Owner’s dream, but nightmare for the trustees

LANDLORDS renting out a freehold property have to be involved with the property and have to be involved with the inherent property problems, as well as their tenants’ problems, to protect their investment.

They and/or their agents have to attend to the blocked drains, electrical problems, burst geysers, pipe leaks, roof leaks, roof problems and replacement, gutter problems, painting the property when required, leaking windows, replacement or refurbishment of windows and doors, broken windows, the garden, security problems like remotes not working, gates not opening or closing, and insurance claims.

Should they receive noise complaints from the neighbours, they must warn the tenants and if they have pets when the lease clearly states no dogs or cats permitted, they have to deal with it.

Sectional title is the landlord’s dream come true. They can sit back and relax while the trustees have to deal with most of these problems – free of charge.

It is the trustees that have to get out of bed on a cold winter’s night to deal with problems in the complex, most of which are covered above and most caused by tenants.

Very few landlords attend the annual general meetings (or even send in a proxy for quorum purposes). They are oblivious to what is going on in the complex and who the trustees are that have to deal with their tenants and the body corporate problems. Many landlords do not know that the ST Act and the Rules make the owner (them) responsible for their tenants’ (and their guests’) behaviour.

The major problems occur when all or most of the owners have moved out, especially in blocks of flats, (e.g. in Central, Port Elizabeth) and there are no resident owners to be trustees. Tenants often move in without a copy of the Conduct Rules, they don’t know where to park, when to put out the garbage or who to call when the front security gate/door stops working (so it gets bashed in).

The same happens with letter boxes – the tenant leaves but does not leave the key for the letter box and the next tenant feels nothing to bash the flap in to get his mail. Tenants overcrowd the unit with friends and when this happens the water and sewerage bill increases dramatically.

I once had 34 people living in a two-bedroom unit in Central; 17 worked the day shift while the other 17 slept and then they went to work and the other 17 came back to sleep. There were more people living in the one flat than there were in the entire block of 18 flats. Water consumption increased by more than 30%! There was no furniture in the flat – just mattresses, including one in the bath!

Tenants often do not care if they scratch the walls or floors when they move in and out, they don’t report overflowing drains (they don’t know who to report it to) they install satellite dishes without permission and hang their laundry out of the window or hang it on the balconies.

Should their electricity get cut they get an extension lead and use their friend next door’s electricity (you can see these extension cords stretching from flat to flat when you drive around Central. When this happens, there is a risk of fire as they will also be using candles and gas or paraffin stoves to cook. Insurance companies may not recognise claims when this occurs, so all the owners would be held liable for the damage done by the fire.

With no resident trustees, the building soon becomes run down. Drug dealers, prostitutes and “really bad people” move in. Landlords and/or their rental agents need to ensure tenants are what they say they are, check references and inspect the units on a regular basis – I believe this is seldom done, leaving a major surprise for the owner when their tenants move out.

Les Reynard has been a managing agent for nearly 30 years. He is a member of the National Association of Managing Agents and a committee member of the Sectional Title Association of PE. E-mail him at Les@ReynardAgencies.com

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