Advice and Opinion

Who's responsible for winter weather related damages to sectional title property: the body corporate or the owner?

Severe winter weather conditions, including flash floods, rain, wind, hail and snow can cause havoc to property, often resulting in damages amounting to hundreds of thousands of Rands.

This is according to Carl Smit, Managing Director of Sandak-Lewin Property Trust, who says that in March 2014 South Africa experienced a 402% year-on-year increase in insurance claims due to storm-related damage to property, as well as R2 billion in claims as a result of a single hail storm.

He says that while the South African Weather Service can usually predict a large storm about two days before it hits, this is not often enough time to prepare, and as such property owners and body corporates should take various measures to minimise the damage to property which can be caused by bad weather conditions.

Smit says that such measures can include ensuring that insurance cover and risk management policies are in place. Further he says that it is important to know who is responsible for repairs and maintenance to sectional title property in the event of weather damage – the body corporate or the property owners. “Damage to property caused by the weather can cause major disputes between home owners and body corporates. It is therefore pertinent that the boundaries of owner property and common property are defined, as this will ascertain who is responsible for repairs in the event of weather damage where insurance does not pay out, as well as for on-going maintenance. For example, if the damaged area falls part of the common property, the body corporate will be responsible for repairs and on-going maintenance of the building.”

He says that the responsibility will usually depend on whether the sectional title property is a freestanding unit or a block of flats and/or townhouse. Usually, if the unit is freestanding, then it is the owner’s responsibility to maintain and repair the property that is not identified as common property. If the unit is part of a block of flats/townhouse, it will probably be the responsibility of the body corporate. Depending on the contract agreed upon, facets such as windows and doors which belong to the unit and are not declared as common property upfront, and will be the owner’s responsibility.

Smit says that body corporates and property owners can claim from insurance for unforeseeable events such as fires, lightning strikes, explosions, wind, hail, storms, snow, floods or sudden water damage. He says that claims can also be submitted for water leakage due to heavy rains or water ingress through windows or the ceiling, floors or carpets and in some cases even electrical fittings.

“Weather damages cannot be claimed in relation to wear and tear and lack of maintenance as the damage will not have been caused by an unforeseen event. These can include damages caused by water penetration due to lack of waterproofing, rain damage and damage to the property owner’s contents because of a storm, fire, etc. These costs would then fall part of the owner’s account.”

”Regular maintenance should include routine checks for leakages, gutter and roof repairs prior to the start of the rainy season each year. Preventative maintenance tasks may include cutting away tree branches from the property and electrical areas, hiring a professional to check the roof for previous water damage or loose tiles, as well as confirming that doors and windows are properly fitted and waterproofed,” he concludes.