One of the most common problems in sectional title schemes is water leaks. Leaks are usually expensive to repair and they very often result in water damage to other parts of the property as well. The issue can be contentious because the responsibility for paying the cost of the repairs depends on the legal nature of the property that is damaged and the origin of the leak.
If the leak is the result of an insured event, such as storm damage or a burst geyser, any dispute is usually restricted to the payment of the excess on the claim, but if the leak has happened over a period of time, it can be difficult to apportion responsibility for the costs.
Leak source detection
The first step in addressing a leak is to establish its exact cause or source. It is an unfortunate fact that concrete and masonry, the two most common building materials in South Africa, are porous and therefore not water proof. This means that the source of a leak may be some distance from the damaged area.
Factors that influence the movement of water in seemingly solid materials are gravity, slope, varying densities in the material, temperature and air pressure. You can see why it is so often difficult to trace the source of leaks in buildings!
Contractors use different methods of leak detection, depending on the situation. Some of these are:
1. Acoustic, or listening equipment. Leaks make different types of sounds depending on the nature of the leak and the leak site. The volume and pitch of the sound are affected by the water pressure, the type of pipe material and its diameter and its enclosing material.
2. Thermal imaging is used to detect leaks in hot water pipes. The camera shows where the pipe runs and the image spreads out where there is a leak.
3. A damp/moisture meter measures the level of moisture at a site in the wall and can distinguish between a leaking and a sweating pipe.
4. Gas and dye are also used to detect specific types of leak.
It is not uncommon for an interior leak to have multiple origins. For this reason the symptoms and apparent contributing factors of the leak must be closely considered. Multiple origin leaks cause a lot of problems because money is spent on a cure that is apparently ineffectual because it only solved one cause of the leak, and the leak had multiple causes.
Leaks from outside the building
There are various leaks that affect or come from the outside of the building.
The roof can leak into the attic space and then into sections. This type of leak can affect multiple sections especially if the attic space is not physically divided. This type of leak is not usually difficult to source but section owners might need to allow the contractor to use an access panel situated inside their section to get into the attic space.
Two problematic and contentious leak issues are leaking balconies and patios. They can leak into their own flat or into the section below. Water from a leaking balcony or patio can even travel sideways and affect sections some distance away. An effective repair usually involves removing wall or floor tiles or other types of floor covering, perhaps even the screed, and removing and replacing water proofing membranes.
If the balcony is part of the section, it is the owner’s responsibility to repair and so stop the leak. If the balcony is common property – look at your sectional plan to make sure – it is the body corporate’s responsibility to repair, but if the balcony is subject to exclusive use rights, the body corporate must recover the repair costs from the owner concerned.
Another source of leaks from outside can be the tops of parapet walls, where they meet the roof, and other outside areas where water can accumulate and leak into the masonry.
Leaking pipes in the building
Leaks in pipes inside the building can originate in sections or from the common property and affect that section, other sections or the common property.
Common examples of leaks from one section to another are leaking shower trays and flooding from washing machines and dishwashers.
If the source of the leak is inside a section, that is, inside the median line of the walls, floor or ceilings that surround it, the repair is the owner’s responsibility. If another section or the common property has been damaged as a result of the leak, that owner or the body corporate, while still responsible to make their own repairs, would have a claim for the reasonable cost of their repair from the owner of the section where the leak originated. The same principle would apply but in reverse if the leak originated in the common property part of a pipe.
The exception to this principle is where the leak is inside the section. If the pipe serves more than that section – other section/s or the common property, it is the body corporate’s responsibility to repair and bear the cost.
Note that the Sectional Titles Act requires owners to allow persons appointed by the body corporate access to their sections at reasonable times and with reasonable notice for maintenance purposes.
The problem leaks in pipes happen in places where the pipe is set in the wall or in some other difficult to access location. Traditionally, once the leak or the general area of the leak has been established, the wall and possibly tiles, sanitary fittings, baths or shower trays have to be chopped into or removed in order to repair or replace the offending pipe. Of course this is expensive, time consuming, messy and generally very inconvenient. Owners or trustees who have to deal with leaks should research new technologies that can deal with degraded pipes from a more convenient location. One of these technologies is pipe lining, which, as I understand it, can be done from pipe junctions some distance from the source of the leak.
Any kind of leak is inconvenient and most, if not all, cause water damage of some sort. The cost of investigation and repair makes both owners and bodies corporate reluctant to accept responsibility for the repair and resultant damage. But leaks should be addressed as soon as they are noticed to limit the costs of repairs as far as is possible. Hopefully new detection and repair technologies will go some way to easing the problems.