Complaints to community schemes ombud sharply on the increase
The Community Schemes Ombud Service received 820 new complaints in the quarter to end-September - an 18.5% rise from the previous quarter.
According to Advocate Seeng Letele, the chief ombud, financial problems such as the calculation of levies, penalties applied to late payment of levies and fines issued for various offences such as parking made up a significant 40% of complaints received over the period.
Issues relating to private and common areas accounted for 15% of complaints, the way schemes were governed 9.45% and problems about resident's behaviour 9.1%.
Complaints about services provided by management made up just over 7.8% of complaints.
Letele says that of the 545 applications that were finalised by the ombud's office in the third quarter, 177 (32%) were solved through adjudication, 146 through conciliation, 33 were withdrawn and 13% were settled by the parties themselves.
A further uptick in the number of complaints is expected due to the public awareness campaigns that the CSOS is conducting, she says.
The office of the CSOS is a simple and cost-effective route to solving a problem that you may have at your flat, retirement home or townhouse complex.
The matters that the CSOS ombud can deal with include conduct issues within community schemes, problems with the management of schemes, financial matters, complaints about private and common areas and the governance of schemes.
The legislation that created the office of the ombud, the Community Schemes Ombud Service Act, came into effect on October 7 last year.
The office is funded by a levy on each community scheme owner at a rate of 2% of your monthly levy over R500; the amount is capped at R40 a month. You will therefore pay no levy if you levy is less than R500, R6 if your levy is R800 and a maximum R40 fee if your levy is R2500 or more.
The managing agent of your complex collects the levy and is responsible for paying it to the CSOS office every quarter.
It is important to first take your complaint through the internal dispute process of your body corporate or homeowner's association, otherwise your application could be dismissed.
But if no internal dispute resolution process exists, you may approach the ombud's office directly.
When you approach the CSOS office with a complaint, your application will be assessed to see if it falls within the mandate of the CSOS ombudsman and is valid. Once your complaint is accepted as being valid, you will be charged a fee of R50.
Then your complaint will be referred for conciliation, which can be done informally by phone or through a formal hearing chaired by a CSOS conciliator.
If your complaint cannot be resolved by conciliation it will be referred to adjudication.
Letele says her office attempts to resolve 80% of complaints through conciliation.
Prior to an adjudication hearing, your complaint will be investigated and you may be asked to submit further information or photos as evidence.
During the hearing the adjudicator will consider all the evidence from both parties and make a determination which is binding on both parties. These determinations hold the status of a court and if one party refuses to comply, a determination can be enforced in court.
Where hearings are set up, these will take place in the area from where the complaint originated, so you do not need to travel to another city.
Check that your scheme and its managing agent is registered with the CSOS as it is obliged to do by law. So far, 30000 schemes out of about 120000 schemes in the country have registered. The ombud is calling on all schemes to register by March 30, failing which penalties will be applied to the scheme.