Talk first; try not to fight later

Private Property South Africa
Anna-Marie Smith

“Good communication is at the root of building amicable relationships between property owners and related organisations,” says legal practitioner Chris Fick. When constructive yet informal two- and three-way conversations are combined with good listening skills, the situation becomes win-win all round. Should circumstances allow parties to discuss matters openly, he says, they automatically become more receptive to alternative, and in most cases, innovative solutions.

Another invaluable benefit of talking before disagreements become problems is the combined experience and professional skills of residents serving on constitutional bodies, as well as private industry contractors who may be developers, builders, agents, property inspectors or security companies.

This immediately provides a broader range of time- and cost-saving options, via which to resolve disputes.

Timing is everything

Early intervention, through good talking and listening skills, makes for free and powerful solutions. Timing is everything, say legal professionals, and the sooner the better as this provides a state of readiness to prevent relationships from deteriorating. Simple solutions, such as informal meetings between relevant parties, can nip battles in the bud before time and money are spent.

International studies conducted in the US, UK, Europe and Australia show that as much as 80% of costs associated with real estate disputes do not arise from the actual billing time of lawyers or mediators, but rather from the loss of income and productivity of those footing the bills.

Intervention through friendly face-to-face meetings facilitates amicable alternatives that come at no cost to anyone. Also for consideration at such meetings, is the attendance of a third party, which may be a long-standing member from a local community and who is able to facilitate the process from a neutral position.

Made for mediation?

However, should all attempts to reach agreement through informal discussions lead to a stalemate, the next most cost-effective intervention is an official mediation process. As a fast-growing legal alternative, mediation out of court provides all parties concerned with the ability to exercise greater control over the final resolution of a case. Formal litigation draws on pre-determined and unchangeable applications of the law, and is considered a less flexible as well as costlier option.

However, as with all practices within the broader property industry, consumers are urged to only employ accredited mediators, who are in possession of certification from recognised academic institutions. Courses are offered by a range of authorised bodies nationally, such as the University of Stellenbosch Business School, the African Centre of Dispute Resolution, and the Association of Independent Mediators.

The formal action plan

This is a much more formal arrangement, which requires an agreement between the relevant parties in dispute, prior to the appointment of a mediator. As with a third and neutral party in informal discussions, the primary duty of a mediator also originates from a neutral position, to provide legal guidance rather than advice. However, although mediating costs compare favourably to the hourly rates of attorneys, this option can be avoided through prevention, rather than cure.

When all is considered, good talking and listening skills undoubtedly lead the way in helping consumers avoid potential disputes and hefty bills at the earliest stages.

Handy contacts to have:

The Rental Housing Tribunal: Find your nearest provincial office

The Estate Agency Affairs Board: check numbers here

Specialist property attorneys: see contacts in your area here

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