Estate living: don’t step outta line!

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Most of us have, at some point or another, had a run-in with a body corporate or homeowners’ association. This is perfectly understandable as it’s almost inevitable that people living in close proximity to one another and who have to obey certain rules are going to end up having a difference of opinion at some stage.

It doesn’t matter if the complex comprises four units or 400, there are always going to be those who want to push the boundaries of the regulations and this often leads to arguments. To be fair, there are sometimes members of a body corporate who truly believe that the title gives them powers akin to those of a monarch, who bend the rules to suit themselves or who generally make things extremely difficult for those who merely want to get on with their daily lives.

Any potential buyer who wants to purchase a property that falls under a body corporate or homeowners’ association should be fully aware of the rules and regulations before they make their final decision. Buying a home in a gated estate or sectional title complex comes with its own set of rules and deciding down the line that you don’t want to abide by all of these can cause mayhem for all involved.

A recent report in the Sunday Independent highlights this perfectly. A top Durban businessman is taking Mount Edgecombe Country Club Estate, an upmarket development to the north of Durban, to court for what he says are “draconian” rules.

Some of the laws that he is opposed to include:

· The estate’s policing of roads in the complex and issuing of traffic fines.

· Depriving residents of their free choice in engaging building contractors and service providers.

· Residents being denied access to the estate when they are in arrears with levy repayments.

The case promises to be interesting and the outcome, if the court finds for the homeowner, could well change how estates all over the country are run. On the face of it, the regulations imposed on this estate’s residents are incredibly strict. The speed limit for example is 40km an hour and while this is understandable, does it mean that the Homeowners’ Association is entitled to impose and collect speeding fines?

Likewise, making sure your books balance by locking out those who fail to keep up with their levy payments may seem a sure-fire way of keeping the estate in the black, but is it legal?

The one point that those considering buying into a development of this nature need to remember is that rules can, and often do, change over time. While those who run homeowners’ associations or who live in complexes may argue that all new rules and amendments are voted on by residents, this doesn’t guarantee that the changes are not violating people’s rights.

In the news

The estate’s newsletter News on Two states: “We’ve noted that domestics are walking throughout the estate daily. Buses are available to transport domestics from the gates to the relevant bus stops, from where they may walk to their respective residences. For safety reasons, domestics aren’t allowed to walk on the golf cart paths. Residents are urged to ensure that their domestic staff utilise the bus service available and do not walk between residences and gates.”

It is logical that walking in the road and on golf paths could be dangerous, but surely this applies to all, and not just to domestic workers?

With this in mind, who decides (and how?) whether a particular pedestrian is a domestic worker or a homeowner and whether or not they may walk around the estate? If the law was implemented to stop workers from walking in the middle of the road or to keep them away from the golf course, wouldn’t it have been easier to limit access to these sensitive areas?

In their enthusiasm to control every aspect of safety, the estate’s guardians may well fall foul of a court that won’t take kindly to its powers being usurped by a housing estate.

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