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The right way to tackle sectional title additions and alterations

07 Aug 2019

An increasing percentage of home sales in South Africa are in sectional title schemes, and buyers of these properties need to be aware that they don’t have the same freedom with regard to additions and alterations as those who buy full title homes.

You will need to get a quote from a land surveyor for drawing up a new sectional plan of the complex - which will need to be approved by the Surveyor General - and a quote from a conveyancing attorney to register the new plan at the Deeds Office.

This is according to Andrew Schaefer, MD of national property Management Company Trafalgar, who says that the thing about sectional title schemes is that whatever one owner does is bound to have an effect on other owners - even if they just want to make changes within the walls of their own unit.

“Noise, mess, and security are all concerns for your fellow owners, even if you are just revamping a kitchen, renovating a bathroom or installing new flooring inside your unit. If electrical work or plumbing is involved, for instance, you may need to get a certificate of compliance in order not to invalidate the whole scheme’s insurance,” says Schaefer.

“And if the work is being done by a contractor, there could be a security risk with a group of non-residents and various delivery vehicles going in and out of the complex for several days, or a risk of damage to common property. This is why the Sectional Title Act stipulates that no alterations to units are permitted without the consent of the scheme’s trustees - and that they are allowed to limit the days and hours during which such work can take place, and may ask you to make special arrangements to ensure that the security of the complex is maintained.”

In addition, it is vital to ensure health and safety compliance on the part of any contractors working in the complex, so you will need to check that any contractor working on changes to your unit has the appropriate safety files, public liability insurance and any industry specific certification that may be required.

Following the correct procedure becomes even more important, Schaefer says, should you wish to extend the floor area of your section or make changes that would affect the exterior appearance of the whole scheme - and in fact, Section 24 of the Act states that you can’t do so without a special resolution of the body corporate.

However, before you even get to that, you should first consult the trustees to see if the scheme has rules regarding the materials and architectural style to be used if sections are extended, then find out what the local authority’s requirements and costs are for submitting building plans for your planned extension, he says.

Next you will need to get a quote from a land surveyor for drawing up a new sectional plan of the complex - which will need to be approved by the Surveyor General - and a quote from a conveyancing attorney to register the new plan at the Deeds Office. This will be necessary because any change to the size of your section will affect the participation quotas of the whole scheme.

Once you have all this information, Schaefer says you will be able to compile a proposal detailing your intended extension in terms of approved building plans and your agreement to carry the costs of drawing up and registering the new sectional plan, then try to secure the special resolution you will need to go ahead.

To obtain this, you can either approach all other owners in the scheme individually and get written permission from 75% of them in both number and value, or call for a general meeting and seek a vote of approval from 75% of owners or proxies present at the meeting, also in both number and value.

If you succeed, you can go ahead and get your building plans approved, build your extension and then call in the land surveyor to prepare the new draft sectional plan and get it approved by the surveyor general, says Schaefer.

One additional detail to watch out for is that if your extension has been built over an existing exclusive use area (EUA) that was registered on the previous sectional plan, that EUA will need to be cancelled and a new, smaller one ceded to you by the body corporate before the new sectional plan can be registered by the conveyancer.

“And while this may all seem unnecessarily complicated, it is really worth doing correctly, because if you don’t, your ability to sell your unit in the future may be severely hampered,” says Schaefer.

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