Sectional title alterations

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Alterations made without proper approvals to sectional title units can make it difficult, for all homeowners in the complex, to sell.

You basically get two types of body corporates. Those that watch your every move and will only allow you to place the welcome mat at a certain angle outside your front door and those that don't really care what you do with your property, allowing you to make all the changes and improvements you like.

Because of this, enclosed balconies, carports that have been bricked up to make a sort of garage or storage area or patios which have been transformed into bedrooms or studies have become the norm in many complexes or blocks of flats, however, according to Andrew Schaefer, MD Trafalgar, it could become difficult for the owners (and their neighbours) to sell if alterations are made without the proper approval.

“Many sectional title owners are under the impression that, since they have paid for their units, they can alter them as they like,” says Schaefer. “Others simply take advantage of disinterest on the part of other owners, or inadequate management by the trustees of their scheme, to do as they please.

“Either way, they are wrong, and their actions could cost them and all the other owners in the scheme dearly, since the banks can be very sticky about granting home loans in schemes where any of the units have been improperly altered and the overall appearance is no longer homogenous.”

Well run body corporates understand the importance of uniformity and will not allow those who want to add additions to mess with this critical area of sectional title living. Permission must be sought before anything can be changed and while some body corporates seemingly become ridiculous and refuse to allow the simplest of changes, generally these rules make everyone's life a little easier in the long run.

Those who believe that their neighbour’s renovations won't have any impact on their own property need to adjust their thinking.

Schaefer says it’s too late for owners to start thinking about the haphazard alterations their neighbours may have made when they are on the point of selling their unit and hoping for a quick transfer to their buyer.

He notes that in most instances the bank will not flatly decline to give the prospective buyer a home loan, it will make approval subject to the removal of unauthorised changes throughout the scheme, or at the very least their proper approval by the body corporate and local authority.

Can you imagine what it must feel like to find a buyer, only to run the risk of losing the deal because your neighbours didn't acquire permission before renovating their unit? Unfortunately, it's something that could turn nasty very quickly particularly if the neighbour refuses to rectify the issue. So what should you do to prevent these types of issues becoming major problems?

It is recommended that all bodies corporate should make ‘additions and alterations’ an agenda item at their AGMs, and that their trustees and managing agents should ensure that owners are all fully aware of the proper procedures for making different kinds of alterations

says Schaefer.

“For example, it is usually not necessary for an owner to obtain permission for changes or improvements to the inside of a section – but will need to do so if the proposed change could affect the stability of the building, or might constitute an extension of the section by increasing the floor area.”

Communication is always going to be key to happy sectional title living and no one should ever make assumptions as to what is and what isn't allowed. Buying a place with plans to enclose a balcony (simply because you've noticed other owners in the complex have done the same thing) could come to a grinding halt if the body corporate refuses to grant permission. Remember, just because someone else has floated the rules, doesn't mean that you are entitled to do the same.

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