Construction Approvals in Kenya: Understanding the ABCs 

When embarking on a construction project, obtaining the necessary approvals is crucial to ensure compliance with regulations and standards. In Kenya, construction approvals for a project may differ in each county based on the type, size, cost and location of the construction project. Each County has its own system of reviewing, charging and issuing construction approvals. 

Below, are the different approvals required before the construction of a building: 

1. Approved Building Plans 

Approval of building plans by the county government is mandatory before commencement of construction. Building plans consist of the approved architectural plans and the structural drawings plans. The first step in the approval process involves a certified architect preparing the architectural plans for the proposed building and submitting them to the County Planning Department for approval. Once the architectural plans are approved, a certified structural engineer proceeds to submit the structural drawings for approval. Thereafter, the respective County Government will issue you with a Construction Permit Certificate.  

2. NEMA Approval 

The Environmental Management and Coordination (Strategic Assessment, Integrated Impact Assessment and Audit) Regulations of 2018 strictly stipulate that no person shall implement any project which is likely to have any negative environmental impact. Consequently, NEMA issues an environmental impact assessment (EIA) licence confirming that the proposed building project will not have adverse effects on the environment. 

3. NCA Project Registration 

The NCA ensures that the construction project complies with the quality standards in the construction industry. It verifies that the construction site engages a qualified contractor, uses construction materials sanctioned by KEBS and follows all the health and safety regulations. 

4. Public Health Office approval 

The Public Health Act prescribes the sanitation and housing standards to be upheld in a building project to ensure that the health and safety of all occupants is well taken care of. Therefore, approvals by the Public Health Department are required to evaluate whether the building adheres to the Act in relation to waste disposal management and the required safety and health standards. 

5. Change of user approval 

Change of user approval is obtained when one is desirous of changing a property designated for a specific purpose to another. It grants one permission to convert a parcel limited for residential use to commercial purposes.  

6. Kenya Airports Authority Approval 

Section 13(3) of the Kenya Airports Authority Act as read together with section 56 of the Civil Aviation Act, 2013 provides that prior approval of the Director General, is a required and necessary pre-condition for a building with close proximity to an airport. The KAA possess the power to stop or prevent the construction of any building and can demolish any building or structure upon obtaining High Court orders if they pose an aviation risk or danger to the public.  

7. Kenya Railways Corporation Approval 

In cases where one desires to erect a building near a railway reserve then approval for construction should be acquired from the managing director of Kenya Railways Corporation. The KRC will assess the construction project’s proximity to a railway line and its potential impact on railway operations. It should be noted that Section 16(3) of the Kenya Railways Corporation Act grants KRC possesses the power to enter one’s parcel of land to demolish or modify a building erected which obscures the view of a fixed railway line signal or that is a potential danger to any rail or transport service upon obtaining High Court orders. 

8. Fire Safety Compliance Certificate 

The Occupational Safety and Health Act 2007 of the Laws of Kenya provides for fire prevention, precautions measures, safety provisions and evacuation procedures in cases of fire. If your construction project involves commercial or multi-story buildings, one is required to obtain a fire safety compliance certificate from the relevant fire department or authority. 

9. Certificate of occupation 

Once construction is completed the county government will send out a team of inspectors on site to inspect the building. A certificate of occupation will be issued by the county government certifying that the building is constructed according to the approved building plans and is fit for human habitation. 

10. Architect’s Certificate of Practical Completion 

This is a document issued by a qualified Architect that signifies the completion of construction works in accordance with the building plans, drawings, and specifications. It serves as evidence that the project has reached a stage where it is ready for human use and occupation. 

The synchronization of the different agencies

The aforementioned agencies possess interrelated yet distinct legal obligations that may occasionally conflict or overlap. The division of responsibilities among these agencies often creates challenges in determining the boundaries of jurisdiction. Obtaining approvals from one or two agencies without consulting others creates a fragmented approach, potentially jeopardizing the security and safety of occupants and the general public. To mitigate this, it is imperative for the different agencies to maintain synchronization with one another. 

For instance, Kenya could consider adopting a similar approach to Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority (BAC) or New York’s Department of Buildings (DOB) in its construction approval process. The BAC and DOB serve as the centralized coordinating agency providing a streamlined, one-stop service for construction approvals. By establishing a centralized agency in Kenya dedicated to managing and coordinating the approval process would ensure efficient oversight and coordination among various agencies involved in construction approvals. This centralized approach will minimize fragmentation and enhance the overall efficiency of the construction approval process in Kenya.  

In conclusion, the construction approvals required for a project may differ based on the type of construction project, the size and the location of the construction project. It is advisable to engage with experienced professionals as they will help you navigate the approval process, comply with the law and ensure you obtain all the necessary approvals.

Written by Cynthia Kitolo
Legal Officer & Advocate of the High Court of Kenya

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