Defending the common property

Property Source: Google Images

SECTIONAL TITLE (ST) owners need a better understanding of how ownership of the common property works and what they can and cannot do with it.

So says Andrew Schaefer, MD of national property management company Trafalgar, who notes: “We find that one of the most frequent causes of friction between residents in ST schemes is misuse of the common property by one or more owners – and that this usually arises from a simple lack of knowledge about where sections actually start and stop and how shared ownership of the common property needs to be viewed.

“For example, we have seen owners – and tenants – decide to block off the section of a walkway that only leads to their front door with a security gate, put a fence around a piece of garden in front of their unit, hang an awning over their balcony from the outside wall of the building, or put up a carport on the roadway in front of their garage.”

In a big complex, he says, there are also always those few owners (usually long-time residents) who will become “territorial” over certain parts of the common property – such as the particular open parking bay that they prefer, the swimming pool which happens to be adjacent to their unit, the stairway that leads to the roof area above their top-floor home, and even their favourite braai spot.

“But fortunately, problems like this are usually quickly resolved when we explain to the owners in question that the actual ‘sections’ in an ST scheme are defined by the interior walls of each apartment or townhouse – and that ownership of an ‘undivided share’ of whatever lies beyond those walls does not mean that they can do as they please on this common property or just appropriate any part of it that they estimate to be their ‘share’.

Schaefer says it is important for ST owners to remember that whatever they do on the common property affects all the other owners and residents.

In addition, he says, if you wish to gain exclusive use of any part of the common property, such as your favourite parking bay or a part of the garden, the trustees will first need to consider what sort of precedent this might set, how it could affect the relative values of all the sections, and who will now be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of this part of the common property – and the costs involved. If they agree to your request, you will most likely have to pay an extra levy.

“But first, the trustees will need to take steps to formalise the arrangement. Just like alterations to individual sections, changes to the common property can’t be allowed to go ahead without permission or being properly recorded, for the protection of the value of your investment as well as those of the other owners. And alienating any part of the common property can only be authorised by unanimous resolution, which requires 100% owner approval.”