Forum: Ensure that contractors are also responsible for seeking approval before erecting structures

As an architect, I have observed that there are many landed houses all over Singapore with unauthorised works that do not comply with Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) envelope control guidelines, especially the roofing over of approved open roof terraces.

I was approached for advice by a friend, a house owner who received an enforcement letter from URA asking him to remove a steel-framed glass roof structure over the car porch open roof terrace after a neighbour apparently complained.

The owner had engaged a contractor who did the works but did not engage an architect or engineer to apply for the necessary approval before erecting the roof structure, possibly knowing that such applications would not be approved by URA.

The contractor erected the roof structure, collected payment and moved on with its business.

It is common for contractors to make a quick deal and leave the house owner as the party who faces enforcement action from the relevant authorities because the works are done without the necessary approval.

But should the contractor or owner be punished?

These cases are not just limited to building structures for landed houses.

Another example would be contractors who erect solar or photovoltaic panels on roofs. The installation of photovoltaic panels is regulated by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and has requirements stated in the 2018 Fire Code.

Some of these contractors may not engage architects or engineers to make applications to SCDF for their installations as they suspect there might be too many challenges on the existing property to receive approval without modifications to the existing building structures. They just proceed to erect their photovoltaic panels.

The authorities may have in place code requirements to safeguard building occupants but there appear to be gaps in implementing such requirements due to insufficient awareness among the public, and not directing enforcement actions towards the party who erected the unauthorised structures without approval from the relevant agencies.

Members of the public should be made aware that approval has to be secured before any building works are implemented. The parties who erect the building structures should also be made responsible as a second line of defence to ensure that the works are approved before they are erected, or risk being taken to task as "abetting" the owner to erect unauthorised structures.

Raymond Tan Eng Teik

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