Battle at apartment block

In what has proved to be something of a “storm in a corridor”, a well-known orthopaedic surgeon and his pharmacist penthouse neighbour have gone head-tohead with the trustees of an upmarket Port Elizabeth apartment block.

The row revolves around a controversial glass weather enclosure that has been constructed outside one of their units because they deem the unenclosed passageway to be dangerous in bad weather.

The surgeon, Dr Hendrik de Jonge, is chairman of the board of trustees of Echo Edge, off Park Lane – the same body he and his neighbour, Werhner Buys, are fighting with over the construction of the glass barrier outside one of De Jonge’s apartments.

De Jonge allegedly had the barrier installed without permission from the trustees and has been barred from completing it. Buys is determined that the enclosure stays as his elderly mother occupies one of the units.

In a letter to the trustees, Buys said a health and safety report recommended that the open balconies be closed by aluminium windows and that concerned residents should be allowed to close their passages. Citing the safety-related report, he said they would be held responsible for any injury stemming from failure to comply with the recommendations.

A tense standoff has since transpired between the two medical men and the other trustees. Caught in the middle are the managing agents for the exclusive apartments, Bellbuoy.

Since De Jonge was instructed to stop all further work on the barrier, Buys – who is not a trustee – penned a letter threatening the four trustees who did not side with his neighbour and medical colleague.

Among the threats Buys made was: “I will pursue grounds to have you removed from your office of trust. I will leave you to investigate on your own time and at your own expense what the implications are of being removed from an office of trust, with special reference to work promotions in the future, especially pertaining to the younger trustees.”

In the letter, Buys also said: “I do, however, have to remind you that I will exhaust all avenues, even if it means going to high court and seeking an order. It is now up to the opposing trustees to decide to what extent you wish to expend the scarce financial resources of the body corporate by investing it in jurisprudence rather than using it for much needed infrastructure development such as the allocation of extra parking space.

“After all, the windows on the second floor will cost you nothing and you do have a fiduciary responsibility to look after the funds of the body corporate. Do not waste it on legal battles, legal battles for which Dr De Jonge and I are well prepared.”

The letter from Buys to the trustees was followed up with a letter from his attorneys, lawyers McWilliams and Elliot, in which they state: “It is our instructions to inform you that, you as trustees are failing in your duties towards owners and occupants at Echo Edge. Your decision to ignore the content of the health and safety report constitutes gross negligence.”

The trustees have called a special general meeting on Monday in a bid to resolve the issue. All trustees and owners are expected to vote on whether the enclosure should go or stay.

Trustee Ray Holmes said according to the Sectional Titles Act, the barrier had been erected illegally. “No trustee or owner can make any changes without the necessary consent,” he said.

He said the building was regularly checked for insurance purposes and it had passed all the necessary safety criteria.

Another trustee, Matthew Keely, confirmed that De Jonge had been instructed to stop all work on the enclosure. He said the balustrading had been removed and the enclosure was now not fully complete and there was no longer “a sense of uniformity” with the other units.

“If any owner goes about erecting anything on common property what follows is due process. They had no right to do what was done and as an owner they must abide by the rules,” Keely said.

He declined to comment on the health and safety report, saying it had not been commissioned by the trustees.

“When we hold the meeting we will abide with whatever the majority decides.”

Another trustee, Ashley Millar, said: “This whole situation is very unfortunate and this stalemate boils down to a difference in opinion.

“As trustees we have done our work in ensuring that the building is safe. No one would have been allowed to take occupation if it was not safe. We have double checked with our insurers and there are no issues at all.”

He said the letters from Buys had taken him by surprise.

“You know, as trustee you take on this responsibility and it places so many extra demands on you,” he said.

Bellbuoy confirmed receiving the attorneys letter from Buys.

“We cannot comment on the report as we are not health and safety experts but confirm having forwarded same to the insurer who confirmed that the [health and safety] report is only a recommendation and it is not a stipulated requirement by the municipality or even a SANS [South African National Standard] requirement.”

Attempts to obtain comment from Buys and De Jonge were unsuccessful.

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