Ordinarily, any form of building development you choose to undertake in Kenya requires construction approvals. There are no exemptions – even for semi-permanent housing and boundary walls.
It’s worth noting, however, that construction approvals in Kenya are not the same across the board. The procedures, laws, and charges differ based on the type, size, cost, and location of the building development.
You’ll notice, for instance, that each county has its own system of reviewing, charging, and issuing construction approvals.
While there’s a proposal to set up a one-stop shop for construction approvals in Kenya, devolution and decentralized legal frameworks are making it particularly difficult to achieve that.
On one hand, individual counties insist on controlling building developments based on their local development policies. Then, on the other, we now have multiple statutory agencies regulating various technical aspects that are relevant to construction.
The result is a rather heterogeneous building approval process – consisting of several intricate stages, each of which has a different set of requirements.
This article combines the standard procedures across all the counties to reveal the 4 approvals required for construction in Kenya, the building approval process for each of the permits, plus the requirements and fees for construction approvals.
These are some of the pre-construction processes that Integrum Construction Project Managers administrate on behalf of our local, international, and diasporic clients. (Here’s a full breakdown of the roles of a project manager)
What Construction Permits Are Required For Buildings In Kenya?
The 4 compulsory construction approvals in Kenya are:
- Architectural plan approval
- Structural plan approval
- EIA license/NEMA approval
- NCA project registration
Keep in mind, though, that the list is not entirely exhaustive. These are just the standard pre-construction essentials for most building developments in the Kenyan counties.
Otherwise, you might need to get additional building permits for special construction projects such as:
- Developments within or near Kenya’s gazetted protected areas
- Development proposals that contravene their area’s zoning and land-use laws.
- Developments that are in close proximity to airports and railways.
- Developments that intend to engage foreign contractors.
4 Key Construction Approvals In Kenya Plus Permit Requirements
Here’s a detailed breakdown of the four construction permits. We’ll take you through each stage of the building approval process, as well as the costs involved and documentation required.
Stage 1 – Architectural Plan Approval
Architectural plan approval is the same process commonly referred to as building plan approval. This is your first stop in the whole construction approval process.
Developers are required to submit their proposed architectural scheme designs to the county’s planning department, which then assesses the drawings for compliance with Kenya’s Building Code, the Physical Planning Act, as well as the area’s local zoning regulations and building by-laws.
The building plans are also reviewed by the county’s Public Health Department, Fire Department, Energy Department, Roads and Public Works Department, plus Water and Sanitation. It’s only after they all assent to your architectural proposal that you’ll get official approval to proceed.
But, make no mistake about it. The approval of building plans in Kenya doesn’t end with architectural drawings. Counties only issue a Construction Permit after both the architectural and structural drawings have been duly reviewed and approved.
The Building plan approval process in Kenya
In counties that are yet to implement an electronic development application system (eDAMS), your architect should submit certified blueprints of the building plans directly to the county government’s planning office. The county government will then issue an invoice for the construction approval fees, which you should pay for the plans to be reviewed by the technical committee.
In counties that use eDams, however – such as Nairobi, Kiambu, and Mombasa – the building plan approval process is as follows:
- Your architect initiates the application through eDams and then submits the building plans (in digital form) to the county’s planning department.
- The county planning department conducts a preliminary assessment of the building plans, and then sends an invoice of the building plan approval fees to the architect.
- The architect receives the invoice via eDams and then deposits the required fees to the county’s bank account.
- On completing payment of the construction permit fees, the architect attaches the receipt to the eDams application and then submits it accordingly.
- Once the county’s planning department confirms payment, the application is forwarded to relevant approval departments for review. This is where the Public Health department comes in, along with Water, Electricity, Fire, and Road Construction departments.
- The application is ultimately passed on to the county’s technical committee for compliance review.
- If the proposed development is found to be fully compliant with the building code and the county’s planning regulations, the technical committee proceeds to issue a provisional construction approval – which is then communicated to the architect via eDams.
- It’s at this point that the architect prints the building plans and then takes them to the county’s offices for stamping.
Building plan approval fees
The fees for building plan approval vary extensively across the counties. Each county has its own formula for charging different types of developments.
In Nairobi County, for instance, the building plan approval fees are normally about 0.5% of the construction costs (as computed from the county’s official schedule of building rates).
For example, low-rise low-cost flats are presumed to cost about Kshs 21,000 per square metre, while the cost for luxurious high-rise flats is worked out based on an estimate of Kshs 33,000 per square metre.
You can confirm all the details from our comprehensive roundup of Nairobi’s construction approval fees.
Then for developments in Kiambu, check out this in-depth breakdown of the county’s building approval fees.
Architectural plan approval requirements
In addition to the architectural drawings, you’re required to submit the following documents to the county’s planning department:
- Proof of land ownership
- Official survey map of the area from Survey of Kenya
- Land rates clearance certificate
- A copy of the architect’s practicing license
Stage 2 – Structural Plan Approval
The building plan approval process doesn’t end with your architectural drawings. You only get a full construction permit after the accompanying structural drawings have been reviewed and approved.
The point of this process is to check and confirm the structural soundness of the proposed development. As such, you’re required to make a separate application to the county government, which will then be reviewed by the civil and structural engineering department.
The structural plan approval process in Kenya
In most Kenyan counties – where construction approvals are handled manually – you’ll be expected to submit the structural drawings simultaneously with your architectural drawings.
In counties running eDams, however, the structural plan approval process is as follows:
- Your registered architect opens the project on eDams and then adds your appointed structural engineer. Keep in mind that only certified structural engineers have accounts on eDams.
- Your structural engineer logs in to their eDams account, and picks up from where the architect left off by applying for structural plan approval. They’re required to fill up an application form and then attach the structural drawings plus accompanying documentation (see the section on the requirements for structural approval.)
- The civil and structural engineering department conducts a preliminary assessment and then writes an invoice for the structural approval fees.
- Your structural engineer receives the quote via their eDams portal, and then proceeds to make the payment via the county’s offices or bank account.
- The payment receipt is attached to the eDams application, which is then resubmitted to the county.
- The county’s civil and structural engineering department reviews the structural drawings in detail.
- If the structural drawings manage to pass the compliance check, a notification of approval is sent to your structural engineer via the eDams portal.
- Your structural engineer prints physical copies of the structural drawings and then takes them to the county’s offices for stamping.
- The county issues a construction permit to the developer.
Structural plan approval fees
There are no standard fees here for all construction approvals in Kenya. Rather, the charges for structural plan approval vary extensively from one county to another.
All in all, though, you’ll find that most counties vary their quotes based on the size, type, and location of the proposed project.
In Kiambu County, for example, fees for the evaluation of structural engineering building plans range from Shs 1,728 (for a 0-46 square metre rural residential development) to over 46,930 (for urban industrial developments exceeding 930 square metres).
Requirements for structural plan approval
For your structural drawings to be reviewed and approved, you need to attach the following documentation:
- A copy of the approved architectural plans.
- A copy of your structural engineer’s practicing license.
- A copy of the manuscript showing the structural design calculations done by your S.E.
- An indemnity/disclaimer form that has been duly filled in and signed by the developer, project architect, and structural engineer. This is a declaration that you’ll maintain the services of a qualified structural engineer and contractor, submit the material test results for the structural elements to the county engineer, as well as indemnify the county engineer from any claims that may arise in case your building collapses.
Validity of building permits in Kenya
Generally, construction permits in Kenya are valid for 2 to 3 years – 2 years across most counties, while areas like Kiambu give developers up to 3 years.
Upon lapse of this validity period, you’re required to take the previously approved building plans (both architectural and structural) for approval renewal.
And yes – renewing construction approvals in Kenya will, of course, cost you a fee. But, at least, it won’t be as high as your original building plan approval rates.
In the County of Mombasa, for example, the renewal of previously approved commercial building plans will cost you about 40% of the original construction approval fees. Then for residential developments, the same goes for 25% of the original building approval charges.
Stage 3 – NEMA Construction Approval / EIA License
Getting a construction permit from the county’s technical committee doesn’t mean that you can proceed with the building works. You still have to obtain approval from NEMA, followed by the NCA.
NEMA, in full, stands for the National Environment Management Authority. This is a statutory body – established under the Environmental Management and Coordination Act of 1999 – that regulates and supervises all matters relating to the natural environment.
Hence, any product, activity, or development that will impact the environment in any manner has to be reviewed accordingly by NEMA before, during, and after implementation.
In the case of construction, NEMA issues what is known as a NEMA or EIA license after thoroughly evaluating the possible effects of your building project on the environment, and confirming that the negatives will be sufficiently mitigated and outweighed by the positives.
NEMA approval process in Kenya
- Your licensed EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) expert prepares a project report and then submits it to NEMA (National Environmental Management Agency). (For details on the project report contents, proceed to the section for NEMA Approval Requirements)
- You pay the NEMA evaluation fee of 0.1% of the total construction costs.
- NEMA proceeds to share copies of the project report with external Lead Agencies for expert input. Lead Agencies are private entities made up of doctorate-level professionals in environmental impact assessment.
- Project report copies are also sent to the County Environment Committee (CEC) for review based on your county’s environment management laws.
- If the project is found not to have any major impacts on the environment, or the proposed mitigation measures in the report turn out to be sufficient, NEMA will proceed to issue a license for construction. With that, you can go on start applying for project registration with NCA.
- If, on the other hand, the project is believed to have major impacts on the environment, or the proposed mitigation measures laid out in the report prove to be insufficient, NEMA will direct your EIA expert to perform a full Environmental Impact Assessment study.
- During the EIA study, your expert will evaluate the impacts more thoroughly, as well as gather relevant technical information on the attributes of the project.
- You’ll also be required to publicize the proposed project plus its expected impacts. And while at it, your EIA expert should hold at least three public meetings with the communities that’ll be affected by the project, and then document their opinions on the matter.
- Once all the details have been included in a comprehensive EIA study report, your EIA expert submits it to NEMA for a thorough review.
- Copies of the EIA study report are shared with Lead Agencies and the county’s CEC for comments.
- If the project’s environmental impacts and concerns from the public are found to have been duly addressed in the EIA report, NEMA will approve your project plus issue a NEMA license for construction. This will come with a set of conditions for your project, which NEMA will monitor and audit annually.
- If, on the contrary, the proposal is rejected, you can challenge NEMA’s decision by filing a case with the National Environmental Tribunal. And if you’re still not satisfied with the outcome of the tribunal, you could file an appeal with the High Court of Kenya
Here’s a chart that sums up the entire NEMA approval process in Kenya.
NEMA EIA approval fees
The Nationa Environmental Management Authority charges project proponents a fee of 0.1% of the total construction costs, which is payable when submitting the project report for review and approval.
So, if your project is set to cost Kshs 500 million, you can expect to pay Kshs 500,000 for the EIA license.
Requirements for NEMA EIA license
For NEMA to issue an EIA license approving your construction project, your EIA expert should submit a project report that provides the following info:
- Name, KRA PIN number, and contact details of the developer.
- The project title.
- Project scope and objectives.
- Copies of the architectural and structural designs of the project.
- Project budget.
- Location of the project, plus the larger area that stands to be affected by the project’s activities.
- Types of activities that will be carried out during the construction, operation, and decommissioning of the project.
- Materials to be used in the project, plus the products, by-products, and waste expected from the project.
- Methods of disposing of waste from the project.
- Potential environmental impacts of the project.
- Mitigation measures meant to be implemented during and after the building phases.
- An action plan for managing and preventing any foreseeable accidents during the project cycle.
- A plan for safeguarding the health and safety of not only workers in the projects, but also the surrounding communities.
- Opinions on the project from communities that’ll be affected.
- Social and economic benefits that may arise from the project.
- The environmental Management Plan (EMP) set to be implemented during the project cycle.
The report should be accompanied by copies of the approved building plans (both architectural and structural).
NEMA EIA license validity
Once you get an EIA license from NEMA, you’ll have 24 months to begin construction. Failure to which, you’ll be required to renew the license for a fee of Kshs 5,000.
Stage 4 – NCA Project Registration
NCA stands for National Construction Authority. This is the statutory body mandated to oversee and regulate the construction industry in Kenya.
While county planning departments check for compliance with the building code and planning laws, NCA ensures that every construction site adheres to the quality standards in the construction industry.
Therefore, in addition to seeking construction approval from the county government, you’re required to register the project with NCA. This body checks to confirm that your building site is engaging a qualified contractor, following health and safety regulations, and using construction techniques and materials sanctioned by KEBS.
How to register your construction project with NCA
- As the developer, you go to the National Construction Authority website and create an account for project registration.
- You then initiate the project registration by filling out an application through the online portal, plus submitting all the required documents.
- On receiving your application, the NCA automatically sends out a notification to your appointed contractor and construction consultants.
- Your contractor and the team of building consultants review the project details and confirm their engagement through email.
- Upon confirmation, the NCA sends its quality assurance team to your project site for compliance assessment.
- If the site is fully compliant with National Construction Authority Regulations (2014), construction is approved.
- You’ll then get your project compliance certificate via email within a week or so.
At that point, you can begin putting up your new building. But, get this – the construction approval from the NCA is not indefinite.
The body can still revoke the certificate if its site inspection agents happen to flag your site for continued non-compliance. This will then be followed up by a written notice of suspension.
NCA project registration fees
The standard fees for NCA project registration are 0.5% of the total construction costs. It’s worth noting, however, that the NCA construction approval charges only apply to projects whose building contract value exceeds Kshs 5,000,000.
Requirements for NCA approval
To get your building project reviewed and approved by the National Construction Authority, you need to submit the following documentation along with your registration application:
- A signed copy of the contract agreement between the developer and the nominated contractor.
- Copies of the nominated contractor’s (and subcontractors’) registration certificates.
- Copies of the nominated contractor’s (and subcontractors’) practicing licenses.
- The building plans approved by your county’s planning department (both architectural and structural).
- A copy of your NEMA EIA license.
- A copy of the project’s bill of quantities (BQ).
- A copy of your architect’s practicing license.
- A copy of your structural engineer’s practicing license.
- A copy of your quantity surveyor’s (QS) practicing license.
- Copies of any other construction approval licenses issued by relevant statutory bodies (KCAA, EPRA, WRA, etc).
Construction approvals don’t end there
When you’ve finally added the NCA project registration certificate to your NEMA EIA License and the county’s building approvals, you can proceed to break ground on your project.
But then get this. The building approval process in Kenya doesn’t end there.
You see, the four we’ve explored here are just the basic construction approvals you’ll need for a building project to get underway in Kenya. Otherwise, you’ll still be required to make various follow-up applications during and after the project itself.
If your project is based in Nairobi, for example, you need to apply for Site Inspection after every critical milestone.
Then when the building is done, you’re supposed to seek a Certificate of Occupation – or Occupancy Certificate – from the county’s planning department. They’ll send out a team of inspectors (with representatives from each relevant department) to review your building for occupation approval.
Following up on all these intricacies can be pretty hectic. But, fortunately for you, Intregrum is here to save you the trouble. Our team of seasoned project managers will administrate everything on your behalf from the beginning to the end of the project.
Besides, it’s high time you safe-proofed your hard-earned construction capital through proper compliance management, quality assurance, and cost control. Jump on a quick chat with us today to set the ball rolling.
Explain the county government building process
Thanks for the informative post. Just one question. Does one need a building permit when constructing a permanent brick & mortar house on their freehold land in the countryside?
This is very detailed and very instructive. Is it true for single private residential houses in Kiambu no NCA or NEMA approval is required? Only permits from the county?
You’ll need NCA approval.
As for NEMA approval, not necessarily.