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Need-to-know before renovating ST unit

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13 Apr 2012

Sectional title owners have to abide by conduct rules if they wish to do alterations or renovations to their units.

Any renovation taken without the trustees’ approval, says Bauer, is likely to be a breach of the scheme’s conduct rules.

Often, says Michael Bauer, general manager of the property management company, IHFM, problems arise when an owner (often a new owner) of a sectional title unit plans to renovate his newly acquired property. 

Bauer says this is not permitted without the prior consent of the trustees of the body corporate and the local municipality, especially if the improvement involves structural changes, an extension or an alteration to the external look of the building, or any major building work. 

If electrical work is involved a qualified electrician’s compliance certificate has to be obtained – and the same is necessary if plumbing work is called for: a plumber’s compliance certificate has to be issued on completion of the work. 

“These requirements are often overlooked, especially by those doing kitchen and bathroom renovations,” he says.

Any renovation taken without the trustees’ approval, says Bauer, is likely to be a breach of the scheme’s conduct rules. 

These are usually filed with the Deeds Office and should be an addendum to the Deed of Sale. They vary from scheme to scheme, but owners should make a point of checking them out, not only before applying for permission to alter their unit, but before they sign a purchase agreement. 

The problems caused most commonly by alterations and renovations in sectional title schemes, he says relate to material deliveries and the associated increased risk of theft, noise, dirt and rubble piles. Combined, these can cause severe disruption to body corporate members’ lives. 

“Typically in the worst cases a go-getting, often young, new owner will take transfer of a unit and two or three days later start a major makeover – without the trustees’ consent.  

“This can mean bringing in noisy jackhammers, grinders and floor sanders.  It can also mean having to cart tons of rubble from the unit to the ground floor – in all probability using the lifts.  If the plumbing is to be revamped cutting off the entire scheme’s water supply for a few hours may be necessary.”  

On top of all this, Bauer says the members will find that they have been “invaded” by a group of strangers (the contractor’s staff) who are completely anonymous and may, for all they know, be light-fingered when it comes to other people’s possessions.

He says matters can get even more serious if and when the changes cause damage to the structure, common property, and to neighbouring units e.g. by a support wall being removed.  

“If the owner has gone ahead without the trustees’ consent and possibly without his contractor having the obligatory contractor’s risk insurance, he will be in very serious trouble.”

The correct procedure, Bauer says is first to apply for the body corporate’s permission (submitting plans of the work to be done), then to get their approval of the contractor (and his insurance policy), then to register every one of his employees, preferably with a photograph, and finally to insist that a substantial deposit is paid to cover any damages (this can be a fixed amount or 5-15% of the contract value).  

It has to be remembered, too, that delivery vehicles are also a hazard and can cause damage to common property – and should be covered by the insurance policy. 

It is also important, Bauer says to get photographs of all areas to be worked on before work begins and on completion. These will be excellent evidence if and when an insurance claim arises or the contractor over-claims.  

The trustees, he says have the right to stipulate what hours the contractors will work – and to ban any evening, early morning or weekend work. They can also ban the use of the scheme’s common property for vehicle parking or rubble collection. 

“Sectional title members have to be aware at all times that what might suit them does not always suit other members – and these matters are governed by the conduct rules, which no member can ignore.”

If those conduct rules do not provide for a strict process, then the trustees should amend the conduct rules as soon as possible to cover the body corporate and the owners responsibilities during this process. 

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