QUESTIONS OFTEN ASKED BY FLAT AND TOWNHOUSE PURCHASES
Living in Sectional Title scheme means community living. This is particularly true for people who have chosen to live in a townhouse. Flat owners can, if they whish, choose a fairly isolated lifestyle. Apart from contacts in lifts, passages, communal gardens and basement parking areas, flat dwellers are often isolated from their neighbours. Townhouse owners on the other hand, because of a more open lifestyle usually have more contact with their neighbours. Where a large number of people live in close proximity of each other, problems sometimes arise. Most of these problems can be avoided if all the owners in a scheme show consideration for each other and do not behave in a thoughtless or selfish manner. Among these problems are excessive noise from radios, televisions and CD players. Less common, but by no means unknown, is the noise from parties, washing machines and spin dryers, opening and closing doors, moving furniture, the use of musical instruments etc. While none of these types of noises are unacceptable during the day, they constitute a nuisance late at night or early in the morning. A washing machine in use on a ceramic tiled kitchen floor in an upstairs flat late at night can keep many people awake! The rules were drafted to avoid some of these problems. Let us look at some of the questions most frequently asked by sectional title owners.
MAY I MAKE ALTERATIONS INSIDE MY SECTION?
Generally, it is not necessary to obtain permission to make alterations inside a section. However, if these alterations involve structural changes or affect the electrical or water supply, or the drainage system, it is essential to obtain expert advice, especially if the changes involve major structural changes, such as the removal of a wall. As a matter of courtesy, you should advise your neighbours if the alterations are going to cause them any inconvenience or excessive noise. Builders can cause a lot of noise and dust! Many owners renovate their kitchens and bathrooms, add extra cupboards, re-tile or re-carpet floors without causing any problems. Please remember that all changes that affect the common property require consent.
MAY I KEEP A PET?
It is not surprising that permission to keep a pet is covered by the very first rule (Rule 1) of the conduct rules, as much unhappiness and heartache have been caused by a failure to understand this rule. An occupant of a Sectional Title unit may not keep a pet in a scheme without the written consent of the trustees, which consent the trustees may not refuse without good reason. In considering an application, the trustees have to be guided by the type of pet and the nature of the scheme. In granting consent trustees may impose special conditions and may withdraw the consent if the pet causes a nuisance to other owners. Passions run high when it comes to pets! Please note that often a Body Corporate will, by Special Resolution, amend conduct rule 1 and ban all or certain types of pets.
MAY I INSTALL A SECURITY GATE OUTSIDE MY FRONT DOOR?
Yes. However, as the security gate will be visible from parts of the common property, in the interests of conformity the trustees will have to approve the pattern and colour of the gate.
MAY I FIT AN AWNING OUTSIDE A WINDOW?
As the outer walls form part of the common property, Body Corporate consent will be required. It is common practice to fit awnings to north and west windows and it would be very unreasonable to refuse permission. However, the rules prevent an owner from doing anything which upsets the harmonious appearance of the scheme, so the colour and style of the awning will have to conform to an approved pattern.
MAY I FIT A DIFFERENT TYPE OF FRONT DOOR?
The front door is visible from common property and in the interests of uniformity, the door must conform to an approved design.
MAY I CHANGE THE STYLE OF THE WINDOWS?
Windows are generally considered to be part of the common property. Therefore, permission would be required, and would probably not be granted.
MAY I ENCLOSE MY BALCONY?
The question regarding enclosing balconies is a very complicated one. A balcony may form part of a section, part of the common property or it may be an exclusive use area. Even though the balcony forms part of a section, it is by no means certain that it can be enclosed. A balcony is usually considered to be a non habitable area. Enclosing the balcony would convert it to habitable area, in which case planning permission from the local authorities would be essential, and might not be granted. If the balcony forms part of the common property, enclosing it would effectively extend the section, which requires a Special Resolution from the members of the Body Corporate. Such an enclosure would also affect the harmonious appearance of the scheme.
MAY I BUILD A WALL AROUND MY EXCLUSIVE USE GARDEN?
The exclusive use garden forms part of the common property. Therefore, consent is necessary.
MAY I EXTEND MY PATIO?
A patio is usually common property so consent would be required.
MAY I FIT A GATE FOR MY CAR PORT?
A car port is common property, consent is required.
MAY I INSTALL A SPA BATH INSIDE MY SECTION?
Apart from structural problems caused by the weight of the installation and the water in it, the installation of a spa bath (Jacuzzi) requires alterations to the plumbing and electrical installation, so permission is needed. A spa bath may require more electrical power than is available in your section, in which case it might be necessary to provide a three phase supply to the section. This is a major task and would certainly require expert advice.
MAY I FIT AN AIR-CONDITIONER?
Air-conditioning units that take air from outside the building are partly installed outside the section, therefore permission is necessary. Another consideration is the noise generated by the compressor in the air-conditioner. These compressors often cause considerable vibrations, which will certainly affect your neighbours. In a block of flats, compressor and fan noises travel vertically and horizontally and will affect the flats above and below as well as the flats on either side. These noises may not be intrusive during the day, but will certainly prove to be a problem during he night.
MAY I INSTALL UNDER-FLOOR HEATING?
Under-floor heating consumes a lot of electrical power. When fitted to a large flat or townhouse, the power requirements may be too great for a normal single phase supply, necessitating the installation of a three phase supply. Expert advice is essential. Skirting or free-standing heaters are more versatile and easier to control, and usually more economical to run.
MAY I INSTALL MY OWN SATELLITE DISH?
No. A satellite receiving dish must be mounted outside on the common property which will require consent from the Body Corporate. Apart from this, an owner cannot do anything that will affect the harmonious appearance of the scheme. Individual dishes, visible from outside the building would without doubt be very inharmonious and therefore cannot be allowed.
MAY I SELL MY UNIT?
Yes, of course you can. However you must notify the Body Corporate that you have sold your unit. Please note that the Act requires an owner of Sectional Title unit to notify the Body Corporate of any change in the status of bond registered over the unit, such as the registration of a second bond, or cancellation of an existing bond.
ARE THE TRUSTEES AS POWERFUL AS THEY SEEM TO BE?
No, not al all. The trustees are appointed by the Body Corporate to look after the interests of the scheme and to accept the instructions of the members of the Body Corporate. A Body Corporate is not subject to the Companies Act and it is important that the trustees are not seen as Directors of the Body Corporate. A trustee who is an owner or spouse of an owner may not derive any financial or economic benefit from his or her position as a trustee. The Body Corporate can remove a trustee from office at any general meeting. A trustee who is declared insolvent or of unsound mind, or is convicted of any offence involving dishonesty, is disqualified from holding office. The managing agent, members of his or her staff or an employee of the Body Corporate may not be a trustee. The role of a trustee is a responsible one, and very time-consuming. It is considered by many to be a thankless task. Good trustees are a valuable asset in any scheme and deserve support from members of the Body Corporate.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I BREAK THE RULES?
The Act requires that the trustees make sure that the individual owners in a scheme adhere to the rules of the scheme. The 1997 amendments to the rules introduced a new rule which allows all disputes between members or between members and the Body Corporate to be referred to Arbitration. Prior to this amendment, disputes which could not be amicably resolved had to be referred to an appropriate Court. Arbitration is much cheaper, far less formal and generally more “user friendly” than action through the Courts and is very suitable for Sectional Title disputes. The arbitrator’s decision is final and at reasonable cost can be made an Order of the High Court. Where the breach of the rules involves a failure on the part of an owner to maintain his section in good condition, the Body Corporate is entitled to carry out such repairs or maintenance and to charge the owner for the costs involved. These are extreme measures and, in practice, are seldom required as most disputes can be settled by mediation. Most owners are reasonable people and are prepared to comply with the rules, which are there to benefit all the owners. Please note that any owner who, in spite of warnings, is in breach of the conduct rules may not (except for special or unanimous resolutions) vote at a general meeting. In part four this booklet, you will find a summary of the duties and obligations of owners as prescribed in the Act and rules.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY NEIGHBOURS BREAK THE RULES?
If your neighbours consistently break the rules by making too much noise or being a nuisance in some other way, you should report them to a trustee. Please remember that you should involve the trustees only in the case of serious disagreement, and not in trivial disputes. If the problem persists and the trustees fail to act, you can refer the dispute to arbitration. Your managing agent will advise and assist you in this regard.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I FAIL TO PAY MY LEVY?
The Body Corporate can take legal action to recover unpaid levies, with all recovery costs to be debited to the defaulter. All owners in a scheme have a pay a levy. Any owner who fails to pay their levy, while continuing to enjoy the benefits of living in the scheme, is doing so at the expense of all the other owners. An owner who is in arrears with his or her levy may not vote at a general meeting of the Body Corporate, except for proposed special or unanimous resolutions. The Body Corporate is entitled to charge interest on arrears.
WHAT ABOUT INSURANCE?
The Section Title Act required the Body Corporate to ensure that the buildings are insured to the value of their replacement cost. The insurance must cover all the sections and all improvements to the common property. The premiums for this insurance form part of the monthly levy. If you feel that your section is worth more than the amount for which it is insured, you are at liberty to increase the amount for which your section is insured, for which you will have to pay the extra premium. Please note that the Body Corporate insurance only covers damage and destruction of the buildings. It does not cover the contents of your section. You must make sure that your furniture and personal belongings are separately and adequately insured by means of a suitable policy.