23/03/2018 04:59 SAST | Updated 23/03/2018 08:47 SAST

Low-Cost Homes Most Affected By Heavy Rains, And Builders 'Should Be Held Accountable'

"The problem exists because it is not against the law to sell substandard material, even government buys substandard building materials."

Heavy hailstorms in and around Johannesburg on December 30 2017 caused major damage to homes.

Civil engineer Rod Rankine, who specialises in construction material and building, says government has to introduce additional regulations to ensure that low-costing housing is built in the best possible way.

Rankine emphasised the need for legislation to hold suppliers of low-cost housing materials accountable.

"The problem exists because it is not against the law to sell substandard material, even government buys substandard building materials. The government does not insist that contractors buy materials that comply with the national standards," he told HuffPost.

"I do think it should be regulated. One of the problems is that we have a National Home Builders' Registration Council that endorses all good practices but suppliers of building materials are able to sell substandard materials – they know nobody will ever challenge them or take them to task," he added.

Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba released the findings of a City of Joburg investigation on Thursday that revealed the seemingly poor construction of the low-cost homes that were worst affected by the heavy rain, wind and hail on December 30 2017.

The investigation conducted by Group Risk and Audit Services found that the damage to properties was caused by excessive wind force and the severity of the storm.

According to the City, 1,326 properties in low-cost housing developments and informal settlements south and west of Johannesburg were affected.

A contributing factor was poor design and construction methods, and the use of substandard building materials.

Rankine says it is not possible to provide good housing with low-cost material.

"Things that are cheap in the building industry, when you are talking about material, are inferior and that is one of the problems in the building industry," he said.

The investigation raised concerns around the registration of construction companies doing business in the area.

By law, any person in the business of home-building is required by law to register with the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC) or face a hefty penalty.

However, Rankine says registering construction companies is simply not enough.

"Being registered does not mean they are going to build perfect buildings."

He highlights issues around the lack of prerequisites to register a construction company.

"There is no other barrier to entry," according to Rankine, as people can simply register their companies without any prior experience or qualifications.

"There are things that the City of Johannesburg can do much better."

The poor state of affairs at the City of Joburg came to light when the investigative team requested files for audit purposes regarding the construction of homes, and they were not submitted.

Rankine says the city has to make a number of changes.

"There are things that the city of Johannesburg can do much better, one of those could be if they helped the building inspectors become really proficient at what they do."

He said inspectors face the dilemma of not having access to the national building standards, which appear in a document that is sold for a high price.

The City is planning remedial action to address these issues, including a community education awareness campaign focusing on building control laws and regulation.

Training of building inspectors is also high on its list of priorities, as well as an electronic filing system and building applications process.