The Right Way to Resolve Disputes in Community Schemes
If you live in a Residential Estate, Sectional Title or any kind of Community Living Scheme, you’ll appreciate how important it is to have good neighbours. There are times, however, when even good neighbours disagree with each other. When disputes arise, who is responsible for restoring peace and order?
Resolving Issues Internally
In the case of a dispute between two neighbours, the first step is to try and resolve the matter yourself in a neighbourly fashion. Thereafter, the next step would be to complete and file a formal complaint. Download our Complex Complaints form from our website, fill it in and submit it to our offices. Your Portfolio Management team will bring the matter to the attention of your Body Corporate or HOA and they will assess the situation.
If the dispute affects multiple owners (More than two complaints from different owners), it becomes a community issue. In this case, the first step remains to try and resolve the dispute among members of the community. If that does not work, the committee members can refer the matter to the Community Scheme Ombud Service (CSOS).
If the dispute only affects you and your neighbour, and you are unable to resolve the matter internally, in a neighbourly fashion, one still has the option of escalating the matter further through the likes of Community Scheme Ombud Service (CSOS), the courts and/or the South African Police Force (SAPS).
Disputes and the Community Scheme Ombud Service
According to the Community Scheme Ombud Service’s (CSOS) most recent annual report, “the 2017/18 financial period saw an increase in the number of disputes referred to the CSOS for conciliation”. That could be because referring a dispute to the CSOS is both cost-effective and convenient.
How to Lodge a Dispute with the CSOS
Your first step (post internal measures outlined above) is to lodge a formal application with the CSOS and this involves completing the Dispute Resolution Form which is available for download from the CSOS website. The form can be emailed to relevant jurisdiction’s email address or delivered in-person to your nearest CSOS office.
Then, it is up to the CSOS to assess the claim and decide if they will proceed with it. An application may be rejected if:
it falls outside of the CSOS’s express jurisdiction
applicants have failed to exhaust all their options in resolving the dispute internally
applicants fail to provide the CSOS with the additional information they have requested within a reasonable time or at least 14 days
the matter would be better resolved by another court or tribunal
if the applicants request to waiver the adjudication fees have been denied
If your application is accepted, the CSOS will set a date for Conciliation and notify all the relevant parties within 14 working days.
Conciliation and Adjudication
Everyone affected by the dispute application is brought together and given an opportunity to state their case. The CSOS appoint a conciliator and it is their job to oversee the proceeding and assist in reaching a settlement or mutual agreement between the parties involved.
If an agreement still has not been reached, the conciliator will issue Notice of Non-Resolution and the matter will be referred to Adjudication. This is the final step in the process and includes an investigation. At this stage, the CSOS may request additional documentation such as photographs, sworn affidavits and site inspections if necessary.
After Adjudication, the CSOS appointed adjudicator will consider all the evidence and make an order which is binding on all parties. Any order handed down by the CSOS can be enforced by the High Court or Magistrates Court.
Tips for Managing Disputes
As a Chairperson or Trustee of a Body Corporate or HOA, you may find yourself being called upon to resolve a dispute between neighbours. You have to come up with a solution that is fair and which satisfies the concerns of all parties involved.
With our experience of managing properties and people, we have compiled some tips to help resolve community disputes quickly and fairly:
1. Get to the root of the problem
Disagreements between neighbours can get heated and emotions may cloud the issue. People may lose sight of the real issue and start attacking each other personally. It is vital that we remain impartial and focus on determining the real issue causing the dispute because that will make it easier to find the right solution.
2. Give everyone a chance to talk
If you let everyone have their say, they will be more open to suggestions on how to resolve the conflict. Further, it is vital that you hear all sides of the story and establish the facts. You will make a better decision if you have all the facts.
3. Look for common ground
Finding a solution that satisfies everyone is not always possible. If there are elements that both parties can agree on, however, you can work on developing a solution that is fair – if not perfect.
4. Make a decision and carry it out
Once you have reached a decision on how to resolve the dispute, let the parties involved know, and then make sure it is carried out. If you do not follow through on the decision you have made, it will affect your credibility. This will set a precedent for future disputes and make it harder to resolve conflicts without calling on the services of an outside mediator like the CSOS.
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Disclaimer: Kindly note that the above article is merely an information guide, not intended to be comprehensive, to assist Community Schemes with the discharge of their fiduciary duties.