Resolving disputes in sectional titles

A fallout with the body corporate, a neighbour or trustee over issues pertaining to your sectional title property needn’t be a stressful, highly-charged, drawn-out or  costly affair when most disputes can be settled internally or via the community schemes Ombudsman. Sectional Title schemes fall within the jurisdiction of this Ombud and any person who is either a party to or materially affected by a dispute concerning a community scheme may submit an application for adjudication.   The entire process is designed to be approachable and as streamlined as possible in order to settle disputes between parties in a user-friendly yet effective format similar to other statutory adjudication bodies like the CCMA and the Rental Housing Tribunal.

The Sectional Titles Schemes Management Act 8 of 2011 provides for set categories that the rules of each scheme are required to regulate; however, it does leave room for specific non-prescribed regulations. The rules that fall outside of these parameters are not as absolute as applicable legislative provisions or other forms of legal policies; however, if one wishes to avoid settling disputes inside of a courtroom, the sensible thing would be to do your research prior to purchasing a unit and make sure that you are aware of the extent of your levy contributions as well as what you may or may not do with your property.

Developments in the form of a new bill have been proposed which aim to amend the Sectional Title Act, and if approved by parliament will:

  • afford improved protection toward homeowners;
  • enhance accountability of developers of schemes;
  • alter the manner and the documents required in consideration for the extension of the scheme;
  • extend the definition of exclusive-use areas;
  • allow for holders of rights to a unit to be able to benefit from alienation and lease of common property.

Charles De Meillon, Candidate Attorney at boutique law firm Gillan & Veldhuizen Inc., says that having an understanding of the underlying principles of how Sectional Title schemes work – the rules, regulations and conflict resolution platforms available – is vital.

The body corporate, consisting of all the owners, and the developer in specific circumstances, is a juristic entity which is managed by the trustees of the body corporate and acts through resolutions voted on by its members; as a result of this nature, the body corporate has a statutory duty of care and skill when performing its functions.  “The size of your property sets out the proportional allocation of ownership, the voting power of each section’s owner as well as the extent of your liability for the scheme’s upkeep, based on the rules of the body corporate,” De Meillon explains.

If you (as an owner) find yourself in a situation where you believe that your sectional-title is being mismanaged or that there is a breach of the agreed-upon standards and rules, or if you have an internal dispute with another resident, trustees/members of the body corporate and other administrative issues,  then you can file a complaint with the Community Schemes Ombud Service (CSOS). This statutory dispute-resolution service was established in October 2016, and provides a platform for settling disputes that cannot be resolved internally.

There are specific details that need to be included when lodging a dispute with CSOS, such as:

  • the nature of the relief sought;
  • names and addresses of all affected parties;
  • submissions surrounding fees and costs of the application as well as the overall grounds upon which the relief is based.

An application must further prove that the desired relief can be interpreted to be  within the scope of adjudication of CSOSA.  These grounds are extensive and cover areas of relief such as financial or monetary awards, behavioral or specific performance-based claims, alterations to internal rules or governance and other general issues that may be experienced.

It is imperative to learn about the common rules and acceptable norms within the community that each scheme creates so as to navigate the management guidelines and keep disputes amicable, and only consider litigation only as a last resort.