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  • John McKenzie

The Home Office

As we hopefully enter a period of gradual lifting of the global lock-down as result of the 2019/20 Covid pandemic, many have a distinct awareness on the influence this has had on our daily lives. The sudden restriction of being house bound took many by surprise and one had to very quickly adapt to a new way of living and operating. It has resulted in a time of reflection regarding the influence the situation has had on our day to day living and the spaces we occupy.

The ease of access to technology and communication tools today is constantly influencing architecture and how we interact with buildings and our requirements in the built environment.

The benefits that a work from home option or remote working can provide is becoming a reality and the dependency on the typical centralised office space may come into question for many.

Of course the conventional office building will never become completely obsolete and we also have to consider the importance of human interaction and collaboration in our day to day living, we are social beings after all and the art of architecture first and foremost is to create harmonious spaces for humans. However for many individuals or small business owners the work from home option may become a more viable option.

So now you have made the decision to work from home and cut the rented office overhead from your monthly budget. What now? You set yourself up at the dining room table and the cat keeps knocking your coffee over on the documents you just printed, the dog is barking right next to you at the doorbell ringing or the kids are screaming at each other while you are trying to appear professional on a Skype call. Not quite the ideal situation.

Architecture is about spaces and form and function. A space has a form defined by its function. Just like a kitchen will not make an ideal bedroom or a bathroom will not make a good lounge, a dining room will not make a good office and will not be the right impression you wish to portray with your new home based empire.

What you need is a suitable dedicated space for an office. This may be a separate room within the house or an additional external structure separated from the living areas. Somewhere that one can focus and conduct the business in a professional manner. The space will need to suit your requirements. If your business requires a large amount of filing you would not want to be in a space so cramped by filing cabinets that there is barely space for a desk or you may have certain technological requirements or require a separate entrance and small meeting space for the occasional client. Basically you will need to assess your requirements and streamline your need and space around each other.

So, what are you allowed?

All municipalities are governed by a Town Planning Scheme which outline the restrictions and allowances of each property in the municipal area, whether it be a residential, commercial, agricultural or industrial property.

In most municipal Town Planning Schemes (or Land Use Scheme) an allowance will be made for what is referred to as Home Enterprise. Each scheme has slightly different allowances and definitions but for the sake of this article we will focus on the Johannesburg Land Use Scheme of 2018.

Apart from exclusions of industries that would cause a high increase in traffic or disturbance to neighbours most low impact administrative and professional services (lawyers, accountants, clerical work, architects, engineers, insurance etc) do not need special consent from the council to operate from home.

There are of course some reasonable restrictions, the primary of them being that the maximum allowed space dedicated to the home enterprise is 25% of the house area to a maximum of 50 square metres and the principal person involved in the non-residential activity must be a permanent resident on the site. Additional staff is restricted to 2 people directly involved in the enterprise and if your property is governed by a sectional title scheme, residents association or home owners association one would need to obtain approval from these bodies.

To give some perspective, 25% of a 200sqm house is 50sqm and an average double garage is 36sqm.

Once you start exceeding the basic allowances and definitions of a small home enterprise the process is a bit more involved and one would need special permissions to operate. For example if you decided to use the property for doctors consulting room, coffee shop, guest house or even some industrial purpose, this would fundamentally change the use of the property from residential and would require a ‘consent use’ application or a rezoning.

Basically, work from home for an individual or small business is easier than one may think and it will amount to savings in travelling costs, time spent in rush hour traffic, cost of commercial property rent and the additions to the property to accommodate a small office will add value to your asset.

If you would like to find out more about what you can and can’t do then contact your local town planning department at your local municipality or feel free to give me a call and I will be happy to give some advice and assess your property for its potential.

All my contact details are on our website and I am signing off to you now from my desk in my home office of 14 years.


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