Disability: The Body Corporate’s Responsibility
For many of us wheelchair accessibility, braille marked buttons or voice operated lifts are not even something that will ever cross our minds. When we are fortunate enough not to be in a position where these things aren’t even a consideration, we sometimes lose sight of how crucial it can be for others. According to STATS SA, in a 2014 publication, we have a national disability prevalence rate of 7,5% in South Africa.
In terms of the white paper on Persons with Disabilities, an obligation exists to provide reasonably accessible accommodation for disabled people. The National Building Regulations requires all buildings, excluding a few specific buildings for instance, high risk industrial buildings and buildings attending to mine activity and so forth, to comply with the regulations regarding access for disabled people. These regulations require, amongst others, wheelchair access to buildings and easy wheelchair movement within the building.
In a sectional title scheme, the position is that all common areas must comply with the reasonable accessibility requirements. The unit, as well as exclusive use areas, are however exempt from these requirements. The question now arises, what would the position be in a case where the developer did not comply with these regulations and a disabled person would like to move into the scheme and, as such require compliance with the building regulations, who would have to fit the bill for these improvements to the building or common areas? The answer is simple since this is a requirement in terms of the National Building Regulations Part S, this will indeed be a body corporate expense. If, however the scheme is still in the development process and the body corporate has not yet been established this will be an expense for the developer. It is crucial for all developers to keep this in mind, even more importantly, this is something that should be considered as part of due diligence when a purchaser is considering buying into a sectional title scheme, as these upgrades can have a considerable effect on body corporate expenses, and accordingly on levies in the future.
Should a situation like this arise and the body corporate’s administration fund does not have sufficient funds available to attend to the required upgrades, the best solution would be to call a special meeting to raise a special levy to upgrade the scheme to comply with these building regulations.
Upgrading sectional title schemes to allow reasonable accommodation for disabled persons is necessary for all bodies corporate to consider so as to ensure compliance. Once the necessities are in place, a scheme can then incorporate the essential maintenance as part of its 10-year maintenance plan to avoid unexpected expenses.