Warring Neighbours in a Sectional Title Duet

(By Graham Paddock)

The term ‘duet’ normally suggests cooperation and harmony, but in the world of sectional title, it has a less appealing connotation.

I read with interest the Independent Online news item on the problems in a duet scheme - one with only two units - in Valley View Road, Morningside, Durban, which problems resulted in Judge Sharon Marks appointing an administrator for three years.

The judge said that the body corporate was “non-existent”, had never met and that none of the statutory obligations had been attended to. But this was clearly not the reason the judge decided to take the responsibility for running the scheme away from the owners and put it in the hands of an administrator. There was no suggestion that the scheme was in financial distress, but clearly the relationship between the two owners had broken down completely. The judge is quoted as saying “The appointment of an administrator is a drastic remedy… and usually done only where there is an underlying feud between the parties.” 

One does not know the full history, but it appears from the IOL report that whatever relationship existed between the two couples who occupy the sections in this scheme, Craig and Patricia Eldridge and Shane and Jayshika Manikam, broke down completely when Shane was inconvenienced by having to manoeuvre his car around Craig’s parked car. He hooted and then got out of the car, standing nose to nose with Shane and swearing at him. Things went from bad to worse when Shane, presumably still incensed at having to drive around Craig’s inconsiderately parked car, disconnected the Eldridge’s water and electricity supplies - and they then called the police. The electricity was reconnected shortly thereafter, but not the water. A flurry of legal proceedings then ensued, with claims and counter-claims flying, but what was clear to the judge was that the Manikams had unlawfully deprived the Eldridges of water for more than three days. The court order restrained Shane from interfering with his neighbour’s water supply and appointed an administrator to run the scheme.

In duets and other sectional schemes with less than seven different owners, there is often a total disregard for the management provisions in the Sectional Titles Act, 1986. While the body corporate exists in law, in practice it is “non-existent”, or at least not operative. While, and for so long as the owners get on with each other, cooperate to insure the buildings and pay the municipal utility accounts, this often does not cause any real problems… at least until an owner wants to sell to a buyer who needs a bond and the bank requires evidence that the scheme is being properly run. 

But it makes no sense to have a situation where one disgruntled owner can unilaterally turn or switch off another’s electricity or water supply, for whatever reason. In smaller schemes there should be direct supply pre-payment arrangements, with “econometers” installed in each section so that the electricity is delivered and paid for directly by the supplier and the owner of each section. Also, to the extent possible, it is sensible to have separate water supplies, or at least separate meters on the water supplied to each section. 

I hope for the Eldridge’s and Manikam’s sake that  the court-appointed administrator will do whatever he can to ensure that this type of problem does not re-occur after he hands the body corporate back to the owners in three years time.

(Adj. Professor Graham Paddock is the author of the Sectional Title Survival Manual, the convenor of the UCT Sectional Title Scheme Management Certificate Course and the senior consultant at Paddocks, a sectional title and HOA specialist training and advisory firm.)

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