Resolving sectional title disputes – Property 24

Sectional title trustees need to be careful not to overstep the mark when attempting to get unit owners or tenants to comply with the conduct rules of their scheme, or to pay outstanding levies and utility charges.

Disputes do, of course, arise in sectional title schemes, as in all communities, says Andrew Schaefer, MD of Trafalgar. However, he says the trustees and managing agents need to remember that it is usually only a minority of residents that will cause problems, and that it is in the interests of the scheme as a whole to resolve these as quietly and efficiently as possible.

Schaefer says when it comes to levies, for example, they should stick to the provisions of the Sectional Titles Act, which is unequivocal about how and when levies must be paid by every owner – and also about what legal course the trustees are obliged to follow, and what legal costs they can recover when an owner defaults and goes into arrears.

As for disputes about other issues that can be problematic in sectional title schemes, such as noise, parking in the wrong place, unauthorised alterations and water and electricity usage, Schaefer says it is always advisable for the trustees to try and resolve these through negotiation before taking any other action.

“Where this does not work, the Sectional Titles Act provides for arbitration rather than court action, but because this can be quite costly, many trustees have turned to other measures that work well.” These include wheel clamping for parking transgressions and imposing fines for other conduct rule contraventions, but it is important that these be handled correctly, he says.

Wheel clamping, for example, is only allowed if it has been provided for in the conduct rules applicable to that scheme, and if someone will be available at all hours to unclamp the vehicle, he says.

Similarly, he says fines can only be imposed if a new rule to that effect has been added to the scheme’s conduct rules and has been properly filed with the Deeds Office, or the Community Schemes Ombudsman in future. The fines must also be reasonable, and only imposed after both sides of the dispute have been considered, he explains.

Changing the rules of a scheme requires at least 75 percent of the owners to agree, says Schaefer. But this is not usually that hard to achieve since most owners and tenants understand that the rules are there as a guide to harmonious living, and are there for their own benefit.

He says it is worth noting that it is illegal to block any resident’s access to the complex or their unit, or to cut off water or power supplies when utility bills have not been paid.

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