Is it illegal to build a treehouse in South Africa?

There’s nothing better than building something special for, or even with your kids. And what could be better than a treehouse for them to play in? But before you start to build your new treehouse, you might wonder if it is even legal to build a treehouse by yourself in South Africa?

Fortunately, it is legal to build a treehouse in South Africa. According to Part A (v) of the Minor Building Works Schedule, for a child’s playhouse that does not exceed 5m2 in area (around 2.2m by 2.2m), no application is required to be made to your municipality.

While a treehouse not exceeding the 5m2 area limit is seen as minor building work or has building plans approved, it may be a good idea to contact your municipal council to check if there are any local regulations, by-laws, or other matters that could affect your treehouse. This may include height restrictions or restrictions against protected trees. It may also be a good idea to contact your neighbors which may prevent later complaints about views from their home or overlooking rooms.

Safety is a primary factor to be taken into consideration as well. Therefore in this article, certain safety measures and suitable materials to use when building a treehouse will be discussed.

What safety measures should I take into account when building a treehouse?

When building a treehouse it is important to take into consideration the stability and reliability of the trees you want to build your treehouse in. Make sure the trunks and branches are strong and free from any rot or termites. 

The structure of the treehouse should be made out of strong and durable material so that it will be able to hold the cladding of the treehouse and the kids when they climb inside. Additional supporting poles and beams will never hurt.

It would also be wise to not build the treehouse too high up in a tree or over any structures so that if your child does happen to fall while climbing up, there are no serious injuries. It may even be a good idea to lay a soft ground surface in the area under the treehouse, like wood chippings.

Access to the treehouse also needs to be safe and sturdy. There are a number of ways to achieve this either with a rope ladder, fixed ladder or fixed stairs, depending on the design of the treehouse.

What materials should I use to build the treehouse?

The primary support of the treehouse, such as the supporting beams and framework, should be of strong and durable material, such as gum poles or planks that can be bought from any Builders or hardware store. If the primary support is not the actual tree branches themselves. 

The cladding of the treehouse can be made from a weaker and more affordable material, such as pine planks or metal roof sheeting. 

To make your treehouse weather-resistant you could consider not just using a varnish but also giving it a coat of Tung oil. This is non-toxic and protects the wood.

What will happen if I build a treehouse larger than 5m2 in area?

If you build a treehouse over the area of 5m2, it is no longer categorized as “minor building works” and you will need to submit a Minor Building Work application to your local authority. If you build the treehouse without prior authorization from your municipality, it is an offense and you may be subject to a fine, and/or a demolition order of the structure. So it is always a good idea to first approach your municipality for guidance if the treehouse you wish to build is over the 5m2 area limit. 

In Summary

Legal Aspects
Building a treehouse in South Africa is legal for children’s playhouses that do not exceed 5m2 in area, as per Part A (v) of the Minor Building Works Schedule. No application is required for such small structures.

Local Regulations
While small treehouses are generally allowed, it’s advisable to check with your municipal council for any local regulations, by-laws, or restrictions that may apply, such as height limits or protections for certain trees. Consider discussing your plans with neighbors to avoid potential disputes.

Safety Measures
Safety is paramount when building a treehouse. Ensure the trees you choose are stable, free from rot or termites, and have strong trunks and branches. Use strong and durable materials for the treehouse’s structure, and consider adding supporting poles and beams for added stability. Keep the treehouse at a safe height, provide a soft ground surface underneath, and ensure secure access through options like rope ladders, fixed ladders, or fixed stairs.

Choose robust materials like gum poles or planks for primary support, ensuring they are strong enough to hold the treehouse and its occupants. Cladding can be made from more affordable materials like pine planks or metal roof sheeting. For weather resistance, consider applying Tung oil as a non-toxic protective coating.

Building Larger Treehouses
If you intend to build a treehouse larger than 5m2, it will require a Minor Building Work application to your local authority. Constructing such a treehouse without proper authorization could lead to fines or a demolition order, making it crucial to consult your municipality beforehand.

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