More and more South Africans prefer buying or renting apartments or houses in complexes, as demand for secure lifestyles increase. However, as sectional ownership is a complicated issue, it is important to understand the many legal implications before you proceed. Sectional ownership comprises of three parts: private ownership of the individual apartments or houses, as would be the case when buying a free stand; co-ownership of all communal property (e.g. communal gardens, parking areas); and membership of the association of property owners, the body corporate. Most uncertainties and complaints arise from how the apartments or housing complexes are run, and who should take responsibility for what. The body corporate consists of every person who owns a unit in the apartment building or complex. The body corporate is a separate legal entity, similar to a company. The law requires the appointment of at least two trustees, who must control, manage and administer the property for the benefit of all owners. Their main task is to ensure that the body corporate gathers the required levies, which pays for the maintenance of common property. The problem often arises when trustees imposes “special levies”, which not all owners (and members of the body corporate) may be happy with. These levies may be imposed by the trustees without consulting with all members of the body corporate, in other words you as a prospective owner, and can be a huge cause of tension. Keep in mind that levies may be changed significantly and you will have very little control over it. Trustees are also responsible for the rules of the property, for example that no pets are allowed – therefore check the rules before you buy or rent! Another pitfall to watch out for is that you may not in fact have exclusive use over your garden, carport or balcony. If developers do not register these as exclusive use areas at the deeds office, it falls under the common property, so check this carefully before buying apartments or houses under sectional title.
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