Sectional Title Advice: How to handle trees

When large trees in sectional title schemes become overgrown and unruly they can cause problems, not just in the owner’s garden, but the neighbours’ as well.  This can lead to tension between the two parties if things are not dealt with properly, says Michael Bauer, general manager of IHFM property management company. 
Whichever side of the boundary the tree is on, it is that owner’s responsibility to cut back branches, trim any roots causing damage and prevent any damage to the fence or wall which may be caused by the tree, he said. 
What must first be established is whether the garden is an exclusive use area or common property. 
The trustees have to establish on the sectional plans what the area is demarcated as.  It could be an exclusive use area, or part of a section or common property.  If it is common property, the body corporate should bear the cost of maintaining it. 
If it is fenced in, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it belongs to the owner of the unit, it could just be implied that he has the exclusive right to it.  The owner pays a levy for this right (Section 37 (1b) of the Sectional Title Act) and pays for the maintenance of it according to Section 44 (1) and PMR 68 and 70. 
These clauses state that the exclusive use area must be maintained by the section owner or exclusive use holder and he must only use that area for the purpose for which it was intended, i.e. he cannot turn the garden into a parking area, for instance.  The levy he pays to the body corporate is for the use of the area only, the direct maintenance costs of the garden are borne by the owner, said Bauer.
Roots and branches of trees can cause a lot of damage if left to grow uncontrollably and to avoid this situation they should be cut back every season.  If damage has already occurred, then the owner of the tree must take steps to remedy this. 
“It can all be sorted out with neighbourly understanding and communication.  Rather speak to the neighbour directly than let it grow into a situation where it becomes acrimonious,” said Bauer.  “What must be remembered is that compromise is sometimes necessary and problems should be dealt with reasonably.”   

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