Conflict resolution tips for trustees in sectional title schemes
Sectional title schemes are communities of property owners who share common spaces and responsibilities. This can lead to conflicts and disputes over issues such as maintenance, noise, levies, alterations, and common property use.
One of the trustees’ responsibilities is to resolve these conflicts and maintain a peaceful living environment for all owners. They can refer disputes to the Community Schemes Ombud Service (CSOS), which offers a low-cost and user-friendly alternative to litigation, but resolving disputes internally should be the first step, as CSOS may request evidence that the scheme’s internal dispute resolution process has been exhausted and may, if that evidence is not provided, reject the application. It is faster, more amicable, and promotes harmony and functionality in the community.
Understanding the nature of the conflict as a starting point
To resolve any dispute successfully, you need to identify the source of the problem. What are the main issues? What are the needs and concerns of the parties involved? Knowing the root causes is crucial before moving on to develop a strategy for resolution.
These are some effective strategies that can help you resolve conflict successfully:
Dispute resolution strategies
When resolving disputes, it is important for trustees to be fair, impartial, and transparent. They should also be respectful of the parties involved and willing to compromise.
The following tactics aim to help you navigate disputes effectively:
1. Open and respectful communication
Effective, two-way communication serves as the foundation of dispute resolution. Encourage open and respectful dialogue among owners involved in the dispute. Arrange meetings or discussions where each party can express their concerns and viewpoints. As trustees, you can play a pivotal role as mediators during these conversations, ensuring that all parties feel heard and understood.
2. Review the governing documents
Delve into the scheme’s governing documents, such as the management and conduct rules, to gain a thorough understanding of the rules and regulations relevant to the dispute. These documents often provide valuable guidance on common issues and can help you make informed decisions.
3. Seek legal advice when necessary
For complex or legally contentious disputes, consider consulting legal experts specialising in sectional title law. Their expertise can provide guidance on the legal aspects of the dispute, ensuring that actions taken align with the law and the scheme’s governing documents.
4. Utilise mediation
Engaging a professional mediator to facilitate dispute resolution can be highly effective. A skilled mediator can help parties identify common ground, explore potential solutions, and reach a mutually acceptable agreement. Mediation offers a cost-effective and less adversarial alternative to litigation.
5. Establish a dispute resolution committee
In some cases, establishing a dispute resolution committee comprising impartial owners can prove to be an effective approach. This committee can objectively review disputes, gather information, and make recommendations for resolution, providing an additional layer of neutrality, which can be particularly helpful in larger communities.
Dealing with difficult owners
Managing difficult owners can present additional challenges. Here are some tips for handling such situations with finesse:
1. Maintain calm and professionalism
In interactions with difficult owners, it is essential to maintain a calm and professional demeanour. Refrain from reacting emotionally to their behaviour and instead focus on addressing the issues at hand.
2. Active listening
Actively listen to the concerns of difficult owners and strive to understand their perspectives. In some cases, their grievances may be legitimate and require attention.
3. Set clear boundaries
Establish explicit boundaries and expectations for respectful behaviour within the community. Let the owner know that you are willing to listen to their concerns but will not tolerate abusive behaviour. Ensure that all owners are aware of the rules and the consequences of violating them.
4. Consistent enforcement of rules
Consistently enforce the rules and regulations of the sectional title scheme. Avoid any appearance of favouritism or making exceptions, as this can exacerbate conflicts.
5. Seek legal remedies when necessary
If an owner’s behaviour becomes disruptive or threatens the well-being of the community, do not hesitate to consult with legal experts to explore legal remedies, such as issuing fines, obtaining court orders, or taking other appropriate actions.
Ultimately, the goal of dispute resolution is to reach an agreement that satisfies all parties involved. Here are some steps to achieve this goal:
1. Identify common interests
During discussions or negotiations, assist parties in identifying their common interests. Discovering shared goals can pave the way for mutually beneficial solutions.
2. Explore compromises
Encourage parties to explore compromises and alternative solutions. Sometimes, a middle ground can be found that addresses the core issues of the dispute.
3. Document agreements
Once an agreement is reached, document it in writing. Ensure that all parties involved sign the agreement, outlining the terms, responsibilities, and timelines for implementation.
4. Monitor and follow-up
After an agreement is in place, continue to monitor the situation and follow up with the involved parties. This ensures that the agreed-upon solutions are being implemented and adhered to.
One of the important tasks of the trustees in sectional title schemes is to resolve conflicts that may arise among the members. Instead of immediately escalating the disputes to external authorities like CSOS, it is often better to try to solve them internally first, as this can foster a positive and collaborative spirit within the community. By being committed to peaceful dispute resolution, trustees can promote the well-being of their scheme and its members, and create a conducive and prosperous living environment while avoiding unnecessary stress and costs.
If you’re interested in understanding the roles and responsibilities of trustees, you can visit TRACS to gain comprehensive knowledge about owning, renting, and managing a community scheme in South Africa. The courses are free and are available in five official languages.