A sectional title complex on the South Coast was faced with a serious problem relating to fire protection during power outages.
The owners of the estate who had purchased units in the estate were not aware of this fact until a new couple purchased a unit and noticed the problem.
Upon bringing the issue to light, that couple then issued a complaint to the chairperson and stated that there was no fire protection equipment in the complex.
This complaint went unanswered and so the owners who spotted the issue resorted to contacting the insurers about the matter. Fire inspectors were sent by the municipality to conduct inspections throughout the estate.
Eventually the chairperson sent out a letter to all the owners which said that they had to have a battery-operated smoke detector and a 4.5kg DCP fire extinguisher for interim protection.
This would be a requirement for all the owners and the total cost would be R467 per unit including installation.
The owners were not given a say about which company would be used. Added to this, two fire hydrants had to be installed which in total would cost R47, 000. The interim protection was needed as the installation would take two or three months.
To add further stress to the owners, a 30 days notice was given by the insurance company stating that the complex would not be insured if the above was not complied with.
This raises a few questions such as: Why did the developer not put in fire hydrants? Why did the municipality approve plans that did not include hydrants and why was the work passed on completion? Why did the insurers take premiums for 12 years without establishing whether there was fire protection?
While it is almost impossible to answer the first two questions, we can surmise that the insurance company took on the business of insuring the complex in good faith that all information that was provided was correct and that the insurer would not be prejudiced as a result of any unmentioned risks.
As is the norm, there are special and general conditions laid out in insurance policies, namely the “prevention of loss clause” which makes the body corporate responsible for taking preventative measures against losses and accidents.
It specifically mentions fire protection imposing the condition that fire protection equipment is installed, serviced and maintained in accordance with regulations and local authority by-laws.
In short, the insurers most likely assumed that everything was in order.
While it is unfortunate that the costs have to be paid by the owners, they have an advantage over owners of single standing homes. Owners in a sectional title estate share the costs linked to the scheme, owners of single standing homes have to make the full payment themselves.
It is best for the owners to comply with the insurance companies requests in the end because rather a small fee of R47, 000 than the potential cost of millions for owners to repair fire damage. And for this reason the owner who raised the issue should be commended.
Contact us for professional legal advice for your sectional title scheme.
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