Good fences make good neighbours – handling domestic violence in a sectional title scheme
Domestic violence has a devastating impact on the lives of victims. However, the ripple effects often extend beyond the home, impacting more lives than that of the victim.
In 1914, Robert Frost coined the phrase “good fences make good neighbours”. In modern times, more people opt to live in sectional title schemes due to a need for peace and security. As a result, the fences Robert Frost referred to in ‘mending walls’ have been removed. Living in close proximity to each other often exposes residents to violent relational disputes in their neighbours’ homes. Bearing witness to such events can be traumatic, disturbing the very peace and security they sought to gain when moving into a community scheme.
From a civil law perspective, residents can do very little if they suspect that a neighbour is suffering from domestic violence. The Prescribed Conduct Rules (PCRs) in the Sectional Title Schemes Management Regulations, 2016 (“the STSMA Regulations”) also do not provide specific guidelines on how to deal with domestic violence. One would have to look at the so-called “nuisance laws” or rules in relation thereto.
Alternatively, a neighbour or body corporate could resort to criminal law processes, or report domestic violence utilising the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 or the Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011.
Since the original article’s publication, the Domestic Violence Amendment Act 14 of 2021 (DVAA) came into effect on 14 April 2023. This amendment brings substantial changes to the legal framework surrounding gender-based violence, specifically the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998. The DVAA introduces enhanced protection for victims, stricter penalties for offenders, and improved mechanisms for reporting and investigating incidents.
In an updated version of the original article, the authors have highlighted notable changes to the Domestic Violence Act, particularly in relation to reporting and handling domestic violence in sectional title schemes. One key change introduced by the amendments is the provision for electronic applications for protection orders. However, the authors mention that, at the time of publication, practical provisions for implementing this provision have not yet been established by the courts.