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Bodies corporate are ultimately liable for neglecting common property maintenance

In the intricate realm of property law, the responsibilities of a body corporate within a sectional title scheme are paramount. A recent court case, Eze v Adderley Body Corporate and Another, serves as a poignant reminder of the implications of neglecting these duties. This case not only underscores the obligation of the body corporate to maintain and uphold the common property but also illuminates the potential liabilities that arise from negligence in this regard.

The incident

The case revolves around an unfortunate incident that occurred in March 2016 on Adderley Street, Cape Town. Mr. Eze, a passerby, sustained a personal injury when a piece of wood dislodged from an overhanging balcony of a sectional title building and fell onto him. The thickness of the wood was substantial – 7.5 cm – indicating the severity of the incident. It was evident that the building’s upkeep had been neglected, as the area of the ceiling from which the wood fell was consistently damp and had become a nesting ground for birds.

Legal proceedings

Mr. Eze rightfully sought damages for the injuries he sustained, contending that the body corporate and its managing agent were negligent in their duty to maintain the building. He argued that negligence was established, either through direct evidence or under the legal principle of res ipsa loquitur (the facts speak for themselves).

The court concurred with Mr. Eze’s assertions. It held that the body corporate, as the owner of the building, owed a duty of care to members of the public, including pedestrians like Mr. Eze. Furthermore, it found that the body corporate was indeed aware of the state of disrepair but failed to address it, thereby causing the injury.

Implications and lessons

This judgment carries significant implications for both body corporates and trustees within sectional-title schemes. It serves as a stark reminder of the legal obligations incumbent upon them to maintain the common property. Neglecting these responsibilities not only jeopardizes the safety of residents and visitors but also exposes the body corporate to potential legal liabilities and unforeseen expenses.

Trustees and managing agents must prioritize regular inspections and timely maintenance to ensure that common areas are safe and well-maintained. Moreover, they should heed this judgment as a cautionary tale, emphasising the importance of proactive measures in averting personal loss or injury.

Conclusion

The case of Eze v Adderley Body Corporate underscores the fundamental principle that the body corporate of a sectional-title scheme bears the responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of common property. Negligence in fulfilling this duty can have far-reaching consequences, as evidenced by the escalating costs and legal liabilities incurred in this case. As such, it serves as a clarion call for vigilance and diligence in property management, emphasising the imperative of prioritizing safety and maintenance within sectional-title schemes.