State caught napping as buildings tumble

However, after the officers had left, cunning workers got back in. Hours later, the building gave in and some were buried under the rubble. Three died.

"Construction works in the site had been previously suspended in order S/No 143383 dated September 20, 2022, by the Authority due to several non-compliance issues, including forgery of a project registration certificate," said NCA Executive Director Maurice Akech.

In the compliance check of that fateful morning, it was discovered that the building "was experiencing a column failure based on virtual observation" according to Eng Akech.

This was one in a spate of collapses within a week. On November 21, a five-storey building in Ruiru gave way, barely hours after the Kiambu County Government ordered residents to vacate.

The structure was unsound and had visible cracks, which caused locals to raise the alarm. In November alone, three buildings have collapsed; Ruaka (a six-storey residential that killed two), Seasons Kasarani (a six-storey residential that killed three) and Kwa Ndege Embakasi (the seven-storey building that killed one).

On September 26, this year, a six-storey residential building in Kirigiti, Kiambu fell and killed five people.

While many residents may be complaining about rising insecurity in Nairobi's city centre and the threat of knife and gun-wielding goons, death may be lurking right in that harmless-looking construction overlooking your house.

Negligence by developers and contractors has majorly been behind these collapses, authorities say.

Discontinuation of construction

A statement released by Lands, Public Works, Housing and Urban Development Cabinet Secretary Zachariah Njeru said the government had ordered the discontinuation of construction of the collapsed buildings.

"Works on all the collapsed buildings had been suspended by the NCA, and follow-up on the enforcement visits revealed that the suspension orders were presently defied," he said.

Rescue operation in Kasarani after a building collapsed on November 15, 2022. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

How do the approval plans go and what is the role of the county government? At the outset, the developer or their agents submit a development proposal in the form of building plans to the county government for consideration of approval.

"Vetting by a physical planner within the county government establishments then follows, with invoicing for payment of the necessary applicable approval fees," said Joseph Njomo, Principal Physical Planner with the County Government of Nyeri, in an interview with Real Estate.

Upon payment, the application is registered and booked for consideration by the approval committee.

After approval of the building, plans are released to the applicant, together with a building inspector card bearing the name of the officer who is supposed to ensure that all the listed steps of construction are monitored and followed as per the conditions of approval.

"Registration of the approved plan with the NCA is done. During construction, right from the setting out of the site to the foundation and all the way to completion, the developer is expected to engage the building inspector at every stage," Njomo said.

For development in an environmentally sensitive area, National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) approval is mandatory. High-level developments such as residential multi-dwelling units and industries are also subjected to Nema scrutiny.

"Upon completion of the project where the inspection card is duly signed by the building inspector and the developer's consultant, a completion certificate and a subsequent occupation certificate are issued," Njomo said.

In case of an approved project where the developer fails to engage the building inspector as guided, an enforcement notice is issued to stop further construction until a structural integrity report is submitted by a private registered structural engineer.

The structural integrity report indemnifies the county government in the event of any catastrophe.

The county government should not be absolved from blame if such buildings collapse without the report being available. "In case of non-approval, the above procedure also applies but is subject to payment of regularisation fees.

"In case of defiance to an enforcement notice, the prosecution is instituted through the county government legal office," Njeru said.