HOW BINDING ARE BODY CORPORATE FINES?

In an estate or sectional title scheme, it is challenging to ensure that everyone will stick to the conduct rules and to aid this, body corporates often fine the chancers. How far can the body corporates stretch their fining, and are these fines binding?

Each body corporate may choose what to impose formally in their code of conduct unless a rule is already part of the conduct rules in terms of the Sectional Titles Act. This is the only way the fines can be binding as enforceable, and they have to be reasonable and fair.

When fines are imposed, they cannot favour or benefit certain residents while leaving others out of mind. Substantially, they must serve the same purpose. The notification of a fine must be received by the owner or resident through writing. There is a correct way in which fines may be imposed:

  1. Complainants to lodge complaint

This must be lodged in writing or through an incident report to the trustees or the estate’s managing agent.

  1. Notice of particulars of the complaint

The owner and the tenant, or the resident, must be given a notice of the particulars contained in the complained as well as reasonable time to respond to the complaint. The resident/tenant must also be given enough information regarding the incident, including the rules that they may have broken.

  1. Second notice

Should the owner or resident not heed the first notice, a second notice may be issued mentioning the contravention is continuous or has been repeated. The transgressor must then be invited to a trustee meeting where they will be given a platform to present their case or defend themselves.

  1. The hearing before the fine

Before a fine is imposed, a hearing must have taken place. In the meeting, witnesses may be called to testify in favour of the transgressor and the transgressor may state their side of the story. Those who laid the complaint may also be cross-examined.

  1. Discussing evidence

Once the hearing is over, the trustees may then review the evidence presented to them and make a decision on whether or not to impose the fine.

If a fine is imposed, the amount should be reasonable, substantial and be proportionate to the purpose of the penalty.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

CAN TRUSTEES BAN YOUR PET IN A SECTIONAL TITLE SCHEME?

Problems around the ownership of pets are common amongst owners of sectional title properties, but while laws may be imposed by the trustees of the homeowners’ associations, the requirement for a reasonable approach is entrenched in the very laws which govern how a sectional title scheme should be managed.

Where the trustees have reasonably, after following due process and considering all relevant factors, withdrawn their consent to keep a pet, the owner concerned is then not entitled to continue keeping that pet in the scheme.

This is according to the Prescribed conduct rule 1 in Annexure 9 of the Sectional Titles Regulations which deals with the keeping of pets, including reptiles or birds.

It states:

“1. (1) An owner or occupier of a section shall not, without the consent in writing of the trustees, which approval may not unreasonably be withheld, keep any animal, reptile or bird in a section or on the common property.

(2) When granting such approval, the trustees may prescribe any reasonable condition.”

The phrases, “may not unreasonably” and “may prescribe any reasonable”, clearly seek to assist in the creation of harmony amongst a community living side by side in a sectional title development.

These regulations exist to protect the pet owner from unreasonably strict rules, and equally, they must confer on the other owners the right to a nuisance-free and peaceful environment. This means that both parties need to consider each other’s needs.

This consideration, in granting or refusing consent, will be central to inquiry: will it unreasonably interfere with other’s rights to use and enjoy their units; and which conditions would be appropriate in these circumstances to ensure that the risk of nuisance is reduced to a reasonable level?

For this reason, owners or occupiers can only keep pets in a section or on any part of the common property with the written consent of the trustees. However, the trustees cannot unreasonably withhold that permission. An absolute prohibition to keep a pet could be considered unreasonable and if consent to keep a pet is unreasonably withheld, the owner can take the matter to court.

The trustees must furthermore, base their decision on the facts and circumstances of the particular case. The decision to either grant or refuse consent should be recorded in the minutes of the trustee’s meeting, giving reasons that illustrate they have applied their minds to the particular set of facts.

An example of a court case which arose from a dispute regarding permission to keep a pet in a sectional title development was Body Corporate of The Laguna Ridge Scheme No 152/1987 v Dorse 1999 (2) SA 512 (D), in which it was held that the trustees are obliged to individually consider each request for permission to keep a pet, and to base their decision on the facts and circumstances of each particular case.

A further extract from this case pointed out that trustees are not entitled to refuse an application on the basis that they are afraid of creating a precedent. The trustees were, in this case, found to have been grossly unreasonable and have failed to apply their minds when they refused the Applicant permission to keep a small dog.

The question of the reasonableness of the actions of the trustees, in granting or withholding permission and setting conditions, will turn on the nature of the pet concerned and the circumstances of the scheme. In dealing with any application for permission to keep a pet, the trustees should consider what type of pet it is, and whether there are already other similar pets at the scheme.

It is unlikely that any action by the trustees to remove a ‘companion animal’ or ‘service animal’, such as a guide dog owned by a blind or partially sighted owner, would be held to be reasonable in the absence of a clear nuisance caused by the animal. The fact that a person sometimes forms an extremely strong emotional tie with their pet could also be an important consideration when the trustees decide whether or not to grant permission.

The trustees are not, however, powerless in situations where the conditions of permission to keep a pet are not being met. The trustees can withdraw permission if it is reasonable to do so. Examples include if the pet is causing a nuisance to other owners or occupiers (e.g. barking persistently), or the pet is considered dangerous to other owners or occupiers.

Where the trustees have reasonably, after following due process, withdrawn their consent to keep a pet, the owner concerned is then not entitled to continue keeping that pet in the scheme. However, the enforcement of this could be tricky for the trustees. The body corporate is not entitled to forcibly remove a pet from an owner’s possession. This can only be achieved by a court order, if – for example – there are too many dogs being kept in an inadequate space, the trustees can get the assistance from the local SPCA who can be contacted to come to the scheme to do an inspection in loco. If it is justified, they will implement the necessary legal steps to have the dogs removed.

Careful consideration and the application of the principles as set out in the rules of the scheme and the above-mentioned regulations will lead not only to peaceful co-existence, but also healthy growth in property values for the developments implementing such approach. A harmonious board of trustees results in a happy community, which in turn will ensure a good name for any development.

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This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)