Know your rights as a sectional title owner

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

There are many advantages to living in a sectional title complex: however, there can be a downside to residing in an estate that is governed by others, particularly if the body corporate chairperson believes that he (she) has more power than any of the other residents.

Let's get things straight, a body corporate chairperson does not have any special powers - other than having a swing vote if a voting situation reaches a deadlock. Apart from that the chairperson has the same rights as every other owner in the complex. He doesn't have the right to strong-arm other owners into doing things that they don't want to do. He also can't amend/change the governing rules at will.

Unfortunately, there are countless stories regarding bullying body corporate chairpersons. Although it's rare to hear about physical abuse, there are many instances where owners are subjected to emotional abuse.

What every owner needs to understand is that as an owner they have rights that no one, regardless of their position within the body corporate, can take away. A body corporate is not a dictatorship - it's a group of people who all have a vested interest in how the scheme’s affairs are run.

Sadly, many owners incorrectly believe that they have no say in the scheme's matters because they have not been appointed as a trustee. This is simply not true and any owner can at any time raise their concerns as to how the complex is being run, and their voices must be heard.

The importance of raising issues of concern cannot be overemphasised. It is also absolutely vital that every sectional title owner take the time to study the Sectional Title Act as this covers every aspect of sectional title ownership. Knowing your rights obviously puts you in a far stronger position to challenge those who are attempting the flout the law or impose their will incorrectly.

The other aspect worth considering is employing a management agent to manage the affairs of the body corporate. These individuals are generally experts in their field and are often in a position to guide those who are not as familiar with the law, to stay on the right path.

Remember that while disputes are fairly common, this does not mean that anyone has the right to trample on your rights as a unit holder. There are ways to legally resolve issues that have ended in a deadlock, including arbitration. Having a third party intervene can be hugely beneficial, although homeowners must remain aware that services such as these do cost money.

Those who live in a sectional title complex should make every effort to attend all relevant meetings in order to keep abreast with what is happening. Property is a major investment and any decisions that could affect the owner's ability to sell (such as a major increase in the levy or a special levy) generally need to be debated at length before a final decision is taken.

A large percentage of South African homeowners happily live in sectional title complexes and have no issues with the decisions made by the body corporate. However, when problems do arise they tend to turn quite ugly quite quickly. Know your rights, stick to your guns and don't allow anyone to shut you out of issues that could impact on your investment.

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