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Internal Pipes and Sectional Title

house
A vexed question
In sectional title developments, disputes can arise when repair bills are incurred. A common bone of contention is a leaking internal pipe – should it be the owner, the body corporate or the insurer who pays?

Sectional title – benefits, but also questions
Sectional title – owning a unit within a complex or development – is a popular alternative to buying freehold property in South Africa. Sectional title can be a cost-effective way of owning property, especially for first-time buyers.

Yes, there are levies to pay (which are linked to the size of the unit) but that means that gardening and pool maintenance are taken care of, not to mention complexes tend to have excellent security – a key consideration in South Africa. By buying a sectional title home, the purchaser also becomes a member of the body corporate.

While the advantages of sectional title ownership are clear, this approach to buying property does raise some interesting questions – and the answers can come as a surprise to owners who’ve not adequately researched the specific rules of the complex they’re moving into.

Finding out the one who pays
When maintenance or emergency repairs are required, this is one of the first questions that gets asked. While the details may vary between schemes, the answer largely depends on where in the property the problem has occurred.

The three key divisions are sections (owned by homeowners); common property (such as gardens, recreational areas and corridors – but this also includes the external walls of sections); and exclusive use areas (for example, a parking space that’s reserved for the use of a particular sectional title owner). Misunderstandings as to who is responsible for repairs and maintenance in these areas can result in tension between owners, or between owners and the body corporate, so it’s as well to know the answers in advance.

When you’ve sprung a leak…
As any homeowner knows, water in the wrong place can be a very destructive force – whether it’s dripping slowly over time, or gushing out of a burst pipe, water can wreak havoc with décor and fittings and result in very expensive repair bills. And that’s just clean water – when wastewater or sewage pipes leak, the consequences can be very unpleasant indeed.

Pipes of course are found both within sections and common areas, and they are shared before they branch off to each unit. Leaks can cause damage in multiple sections, and often require emergency repairs – which can result in high call-out charges, especially at night or over a weekend.

Causes of arguments
The combination of cost, widespread effects and urgency can all add stress to a situation, and exacerbate any disagreement as to who must foot the bill. Fortunately, the Sectional Titles Act provides clarity, as follows.

In common areas, maintenance and repairs to common property are the sole responsibility of the body corporate. They must not only organise the repairs, but pay for them, too. Equally, repairs and maintenance inside each section – including plumbing – fall squarely on the shoulders of the sectional title owners. While the precise wording may vary, owners are obliged to keep their sections in a ‘state of good repair’ – obviously, that would include fixing any leaking pipes.

A condition of a successful bond application or sectional title purchase is a valid homeowner’s insurance policy, under which claims for plumbing repairs can be made. To answer our original question, any internal pipe repairs which are not covered by insurance are definitely for the sectional title holder’s account.

Whose headache?
Things can get a more complex in the case of exclusive use areas, as these are parts of the common property that have been set aside for the use of a specific owner only. The overall obligation remains with the body corporate; however, the owner who enjoys the exclusive use of, say, a parking bay, must keep it clean and neat. Naturally, this is as much for the benefit of their neighbours as for the exclusive user.

While it is up to the body corporate to arrange and manage repairs and maintenance of exclusive use areas, they have a legal obligation to recover the costs incurred from the exclusive user.

Perhaps the most challenging situation is one where a pipe (whether water or sewage) that crosses a common area happens to burst in an exclusive use area. In this instance, the common area rules take priority: in other words, the body corporate is responsible both for organising the repairs and paying for them. The only exception would be a case where the sectional title owner who has exclusive use of the area where the leak occurred, can be shown to have been responsible for the damage through either their acts or omissions. This, however, might well be impossible to prove.

Conclusions
This table sets out the different scenarios:

Area

Who must manage the repairs?

Who must pay for the repairs?

Section

Sectional title owner

Sectional title owner

Common areas

Body Corporate

Body Corporate

Exclusive use areas

Body corporate

Sectional title owner


Our advice would always be to familiarise yourself with the rules of the development you want to buy in, in order to maximise your enjoyment of being a sectional title owner and to take full advantage of the benefits of this ideal way of getting on the housing ladder.

This complimentary newsletter forms part of Solver Property Services comprehensive service provided to you – by keeping you informed and up to date with important news, including any changes to the Community Schemes industry. Solver are the preferred managing agents in Gauteng (Gauteng managing agents)

Disclaimer: Kindly note that the above article is merely for information, and is not intended to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice to either bodies corporate or sectional title owners.

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