Time for a Mepa amnesty
Many home owners have first-hand experience in not succeeding to sell their property due to some illegality in the building.
Illegalities in buildings are not a rare occurrence, particularly in structures that were constructed prior to 1992, at a time when the planning authority was not yet in force. Enforcement in those days was scant. Unlike today, corrections to plans were undertaken with the stroke of a pen.
Certainly, the situation is radically different today because amended drawings are required to be submitted electronically.
Experience has shown us that many buildings that were constructed in the last 40 years do not tally with the approved permits and conditions. The planning authority, in full knowledge of this scenario, had, in fact, introduced a provision in the law that forbids any direct action against illegal buildings that were built before 1992 on condition (among other considerations) that such buildings are located within the official building alignment in a development zone.
Nevertheless, such buildings are still not considered “compliant” in terms of law. As a result, banks are reluctant to engage potential buyers in a loan repayment programme, even though such buildings are protected against any direct action. Even so, potential buyers are reluctant to purchase such property in the absence of a compliance certificate, fully aware that it could eventually prove difficult to resell the “illegal” property.
In reality, the law already contemplates the legal framework, whereby a building that was not constructed according to a valid permit may be eligible to a compliance certificate. In fact, schedule 8, category B of chapter 504 of the laws of Malta was introduced by Parliament to this effect. However, at least to date, no type of development has been specified under the said schedule.
At this juncture, the government has no option but to issue a comprehensive building permit amnesty programme, specifying those developments that should be eligible to be listed in this schedule and, hence, entitled to a compliance certificate so that banks may eventually issue a loan to potential buyers.
For a start, the list should certainly include those buildings where the yard dimensions (being internal or back yards) are not according to the minimum statutory requirements. Perhaps it is a good idea if a fixed range, in percentage terms, within which variations are permitted is in place.
Buildings that, allegedly, were not constructed according to the official building and road alignments should also qualify under this schedule, keeping in mind that our enforcement and monitoring systems were not as rigid in the past. Buildings constructed higher, or lower, than what has been actually approved should also be considered for inclusion, on condition, perhaps, that the number of approved floors was not increased.
Receded structures (such as penthouses, washrooms and stairwells) not observing the distance requirements set out in the permit may also qualify within this ambit.
Buildings that have been “extended illegally” – including villas, commercial buildings and farmhouses – should, likewise, be considered under the schedule, provided that third party civil rights remain safeguarded.
I will not dare state that the amnesty should extend unconditionally to outside development zone buildings. However, the planning authority needs to realise that small rural rooms, many a time, serve a genuine agricultural purpose.
One may certainly add on to such list. Nonetheless, I do understand that the planning authority is likely to face a huge backlash from those who would decry such an initiative as political opportunism and environmental insensitivity in such a delicate time before an election.
In any case, I am confident that the Labour Party, if elected, would resort to such deed should this government remain inactive.
The author is an architect by profession.