Freedom Day: Power to the people

2012-04-28 15:38

Residents of complexes along Johannesburg’s western edge argue about cats, children and noise – not race. Not with each other, at least.

Boxed-living requires rules and those who buy into town house developments leave their freedom at the gate.

They then willingly subject themselves to the regimes of body corporates that command the sort of obedience city authorities only dream of.

Riaan Ferreira, managing agent of five complexes in the area, which house about 2 000 people, has read the Sectional Title Act so often that he speaks legal English.

Why do most of his residents willingly fork out hundreds of rands in levies each month and keep their noise levels down after 10pm?

“Because everyone has to think about maintaining their investment,” is Ferreira’s reply. “Everyone is equal and everyone needs to ensure that (the complex) is maintained.”

The Sectional Title Act contains a basic set of rules for each new complex; rules forbidding residents from parking cars that leak oil, littering on common property and making excessive noise. And then they are amended.

To add new regulations, 75% of owners within a complex have to attend a meeting where three-quarters of them have to approve a rule for it to be passed. Some amendments are draconian, to say the least.

“I have a complex where no children are allowed. So no kids are allowed, because that’s what they decided.

Seventy-five percent said they were implementing the rule and no objections were received,” says Ferreira.

“So if you fall pregnant, you rent out your place. Alternatively, you sell your place. Children are, however, allowed to visit the complex – but even visiting comes with rules,” says Ferreira.

“Kids may be there – specifically grandkids – from Friday after 2pm until Sunday 6pm.”

Interestingly, because of this rule, property prices rocketed in the complex situated on Emily Hobhouse Street. And it continues to outperform surrounding developments.

Cats, too, are little creatures that cause big problems, he says.

“We recently had a case in which cats caused R68 000 in paint damage to a car. Two cats had a fight on a BMW’s roof and from the roof they went to the bonnet and continued the fight there.”

The car owner’s insurance company claimed from the body corporate’s insurance and the cat’s owner – the one who could be identified thanks to Ferreira’s pet register – was made to pay the excess.

In sectional title developments, owners literally own the air inside their units and half a brick on either side, as well as an indivisible portion of the common property.

“Some people think that if you put a huge cross – because that’s your religion – on your outside wall to show people that that’s what you believe in, it affects the exterior of the property and needs approval. We’ve had lots, lots of that,” said Ferreira.

And, of course, there are the tenants, with tenuous emotional ties to the complex, who Ferreira says “are 90% of the time the ones who make loud noise, the ones who spin their tyres in complexes, and the ones with four cats and three dogs”.

“I must say, I’m quite impressed with the way that all the races get along in complex life. It’s not an easy thing because everyone’s perception of communal living differs. We’ve never had a racial battle, as such.”

But it is the issue of noise that creates the potential for racial spats.

Ferreira had a recent case in which a noise complaint was laid by a white owner on the third floor of a complex about a black owner on the ground floor.

He resolved it by asking the two to swap places and experience the other’s position, and says there hasn’t been a problem since.

But whatever racism there is is seldom directed at the neighbours themselves.

“We had two parties at once at the same complex that went on till 5am – two housewarmings in one night.

And people were phoning us up in the middle of the night and saying, ‘If I wanted a house next to a shebeen, I would have bought one and I didn’t spend more than R1.2 million for this!’”

Evidence at last of a bit of South African reality.

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