Written for Property Poser

The Property Poser panel has received a query from a concerned reader about a dilapidated building in the vicinity of the block of maisonettes in which she lives.

The reader explains that this run-down building looks similar to the one in which she lives but whereas hers is a sectional title complex, the neighbouring one seems to belong to a single owner who rents out the units.

The problem is that the building in question is in a shocking state of disrepair and in desperate need of paint and structural work.

She complains that the state of this building detracts from and decreases the value of the units in her complex.

The reader has made several enquiries to attempt to establish the identity of the mystery owner but the owner’s rental agent refuses to divulge any details or spend money on maintenance.

She has even contacted her local councillor in an attempt to find the owner so that correspondence may be addressed to him or her to tidy up the building.

According to Susan Chapman from Rawson Properties Port Elizabeth Platinum, the structure of a maisonette block means that the building in question is not just a single unit but rather one building divided up into a number of units.

“From the reader’s question it would seem that the offending building is not a sectional title complex like hers, but that it belongs to a single owner who simply rents out all the maisonettes.

“If the dilapidated block were also a sectional title development, the body corporate would be responsible for its upkeep.”

The first step in contacting the owner would obviously be to track down his or her address, says Chapman.

“Although the reader has made various attempts to establish the owner’s identity, she has overlooked the option of a deeds search.”

Chapman says when ownership of property is registered, the deeds office oversees and records all such transactions.

“The information and records of transfer are available electronically and a searchable database can be accessed.”

The database can be searched in a number of ways, says Chapman.

“One of these is to search by means of the property description to come up with the other relevant details. Unfortunately, the deeds office records will not reflect the contact details of the owner, only his name and identification number as well as the property details.”

Something else for the reader to consider is to make use of the by-laws applicable within the municipal region, says Stiaan Jonker of Smith Tabata Attorneys in PE.

“These or similar by-laws are not necessarily applicable in all municipal areas so readers with similar issues may wish to establish their respective legal positions.”

Jonker says the particular by-law to consider is the one relating to problem buildings.

“The relevant municipal official has appropriate powers of access and is able to determine the status of the building.”

If the building concerned is determined to be a “problem building”, the official can serve a compliance notice requiring certain steps to be taken to remedy the state of disrepair, says Jonker.

“Should the owner fail to remedy the state of the building, the municipality has the authority to repair, all for the cost of the owner.”

Jonker says in the current instance the identity and/or whereabouts of the owner is in question.

“However, the definition of ‘owner’ under the relevant by-law permits the agent to be regarded as such for the purpose of taking steps under that by-law.”

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