Want to Subdivide an Apartment? Then You'll Need a Building Permit

You can hide two apartments behind one door, but you can?t hide from the law.

Shay Amit
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Shay Amit

In neighborhoods where demand for rental apartments outstrips supply, not a few homeowners have subdivided apartments into separate units. The purpose is to increase returns on their investment. The thing is that until recently, local authorities turned a blind eye to this phenomenon - but no more.

Some may have felt that the law was a tad vague regarding the necessity for a permit from the planning and construction authorities. But the authorities evidently felt otherwise. When the phenomenon became more widespread, the authorities began filing property violation charges against owners who subdivided their apartments without permits.

Proceedings in such cases are held in a Local Affairs Court, but are occasionally appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

The details of one such case - Varda versus the Holon Planning and Construction Committee - are revealed in a Supreme Court ruling from August 25, 2008.

The apartment's owners divided their Holon apartment into two separate units by creating a tiny entrance hall inside the apartment. The hall had doors leading off to separate units, each with its own kitchen, shower, washroom and hot water tank. From the stairwell, the apartment looked like a single unit with one door, one intercom system, one electricity meter and one water meter.

The local authority filed charges against the landlord in the Local Affairs Court, which ordered him to return the apartment to its former state. Use of the apartment was banned until the implementation of the order, and the owners were also slapped with a fine.

Their appeal to the District Court was rejected, and they petitioned the Supreme Court for the right to appeal.

The apartment owners' main argument was that no changes were made to the structure of the apartment that would necessitate a building permit under the planning and construction law. The owners claimed that since the external structure of the apartment remained unaltered, the division should be viewed as an internal change, as defined in the law, and that there was actually still only one apartment.

The planning and construction law includes a list of actions that require a building permit, and this list excludes internal changes that do not alter the building's exterior and do not change "the number of housing units."

The Supreme Court rejected the motion to appeal, and upheld the lower courts' rulings. It noted that that the law's definition of "apartment" refers to a complete, separate housing unit that cannot be subdivided, and in this case the apartment was split into two separate housing units.

Each unit has its own door and there is no internal passage between the two apartments, such that each unit is an independent apartment used by different people.

The fact that the two units do not have separate external entrances does not detract from their being separate, independent housing units. This means that subdividing apartments is not legal without a permit.

Furthermore, a permit can only be granted in keeping with the density parameters in local urban plans (the maximum allowable number of apartments per building), and if other apartment owners in the building do not object.

The writer is a partner in the Shlomo Tessone law firm.