How can trustees deal with agreement breaches and anti-social conduct?

Sectional title apartments have been - and will continue to be - the fastest growing sector in the South African property market - and there are significant cost benefits, convenience and security factors that make these units a worthwhile investment and/or a good place for people to live.

The danger of this type of high density living, however, says Michael Bauer, General Manager of IHFM, a leading sectional title management company, is that, as in all sectional title schemes, one or more occupants can make life unpleasant for fellow occupants.

This, he says, is particularly true where there is a high investor ratio among the owners because the tenants tend to be less responsible than owners.

“There are two main areas of contention,” says Bauer. “The first is a breach of the actual conditions of the lease agreement by the tenant. For example, the occupant could overcrowd or sub-let the unit, when this is not allowed. He might also keep a large pet when this has expressly been forbidden.

“The second is a breach of conduct rules: the tenant may enjoy playing loud music or partying late into the night which, in a high density sectional title scheme, disrupts the lives of those living close to him.”

In any sectional title scheme, says Bauer, the trustees can impose penalties on the owner of the unit whether or not he is the occupant. If his tenant’s behaviour is unacceptable, it is his responsibility.

The trustees only have a legal relationship with the owner of the unit and are not involved in the legal relationship between the landlord and his tenant. They deal only with the owner, who, in turn, is then obliged to try and ‘sort out’ his tenant. Trustees cannot even approve or reject tenants placed by landlords or rental agents.

Before penalising an owner, the trustees are obliged to send him a warning letter. If this has no effect, they must summon him to a hearing at which he can plead his case. Thereafter a fine may be imposed upon the owner if, in the opinion of the trustees, there has been a clear breach of the purchase agreement or conduct rules.

What happens, if a tenant, despite warnings, continues to break the conduct rules?

In these circumstances only the owner of a unit can terminate the lease agreement – once again after giving warnings. Should the tenant refuse to vacate, the owners may have to evict his tenant by means of an eviction order.

The best way to deal with such problems, adds Bauer, is to take early action and deal with them as soon as they occur.

“In some cases, it is advisable immediately to contact the police when an incident occurs and not just rely on trustees and the managing agent to deal with problems several days later.

“Simply writing letters is,” adds Bauer, “in many cases not enough, because they can be so easily ignored and such problems tend to escalate.”

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