The red tape with remote working in sectional titles

Sectional title

Working from home has become the new normal for many. Predictions vary but it is likely that more employers will let their employees work from home when the pandemic is behind us.

Those who fall into this group may be considering home alterations or extensions to gear up for a future of remote working but if you like in a sectional title complex, this could be complicated with an arduous, sometimes expensive process that needs to be followed.

Specialist sectional title attorney and BBM Law Director, Marina Constas says that one of the advantages of home ownership is that you can ‘build on’ when needed but, in a sectional title scheme, this is not the case.

You may need a more permanent workspace in your home with the dining room table no longer sufficing. You may be thinking of building on a room or two, you may be considering a loft office in a double volume space or perhaps you have contemplated kitting out your garage as a home office and parking your car outdoors. None of this can happen in a sectional title complex without the members of the body corporate first approving the extension by special resolution” she notes adding that the Sectional Title Schemes Management Act (STSMA) sets out the process that must be followed before an owner even considers getting plans drawn up and approved by Council.

The first step when considering a home extension in a sectional title scheme is to ask the managing agent to call a special general meeting of the body corporate to propose the passing of a special resolution giving consent for the owner to extend the boundaries of their section.

The owner must go to this meeting well prepared, with all the supporting documentation needed to justify their proposed extension. This includes the architectural drawings of the proposed new section. A land surveyor should be consulted, to give an indication of how much the planned extensions will increase the owner’s section. If this is by 10% or more, the owner would also have to obtain consent from all bondholders of all the units in the complex. Before the special general meeting, I would recommend that the owner wanting to extend, should conduct a public relations exercise and discuss the extension with all his / her neighbours. In many cases, other owners object because they feel they were not consulted.”

Enclosing a patio or balcony may seem to offer a simple solution to a space problem but this is not simple in a sectional title development. “Just because you have a balcony or a patio, this does not automatically mean that you can enclose it, for a variety of reasons. The first of these reasons is a municipal zoning requirement called coverage or Floor Area Ratio (FAR) which determines what percentage of the area of the erf may be covered with habitable building. A balcony is not a ‘habitable building’ until it is enclosed”.

To determine if there is sufficient available FAR at the sectional title scheme to enclose a patio or a balcony, you would first have to consult a town planner or architect. Then, if the balcony formed part of your section, you would need the permission of the trustees as well as the building department of the local Council. However, the balcony or patio may be shown as common property on the sectional plan. Enclosing it would therefore mean extending your section and you would need to go through the same long process required for any other extension.”

A new management rule of the STSMA deals with the situation where an owner wants to enclose a registered exclusive use area balcony: “in this instance, the owner would need an ordinary resolution from the body corporate, subject to reasonable conditions prescribing the use or appearance of the structure” Constas explains.

Sectional title owners considering converting their garage into a home office and rather parking their car outside may also run into problems, she advises. “The STSMA clearly states that an owner may not use a section or exclusive use area for any other purpose than that indicated on the sectional plan. A garage just be converted into a living space or a home office. In one recent instance, an owner who wanted to convert her garage into a hair salon ran into problems. Firstly, it was concluded that parking her car outside would impact other owners as there were already limited public parking spaces. Secondly, she was seeking to change the section from its purpose – which was for parking a vehicle”.

Alterations in sectional title are not impossible, but they are not easily undertaken, and owners should arm themselves with the facts before proceeding,” Constas concludes.