A question of volume in sectional title schemes

Private Property South Africa

The nature of the property market is such that many of us live in sectional title developments. And although there are numerous benefits to be had, there are also negatives – one of which relates to noise levels.

Developments are typically characterised by small plots or shared walls and floors. As such, any noise that a resident makes can usually be heard by neighbours and can quickly become a source of irritation, particularly if the noise is repetitive, or occurs late at night, early in the morning or over weekends.

Turn it down!

Noise is arguably one of the most common problems in developments. Screaming and crying children, fighting and shouting, barking dogs, slamming doors and renovations are the most common complaints. Typically, body corporates outline rules regarding noise. In some instances fines are levied, and the law also touches on the matter.

According to the Sectional Titles Schemes Management Act, an owner must not use his or her section or exclusive use area or permit it to be used in a manner or for a purpose which may cause a nuisance to any occupier of a section. It is also stated in the Sectional Title Act that an owner must use and enjoy the common property in such a manner as not to interfere unreasonably with the use and enjoyment thereof by other owners or other persons lawfully on the premises.

In other words there is both a duty not to cause a nuisance and a right not to be unnecessarily disturbed. But what constitutes an unreasonable disturbance? While you may consider a low-key party on your patio harmless, your neighbour may deem it excessively loud. Unfortunately, such cases are open to interpretation and have to be dealt with individually.

Don’t act in anger

Having said that, there will always be instances where residents are excessively noisy on a regular basis. So what should you do? Sectional title and online education specialist Professor Graham Paddocks of Paddocks, a specialist sectional title law firm, says that the first step is to politely approach your neighbour.

Says Paddocks: “If you are fuming, wait until you’ve cooled down before approaching the source of your anger. If you approach [your neighbour] in a temper your problem may escalate from a neighbour who is annoying you to a neighbour you’ve had a fight with. Remember you have to live next to this person. So be polite. Explain your position to them face-to-face and ask them to please ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

If the noise continues after you’ve asked your neighbour nicely to stop, Paddocks suggests keeping a record or a “noise diary”. This record will be vital if you eventually go down the route of mediation or arbitration, he says.

The next step …

The next step is to fill in an official complaint form and ask the trustees or your managing agent to get involved. Once you’ve completed a complaint form, the trustees or managing agent can issue the person concerned with a breach notice and, if that is unsuccessful, a final breach notice, says Paddocks.

Once a final breach notice has been issued, the trustees and managing agent should call a meeting to try and resolve the issue internally. If all else fails Paddocks says that external mediation or arbitration are the dispute resolution mechanisms to follow. The trustees or managing agent should be able to provide advice in this regard. As an absolute last resort, you can contact your local authority for assistance.

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