Sectional title tenants have recourse in disputes

Private Property South Africa

When large numbers of people live in close confines, there are bound to be disagreements on noise levels, exclusive use areas, extensions to sections, building and garden maintenance, pets, satellite dishes, illegal structures, general conduct rules and, of course, levy arrears. These matters are best solved by arbitration, not by court action – which can be expensive and time consuming and can lead to a lot of money being lost by occupants who are in contract with a landlord who is applying unlawful practices to the contract, rent fees or any other matters of disagreement.

Arbitration has become the recognised preference to litigation in disputes that plague sectional title schemes. Throughout the sectional title sector it is now accepted that it is in the best interests of all parties to settle disputes quickly and cordially. The new ombud service set out by the Community Scheme Ombud Service Bill protects the rights of owners and occupants to “good administration” in respect of scheme finances and facilities.

The Bill makes provision for community housing scheme owners and occupants to have access to simple, inexpensive recourse that handles disputes in a manner that is impartial and fair. Community schemes include sectional titles schemes, share block companies, homeowners' associations and housing schemes for retired persons.

Therefore, it is important for occupants of a rented property to know that the Bill makes provision for “prayers for relief” on the part of community scheme occupants or owners in respect of “behavioural issues”, including:

  • Animals kept in private or common areas.

  • Items placed on or attached to private or common areas.

  • Other actions constituting a nuisance.

In this regard, it sets out the requirements for lodging an application for relief as well as the procedures to be followed by the ombud service when investigating an application or – should it not be possible to arrive at a negotiated resolution of the dispute concerned – referring it to an adjudicator. Provision is also made for the right of appeal.

Ideally, the arbitrator should be a sympathetic but firm person who is well-versed in sectional title law. He or she should be able to listen to both sides of the case and then give an objective decision quickly. The arbitrator must perform his task in such a way that both parties recognise the fairness of the outcome.

Written in conjunction with the Department of Human Settlements, Catherine Cockcroft, Propell,* and Marina Constas,* BBM Law

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