Answer to a question from a reader

Can I extend my shack without getting in trouble with law enforcement?

The short answer

You can apply for a shack extension permit from the Informal Settlements Management Department.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

I am a mother of five, living in Brown's Farm in Philippi. One of my neighbours agreed that I can extend my shack so we have more room, but the other neighbour did not and said that I wasn't allowed. Can I extend my shack? 

The long answer

It is not law enforcement that can give permission to extend your shack, but the Informal Settlements Management Branch (ISM) of the City of Cape Town. The ISM issue a shack extension permit, when the space that a family is occupying has become too small. 

The only other information that I could find on the shack extension permit comes from two GroundUp articles: one written by Mary-Anne Gontsana in 2015 and the other written by Tariro Washinyira in 2020.

The situation described in the article in 2015 seems very different from that described in 2020:

In 2015, the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements, Benedicta van Minnen, said, ‘If the City finds the request reasonable, the City’s Informal Settlements Management Branch will issue the occupants with an official letter which will include the exact specifications required for the extension.” She said that the time it took to issue the permit should not be more than a week, provided that there weren’t complicating factors like finding that the extension was for renting rather than for family use. 

She said an applicant could apply, at no charge, at any of the four regional offices or approach their field officers on duty who would fill out the application form, conduct an investigation and then submit a recommendation for approval based on their findings.

But by 2020, it seems to have become a lot more difficult to get the shack extension permit. Some residents in Bonnytoun complained that they had been waiting two years for a shack extension. 

Tariro Washinyira’s 2020 article quotes a letter replying to GroundUp from Councillor Malusi Booi, Mayco Member for Human Settlements, as saying, “There was an owner who approached the Informal Settlements Management (ISM) Department’s officers for an extension. However, upon further assessment, it was discovered that should an extension be granted, it would block off the access road for emergency services’ response as well as for the community to escape in emergency situations.”

There is no other mention of the shack extension permit that I could find. So it seems that you should approach one of the four regional ISM offices and ask them to make an application for your extension. They will come to inspect the shack and the situation and will also hear what the neighbours have to say about it. Hopefully they will propose a solution that will be agreed upon by all concerned.

If you are not helped by the ISM Branch, you could lay a complaint with the City of Cape Town’s Human Settlements Department (27 Wale Street, Cape Town):

Tel: 021 483 0611 /3112 /6488 /8984; Mon-Fri 07h30 till15h00 

If that does not help, you can approach the City Ombudsman. This is what the City’s website says about the Ombudsman:

“The Ombudsman is an official appointed by the City to independently investigate complaints you may have about City departments and staff.  

Upon receipt of your complaint, the Office of the Ombudsman will assess the matter and will notify you of the outcome. 

On average, the turnaround time is up to three months from complaint to resolution, if the complaint is not complex and the complainant has submitted their documents timeously.

The Ombudsman cannot replace or perform the functions of the City departments.” 

Contact details:

Office of the Ombudsman

021 400 5487 / 021 400 1944

44781 (standard rates apply)

You could also approach the Black Sash, an organisation that gives free paralegal advice, and ask them for help in taking it up with the ISM.

Here are their contact details:

  • Black Sash

For free paralegal advice: 


Helpline: 072 66 33 739

Wishing you the best,

Answered on Jan. 24, 2023, 9:43 a.m.

See more questions and answers

Please note. We are not lawyers or financial advisors. We do our best to make the answers accurate, but we cannot accept any legal liability if there are errors.