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COCs per unit or per complex?

Written by Eamonn Ryan based on a PIRB webinar by Adriaan Myburgh

    • One of the topics that have arisen at IOPSA tech committee meetings is the issue of whether COCs are issued per unit or per complex
    • The first reference document is the Water Services Act, clause 13
    • The next reference document is SANS 10252 part 1 2018

One of the topics that have risen at IOPSA tech committee meetings is the issue of whether Certificates of Compliance (COC) are issued per unit or per complex. The problem statement was that it’s unclear whether a PIRB COC may be issued for multiple dwellings, or units in a complex or apartment building, or whether each dwelling unit must be issued with its own COC. It was also unclear whether the COC must be issued for the bulk internal reticulation supplying the various units.

Water Services Act

If one looks at a multi-dwelling development, the issue was to confirm whether a COC must be issued for each individual occupancy in an apartment block or some similar multiple unit installations. The first reference document is the Water Services Act, clause 13.

The first section deals with the local authority or the water services institution which must, within two years fit water volume measuring meters. Where the developer and the plumber get involved is clause 13 section two. This says, ‘If constructed or installed after the declaration of these regulations, a suitable water volume measuring device or volume-controlling device must be fitted to separately measure or control the water supply to every individual dwelling within a new sectional title development, group housing development or apartment building’.

Point A covers just about every type of occupancy other than a normal freestanding dwelling, covering a sectional title development, whether it’s a body corporate or group housing, where they have a homeowner’s association or an apartment building that could be a block of flats. Section B is for commercial and institutions and Section C is for irrigation, but it is doubtful there are still local authorities that allow irrigation to happen via the water supply.

If one looks at developments across the country, one can observe that the external drainage shows no visible sign of metering or of water pipes. One can then see that if a plumber is called out to provide a quote to install sub-metering, it would be difficult.

SANS 10252

The next reference document is SANS 10252 part 1 2018 says ‘general installation serving premises are separate occupancy shall facilitate individual meeting’. Take an example of an eight unit complex, with plastic pipe supply on a combined installation that’s almost impossible to trace. The plumber finds it’s not fixed properly. If that is a combined installation, obviously you can’t have a plastic pipe supplying your fire protection. This is a typical example of how not to do it. But the requirements from the standard are clear: ‘Any general installation serving premises of separate occupancy shall facilitate individual meeting’.

National Building Regulations

The next reference document is the National Building Regulations Part A. Section H4 refers to ‘a normal dwelling house and the occupancy consisting of a dwelling unit on its own site, including the garage and other domestic outbuildings if any’. If it’s a normal, freestanding, or freehold property, H4 applies, which references a dwelling unit on its own site, including a garage.

Moving to more risky areas, the H3 is an ‘occupancy consisting of two or more dwelling units on a single site so much either two or more’. ‘More’ could be it could be 100, which is when it becomes a bit more complicated. The reasoning around these documents is that both documents require that water shall be supplied for each dwelling, whether it’s an H4 and units in separate occupation in H3, the responsibility for the entire installation downstream of a meter supplying that unit is the responsibility of the individual owner.

Take note, in respect of the individual owner even in a sectional title, those portions or sections that belong to that individual is the responsibility of that owner. The COC must therefore be issued to the owner of that unit. The whole distribution reticulation to the separate units is the responsibility of the body corporate or the homeowners’ association and is also subject to the water regulations, bylaws and mandatory standards. Therefore, the COC must also be issued to the body corporate or the homeowners’ association for workmanship on the distribution system, supplying the different dwelling units and also in the communal areas and other facilities not in private ownership.

Therefore, if there happens to be a pool with a change room area or there’s a new entertainment area somewhere in the middle of the complex as a communal facility that would obviously not belong to the owner of the units – it would belong to the body corporate together with the main reticulation. That COC would be for matters such as pipe sizing, support material, plastic pipes in fire, all combined systems, backflow prevention, gas pipes installed in the same service ducts as water pipes, meters, and notifications to the principal of any non-compliance.

‘Rational design’ says that even if you notify the owner or the principal in writing that there is an issue, then that notification becomes part of that COC issued for the main reticulation. If all the units are exact replicas of the others, then it’s logical to conclude that mistakes or non-compliance found on one unit will also be found on the others. If they are to be corrected on one unit being audited they should also be corrected on all the other similar units, not only the ones that are randomly selected for audits.

A typical example of what should not be happening but unfortunately is happening, is a water supply being teed off to the units’ meters. But in the same duct, there is plastic piping with gas running across. The standard is clear that you cannot have gas and water in the same duct, especially with plastic piping. Where a home gas main distributes around this gas unit with louvers into the building. This is a typical non-compliance that should have been noted or that should have been brought to the designer’s attention during construction.

The same applies to support for pipework and ducts. Where there is no such support and is in the basement or in a parking garage belonging to the homeowners’ association and the body corporate, it is not part of an individual unit. In this instance, the levies accumulated would be used to sort this out. There should be a COC for this and for the individual units.

The terminology used in the National Building Regulations, sections A.P.XA, etc, and its referenced standards, all indicate that it covers every building and dwelling unit in separate occupation on the property as subject to its own requirements. The on-site and in-building hot and cold water, as well as drainage reticulation serving those individual dwellings, are also subject to those regulations regarding the compliance for installation, and maintenance of the structures and services – including the plumbing.

In 2019, it was nice to see legal opinion on this matter was obtained by the PIRB and it confirmed that separate COCs should be issued for each dwelling unit in a separate occupation.

There was an incident wherein it was necessary to confirm that – and it has been done. This has made our lives slightly easier with regards to the decision on whether you should have a separate or single COC. The legal opinion was that you need to have them separate.

If one looks at the consequences of non-compliance, every owner of a house or apartment and each body corporate has the right to protection provided by a COC issued by a plumber licensed by the SAQA professional body for plumbers, which in this case is PIRB. The COC holds the plumber responsible to ensure that the new installation, repair or replacement work done is in compliance with the regulations and National Standards.

Not issuing a COC for any installation, repair, or replacement work done on storage water heating systems (whether electric, solar, or heat pump) as required by the compulsory South African national standards is also a contravention of the water bylaws of most local authorities. When you go into the area where you work, one finds that their water services bylaws are quite clear. Most don’t go into detail, but some do. Basically, what happens is that water services bylaws require that all water installations comply with SANS 10252 part1, and the installation of a hot water cylinder or a storage water heater shall comply with SANS 10254, the 2017 version of which reads at the moment, ‘You shall issue a COC upon completion of your work’.

Incorrect hot water systems are also regarded as hazards in terms of section 10 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and Section 55 and 61 of the Consumer Protection Act. That is worth noting for reference purposes when dealing with clients, body corporates or homeowners that plumbers deal with. Have a look at the sections and then quote them or use them as a tool, the point is that plumbers are covered by both acts with regards to the safe installation of water heating systems.

The law holds the owner of any property responsible for the safety and compliance of the hot water services and the law also holds the plumber doing any replacement maintenance or repair, responsible to notify the owner in writing of any non-compliances in the pre-existing heating system. The random checks by PIRP on issued COCs checks that this is being correctly done.

The PIRB in turn can also protect the plumber who has correctly issued the COC for compliant work in case of disputes regarding the implementation of the regulations and South African National Standards. Though there are fewer of them, there are still plumbers that are of the opinion that the PIRP is only there as a stick to beat the licensed plumbers. This is not the case.

Plumbers who have done their work correctly, issued the notices and done it as per the standards and issued the COC, will find that the PIRB can then protect that licensed plumber that issued the COC in case of a dispute.

The resolution that was arrived at was straightforward:

‘A COC must be issued for each individual dwelling unit and not one COC for a complex with multiple dwelling units.

‘The individual water meter to a dwelling in separate occupation will be recorded as the supply point to that swelling. If no individual meter has been installed, the point where it should have been installed will be regarded as the supply point to the dwelling. And very importantly, ‘A separate COC must also be issued for the communal water and drainage reticulation system up to the individual meter supply points to the various dwelling units in a multi-dwelling boat. If no individual water meters are installed at the separate units, it constitutes a failure of the water supply system.’

In other words, when a plumber is working on a unit and wants to issue the COC, if there are no water meters installed as per clause 13, section two, then it constitutes a failure of the water supply system.

One can imagine the chaos created by issuing one COC for a complex with 80 or 100 units and none of them have meters and no one signed for the main reticulation and there was one COC issued for the whole development. It would be absolute chaos trying to fix it.

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