It is natural for property owners to use and develop their property to the fullest extent possible in order to increase the habitable area of their homes by extending their usable floor area.
This practice of expansion usually has little impact on neighbouring properties of traditional freestanding homes given the lower densities enjoyed by such properties. Higher density developments, like most sectional title schemes, obviously experience a higher number of disputes regarding extensions and improvements given the close proximity of these properties.
The very nature of most sectional title scheme developments is that owners live in close proximity to each other and as a result any proposed extension to a section, whether outwards or upwards, has the potential of threatening the view, natural light or privacy of the adjacent or neighbouring sections and is usually met with strong opposition by neighbours and trustees alike.
We often find in these situations that affected owners are under the impression that they have the right to refuse to grant approval to owners who have applied to carry out building works if they believe that the proposed building works will, once completed, reduce their existing views, access to direct natural light or that the new building will enable direct views onto their property.
It is important for individual owners to understand three things to avoid unnecessary disputes when dealing with such applications:
1. Firstly, the ultimate power to approve any alteration, conversion, extension, rebuilding, re-erection, repair or addition to any building vests with the local authority in terms of the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act 103 of 1977 (NBRBS Act).
What this means is that bodies corporate may choose to introduce reasonable processes and procedures to manage and administer applications for alterations and renovations in order to ensure that the proposed building works comply with the architectural standards of the development, but individual owners do not have any delegated legislative authority to unreasonably reject proposed building plans or block council-approved building works. This power sits squarely with the local authority in terms of the NBRBS Act and owners in bodies corporate need to keep this in mind at all times.
2. Secondly, our law does not recognise a natural or inherent entitlement, based on the mere fact of ownership of property, to enjoy a view, natural light or absolute privacy.
3. Owners cannot veto decisions properly taken by the body corporate.
Individual owners in a body corporate, for instance, must understand that although they may choose to vote against an application made by an owner to extend the boundaries or floor area of their section in terms of section 5(1)(h) of the of the Sectional Titles Schemes Management Act, they are powerless to stop the application if it is approved by way of special resolution of the members of the body corporate.
Although the principle of democracy applies in bodies corporate, individual owners who feel aggrieved by the body corporate’s approval of an extension application should bear in mind that the final determination to reject proposed building works lies with the local authority concerned, who will take the existing views, natural light and privacy enjoyed by neighbouring properties into consideration as part of their determination.