Are trustees allowed to cut electricity supply?

In many sectional title schemes there is an ongoing problem of short payment or non-payment of levies, and it sometimes happens that the trustees decide to take matters into their own hands by disconnecting the electricity supply to the unit inhabited by the non-payer.

This, however, is illegal if they have done so without a court order authorising this, says Michael Bauer, general manager of the property management company IHFM.

In South Africa, legislation is clear in that shutting off services such as electricity without a statutory right to do so is an offence.

The supply of electricity is governed by the Electricity Regulation Act 4 of 2006 and section 22 deals with the powers of the licensee. Only the holder of the license which is granted by the Regulator is allowed to disconnect the electricity supply to a unit - and this must be for non-payment of the electricity, not for any other outstanding amounts, said Bauer.

Only bulk suppliers of electricity such as Eskom or a subsidiary such as City Power or the local suppliers can disconnect the electricity supply after notice is given to the resident but because bodies corporate or trustees are not the licensee or the distributor, they cannot cut the supply to any section.

Trustees have to deal with the non-payment of levies as provided in the Sectional Titles Act, which in sections 37 (2) and (2A), states that the body corporate can deal with the non-paying owner in the magistrates or High Court.

Bodies corporate do, however, sometimes take the law into their own hands by cutting off the electricity supply because they see this an effective and quick way of dealing with the situation, said Bauer, and in most cases get away with it because the owner will most likely not have the financial means to take them to court.

The recourse owners will have in future if they find themselves situations such as these will be to go to the Community Schemes Ombud, who will be able to assist those who do not have lawyers and cannot afford expensive court fees.

"The key is, however, for owners to pay their levies in full, which would alleviate the stress trustees have to go through in managing and juggling funds when they do not receive payments. Withholding levy payments puts the scheme in a precarious financial position and trustees often have the arduous task of sorting out collections of funds way after they are due," said Bauer.

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