How much power does a body corporate chairman have?

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

A body corporate chairman does not have any more power than other trustees. A chairman who believes that he does can cause havoc in the body corporate.

Why is it that some people assume that they have absolute power simply because they hold the title of body corporate chairman? Do they link the word ‘chairman’ to something akin to the title bestowed upon those at the top of their game in the corporate world? Or do they mistakenly believe that they hold all the body corporate cards and that trustees are simply there to do their bidding? We're not actually sure, but what is abundantly clear is that having someone who views themselves as some sort of demigod is going to cause havoc with any body corporate.

Beating around the bush

We recently received a call from a disgruntled homeowner who bemoaned the fact that his body corporate was unable to instruct the complex’s gardener to perform the most basic of tasks without first obtaining the approval of the chairman. As crazy as it sounds, in one instance the trustees were forced to send photographs of an overgrown bush to the chairman (who in this instance didn't live in the complex) in order for him to grant ‘permission’ to cut back the offending shrubbery.

It's not the only story we've heard regarding body corporate chairmen who think they wield some almighty power and rule with a rod of iron. There have been cases where the chairman has decided that he didn't want children in the complex and went all out to make those families’ lives an absolute misery. The first to leave were the tenants, but eventually other homeowners who didn't understand their rights sold up and moved on in order to get away from the constant harassment.

So, what power does a chairman have?

It's important to note that a body corporate chairman has no more power than does any other trustee. What he does have, however, is the power of a swing vote in the case of a deadlock. An example of how this works: say half of the body corporate members decide they want to install a swimming pool on the common property. However, the other 50 percent of the homeowners don’t want the pool and this results in a tied vote. In this instance the chairman could use his vote to either veto the proposal or he could add his vote to those who want to have the pool installed. If on the other hand 55 percent of the homeowners decided they didn't want to install a pool, the body corporate chairman could not insist that the project go ahead. In other words, the chairman cannot take a decision to build a swimming pool on the common property and steamroll the decision through. The issue must be put to the vote and if the nays outnumber the ayes, the pool may not be built.

Electing the right kind of body corporate chairman is therefore imperative for the smooth running of a complex. We are not for one moment suggesting that every body corporate chairman is some sort of megalomaniac. While there are some highly competent individuals who run large sectional title complexes in exemplary fashion, on the flip side there are some whose behaviour leaves a lot to be desired. For this reason it's vital for people who own units in sectional title schemes to fully understand their rights and to stand up to anyone who assumes they have more power simply because of their title.

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