Sectional Title - Owners' duties

One of the ‘issues’ with which sectional title trustees and their managing agents have to deal with time and again is the contentious subject of where the sectional title owners’ responsibilities end and where those of the trustees start. The issue is complicated by trustees also being owners of sectional title units who provide their time and service free of charge.

Michael Bauer, General Manager of IHFM, a specialist sectional title management and property management company in Cape Town, has set out guidelines on this matter in his weekly newsletter at These points, Bauer writes, should help to change some of the many misconceptions that owners have.

Firstly, says Bauer, the owner is responsible for the maintenance and cleanliness of the interior of his section. This includes some items such as the doors and windows, but it does not include the exterior and its maintenance.

Secondly, the owner is also responsible for insuring all movables and content in his section, but the permanent fixtures such as doors and windows are covered by the Body Corporate’s building insurance policy.

There is one exception. If the geyser which serves his section is located outside the unit, as is often the case, it remains the responsibility of the sectional title owner to maintain such a geyser.

Thirdly, the owner has the responsibility for paying the levies. In some cases, says Bauer, owners renting out their units have assumed that the tenant will pay these - but that is not the case.

Fourth, says Bauer, the owner is responsible for seeing that everyone who lives in or visits his unit - including his tenant and the tenant’s family – complies with the Conduct Rules of the scheme. It is not, as is often thought, the trustees’ or managing agents’ duty to keep occupants or tenants in line in this matter, says Bauer. The trustees’ duty is simply to warn the owner if rules are broken and to keep on doing so until he takes action. The owner, for his part, may after issuing several verbal or written warnings to his tenant, be forced to terminate the lease and in some cases forcefully evict the tenants.

This responsibility of the owner of the sectional title unit, adds Bauer, is particularly important when it comes to exercising the right to use the common property such as gardens, parking areas and swimming baths. The owner has to see, says Bauer, that his family or his tenants behave appropriately in these areas.

Fifth, a particularly important owner responsibility, adds Bauer, is to prevent the unit being used unlawfully, i.e. for any purpose or in any way that is contrary to the intentions of the scheme’s developers and/or the prescribed Management Rules. (These intentions are often shown or implied on the sectional plan or defined in the registered rules of the scheme.) It could, for example, be wrong to run a business from a unit and it would certainly be wrong to sublet space in it on a short-term basis without the permission of the owner. It would also be wrong to allow the tenant to have more than the prescribed number of occupants (a common and very serious offence) or to use the unit for commercial entertainment.

Sixth, a rule that is often overlooked, adds Bauer, is that the Body Corporate must be notified by the owner both of changes in ownership and of mortgages relating to the unit. The owner must also ensure that the Body Corporate is given up-to-date information on the address at which he resides and can be contacted.

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