Live and let live
By definition, a community scheme involves shared use of certain areas – and shared responsibilities. In a housing development neighbours need to get along, and exercise a certain amount of common sense in their dealings with each other (as well as abiding by the rules and regulations laid down by the homeowner’s association or body corporate).
It is no coincidence that the ‘3 Ps’ are the most likely cause of tension and even disputes amongst neighbours. Wherever you may live in the world, people, pets and parking tend to be the most common causes of issues. Avoiding problems calls for tolerance all round, and trying to see things from other people’s perspectives before complaining.
With many people spending more time at home due to the pandemic, neighbours who may have been rarely seen in the past can now feel like constant companions, and that’s not always a good thing. In addition, almost everyone has become more stressed by the pandemic and its economic fall-out. These pressures can impact how tolerant people are, so now, more than ever, residents of community schemes will need to be as understanding as possible of their neighbours.
When life gets tough – as it certainly has done for many people – tempers can fray more easily. Recognising this can work wonders for a happier community scheme for all involved.
Choosing your dream home can unfortunately involve getting nightmare neighbours into the bargain. The most obvious causes of complaints are noise (music, power tools, and even some ‘leisure activities’ can create a lot of decibels), resulting in particular upset being caused if this happens at a weekend, very early in the morning or late at night.
The definition of ‘anti-social’ activities can be very broad – and varies from person to person. For example, are firecrackers at certain times of the year, part of someone’s cultural and religious heritage, or a nuisance, a fire hazard, and a guaranteed way to upset pets?
We would always recommend a quiet word first of all – most people, when you talk to them, turn out to be perfectly reasonable and will adjust their behaviour accordingly. They may not even have been aware that they were upsetting you.
If this fails, you can talk to the managing agent and/or committee members of the scheme, but their legal powers are limited. Depending on the rules of the scheme, they may be able to fine a resident for anti-social behaviour, but not before both sides have had their say.
Pets are a bit like children – people love their own, but are not always fond of those belonging to other people. Again, like children, they can be noisy and do not have a great record when it comes to cleaning up after themselves.
Most community schemes will have rules in place regarding the keeping of pets, ranging from outright bans to more flexible approaches that depend on whether the units have gardens, and what sort of pet is involved.
Cats generally do not cause much trouble, but dogs can be problematic if they bark constantly, are permitted by their owners to foul communal areas, or become aggressive. More ‘exotic’ pets may not be loud or messy, but neighbours may object to living next door to snakes, for example.
Again, common sense should usually be allowed to prevail, but before moving into any community scheme, it would be as well to research the rules on pets. While there is some question as to whether an outright ban on pets would pass the reasonableness test, if it is in place before you move in, you are assumed to have been aware of it. Equally, if such a rule is brought in after you and your (previously permitted) pet have moved in, it cannot be made retrospective as this would certainly be unreasonable.
The last of the ‘3 Ps’ can also be extremely contentious. Most homeowners own cars, and many families own two or more. Older community schemes may have been built at a time before car ownership reached current levels, which can mean a chronic shortage of a resource that everyone wants. Sadly, that’s often a recipe for trouble!
While most people will regard one or more parking bays in their community scheme as ‘theirs’ and included in the cost of their property, this is not necessarily the case – even if they have used the same parking space for years. Typically, all parking spaces are counted as ‘common property’ – that is, they belong to all owners in undivided shares. Therefore, people cannot really talk about ‘my’ parking space.
Various mechanisms can be implemented to formalise arrangements and provide a reference point in the case of disputes. While solutions like granting exclusive use rights may seem complex, they do at least offer certainty.
Then again, there is always that one person who has a boat, or an extra-large caravan, or a third car...
It’s worth remembering that the ‘3Ps’ don’t just cause problems in South Africa – they are universal. Our advice at Solver Property Services would be to make yourself familiar with the rules and regulations of any community scheme before you buy or rent there, and to adopt a live and let live approach to ensure friendly relations with your neighbours.
Where this proves impossible due to one or more of the ‘3Ps’, approaching your managing agent should be your next step.
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Disclaimer: Kindly note that the above article is merely for information, and is not intended to be comprehensive, to provide legal advice or to assist Community Schemes with the discharge of their fiduciary duties.