Moving during lockdown: protection measures for sectional titles and estates

Residential generic

The revised Disaster Management Act directions on the movement of people from one home to another means that tenants and home-buyers can now go ahead and move into their new Sectional Title and estate homes as long as they have a lease or proof that the property has been transferred into their name* – and there are likely to be even fewer restrictions on such relocations as the country moves to Level 3 of the Covid-19 lockdown.

This is very different to the scenario during the first six weeks of the lockdown imposed to slow the spread of the virus, when many sectional titles and estate communities started practicing very tight security under which very few people were allowed in, except existing residents who were returning to their own homes and families after going out for essential work, shopping or exercise“.

“Communal facilities like pools and clubhouses were also all immediately closed, non-essential staff were sent home and generally caretakers or residents themselves volunteered to ensure that passages, lifts and other common property would be regularly sanitized,” says Andrew Schaefer, MD of property management company Trafalgar. 

Consequently, the new rules on movement are causing some consternation, as residents worry that allowing new tenants or owners to move into their complexes now without imposing any health testing or quarantine requirement could increase the risk of exposure to the virus, especially for those who are elderly or immuno-compromised for other reasons.”

However, he says, it is very important for sectional title trustees and the directors of Home-Owners’ Associations to understand that they cannot restrict or prevent these relocations: “They cannot interfere with the decision by any owner in the complex to let their property, or to sell it to a new owner.”

And as long as a new tenant or owner has the correct documentation and a signed permit to move, they cannot stop them taking occupation.”

Schaefer says that what trustees and directors can do, though, is the following:

  • Request that they be notified in advance of proposed relocations into and out of their complexes and estates. This will enable them to alert security staff and will prevent difficulties with obtaining authorized access.
  • Inform new tenants and owners that their move can only take place with the assistance of a removal company that is properly registered as an essential service provider and also has a permit for the specific relocation. For safety reasons, no additional vehicles or people such as friends or colleagues of the new tenant or owner need to be given access to the property.
  • Check that everyone taking part in the move observes all the necessary health precautions such as wearing a mask, using hand sanitizer and maintaining social distancing. The removal company will need to provide the proper protective gear for its staff and should also have a cleaning protocol for any common areas that need to be accessed during the move, such as stairs, lifts and passages. 
  • Check that any landlords or estate agents who are on site to conduct incoming or outgoing inspections with tenants who are relocating also take proper precautions in the form of masks, hand cleaner and social distancing – and that any cleaning, gardening or repair personnel required to prepare units for new occupants have the necessary permits and follow similar procedures. 
  • Inform new tenants or owners that only they and the members of their immediate households will be allowed to go in and out of the complex. No friends, other family members or domestic staff can be given access until that is allowed under the appropriate lockdown level.
  • Ensure that existing owners who wish to let an empty property or sell their homes at this time understand that for now, neither they nor their estate agents are allowed to bring prospective tenants or buyers in to physically view the property. All viewings currently still have to take place via photographs or virtual tours, although this may change under the Level 3 regulations.

*The most recent moving directions, gazetted on 14 May, apply to any home buyer who has taken transfer of their new home since the Level 5 lockdown began on 26 March as well as those who took transfer before that but were unable to move, and the members of their immediate households. They also apply to any tenant, residential or commercial, who signs a new lease, as well as anyone with an expired lease who wishes to move into shared accommodation with friends or family, anywhere within the borders of South Africa. A specific permit is currently required for each move.