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Sectional Title Advice: Renovations and Alterations

There are often cases, particularly in older sectional title blocks, where units will need modernising or upgrading in some way or another.  This will usually be addressed when a unit is sold and the buyer decides to make changes to suit his own tastes and living requirements. 
 
What all sectional title owners must realise (and often don’t) is that permission for any renovation or alteration - whether to a primary section, utility room, garage or staff room - is required before any work is undertaken, says Michael Bauer, general manager of property management company IHFM.
 
When applying to the trustees of the body corporate for permission, the owner of the unit must include a motivation letter as to why the renovation is necessary, a full description of what is to be altered or renovated, how long it will take to complete, plans and architectural drawings with an engineer’s report if there are to be any structural changes, and proof of funding and building deposit for the project. The trustees will check whether the contractor has the correct insurance to cover any damage on site and they might need to change the scheme’s risk cover for the duration of the renovation or alteration project.
 
This might seem over-the-top to some but one can understand the reasons behind asking for information upfront, says Bauer.  If there is going to be a lot of noise and mess and workmen in and out of the building, this will disturb the other residents.  The trustees need as much information as possible so that they can notify other residents as well as monitor the situation and ensure that the project does not run longer than the time stated. They also need to ensure that no amendments have been made to the original alteration plan. Of importance, is that trustees need to know that the owner of the unit has the funds available and that the project will not be delayed or halted through lack of funds, leaving an unfinished and unsightly unit standing for a time, says Bauer.
 
While trustees cannot unreasonably withhold consent for any renovation or alteration (provided it has all the necessary paperwork done, such as approved plans or drawings, etc.), they are able to impose some conditions, e.g. the times that contractors are allowed to work; that they would need to clean up after themselves; or that the noise levels of workers while in public spaces need to be kept to a minimum.  If the contractors do not adhere to the conditions, the owner of the unit could be fined by the body corporate.
 
An example of an alteration’s implications is if a skylight is installed, is that unwittingly the owner has created an exclusive use area (the roof is usually common property) on the roof of the building – which he will have to take responsibility for.  All future maintenance and any damage which may result from this installation will be for his account. 
 
Once renovations are complete, all applicable plumbing, gas, electrical compliance certificates or engineer’s reports must be given to the trustees, so that they know for certain that the renovations or alterations were done according to regulations, said Bauer. 
 
If owners decide to go ahead with any renovation or alteration without getting the necessary approval first, they could face a hefty fine from their body corporate and even be compelled to return structural changes to their original state, so rather avoid the delay and unpleasantness that this might cause, advised Bauer. 


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