As South Africans we must all comply with the relevant Disaster Management Regulations (“Regulations”) to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus. This includes sectional title schemes, which as small communities, must also comply with these Regulations.
In general, sectional titles have quickly acclimatized and implemented the necessary precautionary measures at their schemes with signage, access control etc. What is more difficult to address is how body corporates should continue their functions in the light of social distancing, how sectional title communities should use common property, and even how body corporates should deal with owners that cannot pay levies due to salary cuts.
To answer these questions, one must look at the Community Schemes Ombud Service (CSOS) and their latest issued directive called the Covid-19 Directive, published on 27 March 2020 read together with amendments to the Directive published on 21 April 2020. In these Directives, the following guidance is given to how sectional title schemes should deal with some of these issues during the covid pandemic:
In relation to meetings to be held by the scheme, the Practice Management Rules of the Sectional Title Schemes Management Act provides that meetings may be held via telephone or other electronic communication platforms such as Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and so forth. Voting may also take place via round robin. The Directives confirm that this is acceptable and that meetings should be conducted in this manner and not in person, taking into account accessibility of participants and the ability of the chair to identify each participant.
In relation to the use of the common property, which includes areas such as common driveways or essential areas such as laundry rooms and refuse removal areas. The Directives advise that these areas may only be used as far as it is necessary and/or essential. The Directives also require that the Trustees of the scheme create a list of essential common property areas in the scheme with which residents will have to comply, including adhering to the Disaster Management Regulations such as that residents and workers must wear masks, sanitize frequently used surfaces and that a safe distance is kept at all times when the common property is used.
The Directives further state that the Trustees may implement any other measures that they deem fit to make sure that residents comply with the Regulations and that it is not necessary for the CSOS to approve these measures as far as they relate to the Regulations and are fair and of general application to all residents and do not prejudice to any person in the scheme.
A complex aspect relates to the finances of the scheme and the payment of levies taking into account the impact of the pandemic on the economy and by implication also the finances of the scheme, is the ability of many owners to pay their levies due to loss of work, salary cuts etc. What remains vital is for owners to pay their monthly levies as a failure to do so will impact on the ability of the body corporate to attend to its obligations such as paying the insurance of the buildings, paying utility bills (where applicable), paying staff or contractors, paying for maintenance etc. This principle does not preclude the body corporate from taking measures to lighten the burden for owners during this time. The body corporate may for example by way of a resolution by its Trustees decide to waive or reduce interest on arrear-levies during the lock down time. The Trustees could also resolve not to take legal action against an owner until for instance the lockdown is lifted. Such concessions can be limited to owners who have been up to date with their levies prior to the lockdown but fell in arrears during the lockdown.
If there are other aspects that you are still unsure about in respect of your sectional title scheme, it may be prudent to contact your local property advisor and discuss options and guidance on how to deal with each aspect.