Challenges of remote working in a sectional title complex
MAIN IMAGE: Marina Constas, specialist sectional title attorney and director with BBM Law
One of the advantages of home ownership is that you can make home alterations or extensions when you need to, but a more arduous process is involved in a sectional title complex.
The indications are that the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the growth of the remote working trend. Most people who work from home, prefer to have a dedicated office space and for this reason may consider making some home alterations or extensions.
However, if you live in a sectional title complex, this can be complicated, with an arduous, sometimes expensive, process to be followed. Truth is home ownership in a sectional title scheme does not mean that you can just ‘build-on’ when you need to, you will most likely need to have any planned alterations approved first.
Need approval from body corporate
Homeowners who have decided to make their home their more permanent workspace, may be thinking of building on a room or two. Or they may be considering a loft office in a double volume space, building a home office into the roof; or to enclose the balcony or patio. Another alternative could be kitting out the garage as a home office and parking the car outdoors.
Unfortunately, none of this can happen in a sectional title complex without the members of the body corporate first approving the extension by special resolution. The Sectional Title Schemes Management Act sets out the process that must be followed before an owner even considers getting plans drawn up and approved by Council.
Steps to follow
The first step when considering home extensions 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 architectural drawings of the proposed new section. A land surveyor should also 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 the 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 neighbours. In many cases, other owners object just because they feel they were not consulted.
Enclosing a patio or balcony
Enclosing a patio or balcony may seem to offer a simple solution to space problems in the new remote working world. It is not simple in a sectional title development, 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 balcony, they would first have to consult a town planner or architect. Then, if the balcony formed part of their section, they 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 their section, and they would need to go through the same long process required for any other extension.
A new management rule of the Sectional Titles Schemes Management Act 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.
Converting the garage
Sectional title owners considering converting their garage into a home office and rather parking their car outside may also run into problems. The Sectional Titles Schemes Management 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 cannot 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.
About the author: Marina Constas is a specialist sectional title attorney and a director at BBM Law. She is also the co-author of the best-selling book, ‘Demystifying Sectional Title’.