It’s amazing how many prospective buyers will visit the flat they have their eye on two or three times, but never take a cursory look at the rest of the property.
The body corporate must foot the bill for all expenses associated with the common property, except for those areas of the common property where owners have been granted exclusive-use rights.
The fact that you never use a facility is irrelevant; if it’s on the common property, you – along with all the other owners – are liable for its maintenance and repair, in proportion to your participation quota (or other formula).
Some developments were built when labour, water and electricity were relatively cheap, and before multiple kitchen appliances, satellite dishes, and access-control and security systems became commonplace. The impact on levies of hefty increases in the price of utilities and the cost of maintaining high-tech equipment was not a consideration. When live-in domestic workers were the norm, many developments were built with domestics’ quarters and bathrooms on the common property.
If you are a serious buyer, you should ask to be shown around the entire property. Use this opportunity to take note of the facilities and the overall condition of the common property. If you have already obtained a copy of the sectional plan, you will be able to ask informed questions about the ownership status of garages, storerooms and “private” gardens. Even one lift will add substantially to a body corporate’s electricity bill, while you may be shocked to find out how much it costs to maintain that “lovely” landscaped garden. Incidentally, it can cost between R500 000 and R700 000 to replace a lift in a low-rise block – and where do you think the money to pay for this will come from?
Many sectional title owners have been able to limit their liability for utility costs, because the body corporate decided to install pre-paid electricity meters and, in some cases, pre-paid water meters. If pre-paid meters are not in evidence, do not simply assume that the property will have meters to measure the electricity or water consumed in each section. In the absence of meters, or a formula set out in the rules, your share of the costs of utilities will be determined by your participation quota, not your consumption.
A common problem in sectional title schemes, particularly blocks of flats, is water-related damage, often a result of leaking windows or damaged waterproofing on the roof. Look for blistered and flaking paint on the walls next to windows or on the ceilings of a top-floor apartment; mould on blinds, or stains on the back of curtains are also tell-tale signs of water ingress. An area of a wall or ceiling that has been newly painted may mean that an owner is trying to hide water damage. If it is apparent that the original window-frames have been replaced, you should ask the seller or estate agent if the building has problems with water ingress, because, unfortunately, in many cases in the past, bodies corporate accepted the lowest quote from contractors who did not know how properly to seal the gaps between the new frames and the walls.
The liability for doors and windows that straddle the median line between a section and the common property must be apportioned 50-50 between the owner of the section and the body corporate. Not every body corporate has grasped this principle, and the liability (as well as responsibility) for repairing or replacing windows may have been apportioned in an inconsistent, ad hoc manner. You should ask the seller or estate agent how the body corporate of the scheme in which you want to buy deals with the issue.
One way to find out if a scheme has persistent maintenance and repair problems is to obtain a copy of the trustees’ annual report. This report is one of the documents that must be sent to all members of the body corporate before the AGM. The law does not specify the level of disclosure required in these reports, but it is highly likely that they will reveal if a scheme has ongoing major repair problems, or if it is likely that a significant amount of money will have to be spent on maintenance in the near future. A lot can change in a sectional title scheme during a year, so you should also ask for copies of the minutes of at least the two most recent trustees’ meetings.
Another tricky issue is plumbing. Many people wrongly assume that, because the pipes and hot-water cylinders form part of the original permanent fixtures, the body corporate is automatically responsible for their repair and upkeep. In fact, unless the scheme’s management rules have been amended to the contrary, owners must repair or replace the hot-water cylinder that serves their section, even if the cylinder is located on the common property. An owner is responsible and liable for the pipes, ducts and cables that are within his or her section, unless those installations also serve other sections and/or the common property, in which case it is a body corporate problem and expense.
If damp appears, the standard procedure is for the trustees to call in a leak-detection company. The source of the leak – in a section or on the common property – will determine who is responsible and liable for the repairs, and whether a claim can be made against the body corporate’s insurance policy for resultant damage. If the leak emanates from another section, this is a matter for the owners of the affected sections; the trustees are not obliged to get involved.
Source – https://www.iol.co.za/personal-finance/sectional-title-all-the-ins-and-outs-1858044