The Wrong Body-Corporate Can Make Your Life a Misery

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Older folk who are sociable and gracefully accept their advancing years move into retirement villages. Those who aren't and don't, move into sectional title schemes where they can vent their spleens on fellow inhabitants by joining the (busy) body corporate and inventing new ways of boring people to death in meetings. Any vestiges of petty authority that they can carry over from their previous middle-management careers are desperately clung to and used as weapons of one-upmanship against body corporate pretenders. True or false?

With South Africa’s high crime rate, it is unsurprising that so many have chosen to live behind high walls in secure complexes. Community living has become a popular choice from a safety perspective, but from a social standing, many find it hard to tow the line and live amongst people with differing opinions. Simply put, living in very close proximity to strangers has its drawbacks and when those same people are trying to tell you how to live your life in the property you own the situation can and often does, become explosive.

Although many investors find this type of lifestyle perfect for their needs, it is not for everyone and anyone who is considering buying a sectional title unit should ensure that the body corporate shares similar ideas to their own. The law reports offer a fair indication of how often things go wrong and the courts are literally littered with arguments between people that can either not abide by the rules or purely chose to ignore rules that they deem unfair. In many cases body corporates are a law unto themselves with body corporate chairmans’ believing that they solely rule the roost.

A good source of information about recent issues in the scheme can be found in the minutes of the body corporate meetings. Asking to see minutes of the last two or three meetings can go a long way in ensuring that the scheme is being managed properly. This will obviate any nasty surprises like a pending special levy for renovations, additional building work and the like.

The presence of a tyrant in the system will also be revealed by the verbatim minutes. On-going petty squabbles that could ruin your sectional title living experience with be readily apparent. Remember, it only takes one bad apple to spoil the entire barrel. It is also a good idea to chat to neighbours; after all, you are going to have to live with them, perhaps for a long time.

Checking out the financials of any scheme is a must. How are the utility costs for common areas split up? Do larger units have to contribute more? What restrictions are there on the number of residents in any particular unit? If you are going to be footing a common water or electricity bill, these issues are relevant. There are many well run, well maintained and well managed sectional title complexes in the country. Finding the perfect home, accommodation wise, may well be secondary to finding a development where the inhabitants live in harmony. Although most South African homeowners would conduct thorough research when buying a freestanding home, strangely they seem far more lax when buying a sectional title unit.

A final piece of advice: If you really want the low down on any sectional title scheme, walk around the complex until you find the curtain-twitcher (every complex has one) and ask them to give you the inside story.

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