Water leaks in sectional title schemes

A common problem that has to be dealt with in sectional title schemes is water leaks. They are expensive to repair and water damage to other parts of the property usually results from the leak.

Responsibility for paying the cost of the repairs depends on the legal nature of the property that is damaged and the origin of the leak and so this creates a contentious issue.

If part of an insured event, such as storm damage or a burst geyser, the dispute regarding the leak is usually with regards to the payment of the excess on the claim, but if it occurred over a period of time, it can be difficult to apportion responsibility for the costs.

Establishing the exact cause or source of the leak is paramount to addressing the leak. The materials used for building in South Africa are not waterproof, so the source of a leak may be some distance from the damaged area.

Interior leaks with multiple origins are not uncommon and so to prevent money being spent on ineffective remedies to the leak, the symptoms and apparent contributing factors of the leak must be closely considered.

There are various leaks that affect or come from the outside of the building. For example a roof leak in the attic space, and from balconies and patios

The roof can leak into the attic space and then into sections. This type of leak can affect multiple sections especially if the attic space is not physically divided.

This type of leak is not usually difficult to source but section owners might need to allow the contractor to use an access panel situated inside their section to get into the attic space.

Another source of leaks from outside can be the tops of parapet walls, where they meet the roof, and other outside areas where water can accumulate and leak into the masonry.

Leaks in pipes inside the building can originate in sections or from the common property and affect that section, other sections or the common property. For example, leaking shower trays and flooding from washing machines and dishwashers.

If the source of the leak is inside a section, that is, inside the median line of the walls, floor or ceilings that surround it, the repair is the owner’s responsibility.

If another section or the common property has been damaged as a result of the leak, that owner or the body corporate, while still responsible to make their own repairs, would have a claim for the reasonable cost of their repair from the owner of the section where the leak originated.

The same principle would apply but in reverse if the leak originated in the common property part of a pipe.

The exception to this principle is where the leak is inside the section. If the pipe serves more than that section.

The Sectional Titles Act requires owners to allow persons appointed by the body corporate to access their sections at reasonable times and with reasonable notice for maintenance purposes.

Any kind of leak is inconvenient and most, if not all, cause water damage of some sort. The cost of investigation and repair makes both owners and bodies corporate reluctant to accept responsibility for the repair and resultant damage.

But leaks should be addressed as soon as they are noticed to limit the costs of repairs as far as is possible. Hopefully new detection and repair technologies will go some way to easing the problems.