Access to shelter remains an important necessity to mankind. The importance of buildings has over time transcended from basic access to shelter to the acquisition of real assets as a form of investment. It is therefore not surprising that there will always be a need for buildings, infrastructures and similar forms of shelter to host social and commercial activities. All over the world, the erection of buildings is well regulated through building regulations and controls put in place to secure health, safety and aesthetic and town planning goals. Whilst the building regulations would normally set out to establish the legal requirements and standards for design and construction of buildings, building control refers to statutory and routine checks at various phases of building works to certify compliance with building regulations. In this article we explore the regulatory framework of building regulation and control in Lagos state.
The regulatory framework for real estate in Nigeria shows the existence of regulations and control measures but unfortunately, research studies reveal that about 139 buildings collapsed between 1974 and 2012 in Nigeria and over 798 lives were lost during the period. 74 (53.24%) of these cases have occurred in Lagos and 15% of the buildings that have collapsed were under construction.[i] Since 2012 there have been more building collapses in Lagos, in 2016 a six-storey building being constructed by a popular property development company collapsed killing not less than 35 persons. In March 2019 a school building collapsed in Lagos killing 20 persons. The major cause of building collapse has been traceable to structural defects, inferior materials, poor engineering and a lack of monitoring by the relevant regulators. Therefore, with Lagos remaining, till date, the most populated commercial city in Africa with a residence of over 20 million people, the need for a functioning building and development control regulation system is strongly reinforced.
As a measure to mitigate against the high cases of building collapse and attending death toll, the Lagos State government by way of restructure, passed into law the Lagos State Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law 2010 (“Planning Law”) which established 3 (three) physical planning and development agencies under the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development (the “Ministry”) namely: –
- The Lagos State Physical Planning Permit Authority (LASPPPA) which is saddled with the task of processing and issuing planning permits in the state;
- The Lagos Building Control Agency (LASBCA) which is vested with the responsibility of monitoring and enforcing building control regulations; and
- The Lagos State Urban Renewal Agency (LASURA) which bears the responsibility of implementing the state policy on urban renewal and the upgrade of slums in Lagos.
For the purpose of this article, we will streamline our focus to the role of LASPPPA and LASBCA. LASPPPA being the first port of call, is empowered to grant building plan approvals/permits to real estate developers and private land owners with an intention to either erect new buildings, carry out substantial renovations on existing buildings, restructure a building, construct additional floors, demolish existing buildings or fence a building whilst LASBCA is the monitoring and enforcement arm of the Ministry which ensures compliance with the building control policies and regulations from the beginning to the end of any building project. Through this way, the Lagos state government is able to ensure that every building in Lagos is fit and safe for habitation and conforms to its geographical town planning goal.
OBTAINING A BUILDING PLAN APPROVAL OR PERMIT FROM LASPPPA
Prior to beginning the construction of a building in Lagos, whether as a developer (government or private) or landowner, you are required to obtain a building plan approval/permit from LASPPPA. The process takes a minimum of 60 days and may be extended while LASPPPA finds the proposed plans and drawings satisfactory. The application for permit is also largely analogue, which means that proposed building plans and other supporting documentations must be submitted in person to the counter of the LASPPPA district office where the property is located.
To ease the administrative bottlenecks associated with over-the-counter or manual applications, LASPPPA introduced e-applications for building approvals and permits. Applicants are required to log onto the application portal on https://epp.lagosstate.gov.ng to register, pay the necessary fees, follow the guidelines, and upload necessary documents. The process is said to reduce the processing time to about 20 days. The online platform is also said to welcome manually screened applications. However, in spite of this, the online platform is not popular due to technical glitches experienced by users who ultimately resort to manual applications.
When applying for a building plan approval or permit at LASPPPA, it is advisable as a precursor to submitting all required documentations to first submit 1 (one) copy of the architectural and structural drawings and other necessary plans as well as a sun-print survey plan of the property together with the title documents for vetting so that any discrepancies found can be corrected at the initial stage of the application process to save time.
All cleared plans must be signed and sealed by the prescribed professionals. All documents required are then submitted and assessment fees calculated on the application. Payments are made and bank tellers and receipts are filed. A town planning officer is assigned to the application to carry out a site inspection for the purpose of drawing out the locational map of the land as well as confirming the coordinates amongst other checks. Once the drawings and inspection by the officer confirms the property as stipulated on the drawings and plans submitted, the plans and drawings are then registered and a file number is assigned. All required taxes must be confirmed paid by the applicant before an approval/permit can be issued.
The following documents are required from an applicant:
- 5 original copies of architectural drawing duly stamped and sealed with a stamp endorsed by the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria (ARCON)
- 5 original copies of structural drawings duly signed, sealed and dated together with a letter of supervision from an engineer registered with the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), confirming that the building is constructed according to good standards and under the supervision of the engineer who will be responsible for any failures or defects on the project
- Calculation sheet for the materials to be used for the project, duly signed by the COREN registered engineer
- Evidence of payment of assessment fees due on the application
- 5 Original copies of the mechanical and electrical drawings (if applicable)
- Certified true copy of title documents (i.e. certificate of occupancy, registered conveyance, governor’s consent or letter of allocation)
- Confirmation/Clearance letter from the Lands Bureau if title documents are being processed by the Lands Bureau (if applicable)
- Clearance letter from the Land Use Allocation Committee (LUAC) (if applicable)
- Fire safety clearance letter from Lagos State Fire Service (if applicable)
- Metroline corridor clearance letter from Lagos State Ministry of Transport (if applicable)
- Traffic impact assessment report from the Lagos State Ministry of Transport (if applicable)
- Drainage clearance letter from the Office of Drainage Services, Lagos State Ministry of Environment (if applicable)
- Copy of a confirmation letter from New Towns Development Authority (if applicable)
- Soil test report (if applicable)
- Environmental impact assessment report from the Office of Environmental Services, Lagos State Ministry of Environment (if applicable)
- Letter of structural stability/integrity report duly signed by a COREN registered engineer (in case of a construction/renovation of an existing building)
- Physical Planning Technical Report from the Physical Development Intervention Department of LASPPPA (if applicable).
- Clearance letter from the Nigerian Air and Civil Aviation (if applicable)
- Clearance letter from LASURA (if applicable)
- An original sun-print survey plan
- Tenement rate or land use charge receipt, or sworn affidavit as to payment in lieu of receipts
- 2 passport photographs of the applicant(s)
- Copy of current tax clearance certificate or evidence of updated personal income tax payment of the applicant(s) or tax clearance certificate of 2 directors if applicant is a company
- Evidence of Pay As You Earn (P.A.Y.E) returns (where applicant is a company)
- Copy of certificate of incorporation (where the applicant is a company)
- Development levy receipt
- Site photograph
Please note that in addition to the above listed requirements, an applicant may be required to obtain other clearance letter(s) from specific Government Ministries, Departments or Agencies (MDA) depending on the nature of the project and its location.
Where, for example, the building to be erected is simply a 4 (four) bedroom bungalow or a building of one floor or in cases where the applicant is only seeking to make secondary improvement or extension to the building such as, to create a small compartment or boys quarters, then some of the required documents listed above would not be required. In any case, the architectural and structural drawings as well as a letter of supervision from the registered site engineer which doubles as a letter of indemnity from the engineer, title document, survey plan, tax clearance remains a mandatory requirement in most instances. They must be provided, duly vetted and approved before the building plan permit is granted.
In reality this process covers an extended period of time owing to administrative bottlenecks associated with the physical movement of the file from one department to another, bureaucracies & red tape, missing files/documents, absence of senior officials required to process applications who have been assigned to agency or state functions/duties, change/removal of officers etcetera.
No doubt, this forms part of the reason for the increasing number of defaulters who proceed to commence construction whilst the application is being processed or even without applying for the requisite permits. Interestingly, there is a special fast track building plan approval application system called LASPPPA-Fast Track that allows for quick processing of applications within 10 days of the application, however this attracts the payment of 500% of the assessment fees on the application. Expectedly, not many can afford the fast track fees to obtain the building plan approval in record time. It also leaves in doubt whether the main concern of LASPPPA is processing building plan approvals or permits swiftly to encourage compliance or using the swift application processes for the generation of revenue.
Another notable bottleneck is the request for a current tax clearance certificate or evidence of payment of same in the applicant’s name to the Lagos State Board of Internal Revenue (LIRS). As soon as an applicant is issued an assessment fee for payment for Building Plan permit, the LIRS working in conjunction with LASPPPA would issue an assessment notice of personal income tax to the applicant for the year in question. In this instance, the direct assessment is usually based on the value of the property and nature of the project on the application, and this does not always reflect the fiscal capacity of the applicant. Many applications remain stalled for long periods at this stage because the applicant cannot pay the assessed income tax.
In the UK, the application process for a building plan permit is largely digitized and efficient as the relevant building plans and supporting documents together with the application fee is simply uploaded online, although applicants still retain the option of applying by post which is still relatively faster considering our local postal system. For small buildings projects or renovations to an existing building, a building notice application is made to the building approval authority and a decision on the application is sent back within 2 days of the application whilst an inspector is assigned to supervise and approve the work as it proceeds. In the case of applications for larger new-build projects, a decision or approval must be granted within 5 weeks of the application before the work commences. This period could however be extended for another 3 weeks with the consent of the applicant. A similar procedure is obtainable in the US depending on the city and nature of building to be constructed. The process is largely digitized and comments and scores on submitted plans could be accessed by the applicant in real time. It takes a period of about 4 to 8 weeks to get an approval. South Africa operates a similar process only that, the application is processed within 30 days and the municipal council where the property is located prescribes the manner the application is made and many of them operate strictly online application portals.
That being said, the Ministry introduced some reforms to ease the process of obtaining a building plan approval in the Lagos State Physical Planning Permit Regulation 2019. Notable amongst the reforms is the devolution of powers to grant building permits across several ranking officers of LASPPPA depending on nature of the project.
District officers are now empowered to grant and dispose with applications in respect of projects not exceeding 2 floors. Projects of 3 to 5 floors are approved by supervising directors, while projects of 6 to 7 floors are approved by general managers. Any project of 8 floors and above can only be approved by the commissioner for urban and regional planning.
Furthermore, where the applicant’s title document is being processed at the Lands Bureau, the applicant after making payments of all assessed taxes can apply for a letter to be directed to the Ministry requesting that a Building Plan Permit be processed on the applicant’s behalf.
DEFAULT AND PENALTIES
Failure to obtain the requisite building plan approval/permit from LASPPPA will result in the issuance of stop-work notices, the eventual sealing of the property or removal of the property as an illegal structure and or the imposition of fines on the property owner or developer by LASBCA.
It is important to note that the initial grant of a building plan approval/permit from LASPPPA does not conclude regulation of the applicant. The building project would remain under the surveillance and supervision of LASBCA who would ensure that at every stage of construction, there is maximum compliance with the approved plan and building standards and would issue the relevant notices or fine to the applicant in the event of any default prior to completion of the building project. It is therefore always important to first obtain a building plan approval/permit before erecting a building on land and to abide by the building regulations until the project is completed to avoid paying heavy fines for a breach of the regulations.
Aside avoiding the penalties that comes with defaulting on any of the above, the advantages of obtaining the necessary building plan permit from LASPPPA far outweighs the failure to obtain one. Obtaining the said permit increases the value on the property and confidence of the property owner in the event of a sale of the property as it forms part of the title documents. This is more so, if by some inadvertence, a building is erected without the necessary approval, the property owner (regardless if he is a new owner who purchased the property after its completion) would still be required to regularize his process with LASPPPA and so exposes himself to the consequences of a breach which usually have severe financial impact. Having a building plan approval or permit amongst the title documents offers comfort against possible liabilities. Furthermore, having a building plan approval could fortify your title and claims to the property especially against the government in the event of a compulsory acquisition of the property by the government. It is therefore important to keep your building plan approval or permit carefully amongst your title documents.
It is appreciable that the effective performance of LASPPPA and LASBCA will reduce cases of building collapse cases in Lagos and guarantee only the erection of safe buildings in Lagos, it may however be counterproductive to real estate investments and the ease of doing business policies in Lagos if unnecessary administrative bottlenecks associated with the process of obtaining building plan permits and approval are not critically examined. Real estate investors will not be motivated to leave construction capital idle for 6 months merely because a building plan approval is being processed. Taking a cue from other progressive jurisdictions where the application process has truly gone digital, Lagos State government can in addition to those measures cut out some non-essential documentations to make the system of building control and regulation more efficient.