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How to go ‘green’ in a sectional title and keep your levies down

It is possible to live sustainably in a sectional title scheme. How can this be done?

Steep annual increases in municipal electricity and water tariffs are a constant incentive for sectional title (ST) schemes and housing estates to implement alternative energy and water supply solutions, but increasingly they are also seeking other ways of making their schemes “greener” and cheaper to run, says Andrew Schaefer, MD of Trafalgar.

“Sometimes when we talk to trustees or owners about ‘greening’ their scheme, they shy away from the idea because they think it means a major upheaval as well as major expenditure, but they soon get enthusiastic once they see that making their scheme more sustainable will ensure that it has better cash flow.

“That is especially appealing in times like these when everyone is experiencing some degree of financial stress and there is strong resistance to increasing levies even though costs are rising.”

He says that in existing ST buildings or estates, the green measures that can be introduced range from a simple switch to lower-cost LED lighting or to eco-friendly products for cleaning, all the way up to the installation of a complete photo-voltaic (PV) electricity supply system such as those now used in many shopping centres and office buildings.

Other possible initiatives include sinking a borehole and installing rainwater storage tanks to reduce municipal water usage; instituting a recycling/ reclamation scheme for the whole housing scheme; and retro-fitting a fibre network to provide high-speed internet connections and enable more residents to work from home instead of commuting to work – which is particularly attractive option considering the current COVID-19 movement restrictions.

In addition, says Schaefer, ST trustees and home owners’ association (HOA) directors should be encouraging and assisting individual owners in community housing schemes to implement water and energy-saving measures in their own homes. These include installing tap aerators and water-efficient showerheads, making use of energy-efficient appliances and organising car-pools if they do commute to work in order to reduce their carbon footprint.

For those working from home, a small power inverter to keep computers and other electrical appliances running during power outages might also make sense. These devices convert solar DC power into AC power and installation would not require the permission of the body corporate or HOA.

“Of course there are costs involved, but owners need to consider that any of these measures taken in their own homes or implemented in the housing scheme will not only shield them and / or their tenants from the consequences of load-shedding and water outages, but will also help them achieve savings on the cost of electricity and water supplied by the municipality, make their scheme more attractive to potential home buyers and enhance the value of their properties,” he says.

“This is evident in the growing demand for ‘green’ homes and apartments in new developments where, in terms of the National Building Regulations, solar water heaters or heat pumps are compulsory, there are minimum insulation requirements to reduce heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer, and any heating or cooling systems installed have to be energy-efficient.”

However, says Schaefer, trustees and directors do need to make very sure that they follow the correct procedures before deciding on any “green” improvements to their schemes such as a communal solar power system. “And to simplify matters and help trustees move their plan forward quickly and in the most cost-efficient manner, we recommend that they should always consult a reputable and knowledgeable property management company like Trafalgar.”

In terms of the Sectional Title Schemes Management Act (STSMA), ST trustees must notify owners of any proposed “necessary” improvement to the common property and give them 30 days to object or call a meeting. If there are objections or a meeting is called, a special resolution will have to be passed before they can proceed. (This requires a normal meeting quorum and a vote in favour by 75% of those present in both number and value.)

“We can of course assist trustees to streamline this process, and to address the question of how to finance such improvements. It is quite possible for the body corporate of a ST scheme to obtain a loan to fund their ‘green’ improvements and to pay this loan back out of quantified savings, but once again, this will need to be approved by special resolution.

“Then, once a project is approved, an experienced management company can help to ensure that it proceeds smoothly and is completed on time, while providing informed progress updates to the trustees, directors and owners.”

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