Ndlambe Municipality and Another [2014] 1 All SA 402 (SCA), the Supreme Court of Appeal was required to consider an appeal against the dismissal of an application to allow a property owner to alter his house to avoid a demolition order.

The appellant, Professor Matthew Lester, owns land at Kenton-on-Sea. His neighbours, Mr and Mrs Haslam, had previously enjoyed sweeping, panoramic views over the ocean. This changed when Lester began building a luxury home. It was erected unlawfully, without any approved building plans, contrary to the requirements of section 4(1) of the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act, 1977.

The Haslams brought several court applications to prevent Lester from completing construction. These culminated in an order to the effect that Lester was placed on terms to submit building plans that complied with all statutory and zoning requirements, failing which his house would be demolished.


The SCA emphasised that the law cannot and does not tolerate an ongoing illegality which is also a criminal offence. To do so would be to undermine the rule of law. Courts have a duty to ensure that thedoctrine of legality is upheld and to grant recourse to public bodies such as the Ndlambe Municipality, which is responsible for upholding the law.

Despite the financial consequences, inconvenience and disruption that the demolition of an expansive and luxurious home would cause, the SCA was obliged to uphold the doctrine of legality. The appeal was dismissed with costs.

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