Can Sectional Owners install Solar Panels at their Unit in a Sectional Title Scheme?

In response to severe power cuts in South Africa, sectional owners are exploring alternative and renewable power solutions to mitigate the impact of loadshedding, prompting questions about the legalities and requirements for installing solar panels at sectional units.

The Sectional Titles Schemes Management Act 8 of 2011 (the Act) accompanied by the Sectional Title Schemes Management Regulations (the Regulations) published on 7 October 2016, regulate the legalities around the powers, rights, responsibilities and obligations of the body corporate of a sectional title scheme, and will provide clarity as to how the common property of a specific sectional title scheme can be dealt with and utilised.

As an owner of a unit in a sectional title scheme you automatically become a member of the body corporate of that scheme, and one further also becomes an owner of an undivided share in the common property of that scheme, such as for example the driveways, swimming pool, staircases, elevators, and roofs.   

The body corporate, as the owners of a sectional title scheme, elect the trustees of the sectional title scheme, this usually takes place once every year at the annual general meeting of the body corporate.  The trustees have a fiduciary duty towards the body corporate and stand in a position of trust, as they are elected to attend to the management of the affairs of the sectional title scheme for and on behalf of the body corporate, as owners of the sectional title scheme. 

Prescribed Conduct Rule 5(1) as contained in the Regulations provides that an owner or an occupier of a unit cannot without the trustees’ consent in writing, make any changes to the external appearance of their unit or of any exclusive use area that has been assigned to that unit, unless such change is of a minor nature and such change would not diminish the appearance of the unit or of the common property. 

Consequently, should an owner of a sectional unit wish to erect solar panels upon the roof of their unit, they would be doing so upon the common property of the sectional title scheme. Prescribed Management Rule 29(1) and (2) states that in the event where a non-reasonably necessary (luxurious) improvement is intended to be made to the common property that a unanimous resolution of the body corporate would be required, and where a reasonably necessary improvement is intended to be made to the common property that only a special resolution of the body corporate will be required.  Section 1 of the Act defines a unanimous resolution as a resolution that can only be passed unanimously by at least 80% of the members of the body corporate, and a special resolution as a resolution that can be passed by only 75% of the votes of the body corporate. 

Whether an improvement would be seen as a luxurious or reasonably necessary improvement can depend on various subjective factors, such as, for example, the location of the scheme, the market value of the units of the scheme, as well as the particular needs of the body corporate. It can be strongly argued that installing solar panels on the roof of a sectional title unit will be a reasonably necessary improvement to the common property, as it is one of the few viable renewable and alternative energy solutions to the current electricity crisis South Africans face on a daily basis, with loadshedding lasting for hours every day.

It is further important to note that Section 14(1) of the Act indicates that an owner may obtain insurance in respect of any damage to their section which can arise from certain risks which may not be covered by the insurance policy of the body corporate.  Sectional owners must therefore accordingly ensure that should they wish to install solar panels on the roof of their unit, that they also obtain the appropriate insurance for such solar panels, as it can be quite an expensive product to purchase and maintain.

In conclusion, the discussed above provide a clear path for installing solar panels in your sectional title unit. However, it is imperative for sectional owners to diligently adhere to the required procedures and obtain approval from the body corporate before proceeding with such installations. By doing so, homeowners can confidently embrace sustainable energy solutions while maintaining the integrity of the sectional title community.

Disclaimer: This article is the personal opinion/view of the author(s) and is not necessarily that of the firm. The content is provided for information only and should not be seen as an exact or complete exposition of the law. Accordingly, no reliance should be placed on the content for any reason whatsoever and no action should be taken on the basis thereof unless its application and accuracy has been confirmed by a legal advisor. The firm and author(s) cannot be held liable for any prejudice or damage resulting from action taken on the basis of this content without further written confirmation by the author(s). 

November 21, 2023
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