Amanda Ngubombini reached an impasse with her neighbours after two boys set fire to the washing line - filled with laundry - in December. Her white linen and new outfits were destroyed.. Picture: Supplied
You can pick your friends but not your family, nor your neighbours. Which is why, if you don’t have the benefit of vast space cushioning you from your neighbours and you live in proximity to others, it’s important to try to be good neighbours.

That might mean neither hearing nor seeing the neighbours, or that residents conduct themselves respectfully.

But much like common sense, decency is not common enough. And communal living can often become a hotbed of conflict: complex rules can be restrictive - or not enough - and living in proximity with people who have different values and attitudes can generate discord.

If neighbours have raging fights or parties until the early hours, or their pets are a nuisance, chances are, there will probably be issues.

Things become tricky where children are involved - most people will tolerate bad behaviour from a child, to a point, but when they damage property, the adults need to step in and deal with matters maturely.

Amanda Ngubombini reached an impasse with her neighbours after two boys set fire to the washing line - filled with laundry - in December. Her white linen and new outfits were destroyed.

She reported the matter to the estate manager and had started negotiating with the parents of the boys to pay for the damage, but then the parents backtracked and refused to pay.

The estate manager told Ngubombini he couldn’t help her anymore and she should sort it on her own.

“The incident happened on the premises of the complex, a space provided by the estate for the tenants to hang their clothes,” she said.

“If something like that can happen, meaning the estate has no proper security in place to protect the tenants, it is their responsibility to make sure the place and facilities available are secure to protect their tenants.

“I lost valuable things; some of the clothing was new, I lost my work clothes, shirts and blazers. Now to be told that the estate cannot do anything about it although they know who burnt our clothes and that the people stay in the complex, is unfair and unlawful.”

With no other leverage, Ngubombini is considering withholding a portion of her rent to cover the R5064 loss. Is she permitted to do so?

Sectional titles expert, Marina Constas, a director at BBM, says complaints about children are common.

“Parents tend to become defensive if their children are attacked. The difficulty in many complexes is that the rules of the scheme don’t sufficiently lay down what can and can’t be expected from children or their parents. Trustees or directors have a duty to set out what is acceptable behaviour, bearing in mind at all times that any rule which is made in this regard must be reasonable.”

She says there’s a balance between peace and quiet on the one hand, and the interests of the children who reside in the scheme on the other.

“Although many types of behaviour may seem harmless, I have seen serious situations. Take for example the three children in an upmarket complex in Northcliff who decided that it would be fun to open the petrol caps of every car in the complex, and pour sand into the cars’ petrol tanks; and what about where two of the kids at large scheme on the Vaal River caused havoc when they drove their quad bike into the lounge glass window of a unit, nearly killing the occupant?”

The trustees of the complexes drafted new rules headed, “Supervision of children”, which were passed by a special resolution of the owners, and stated that residents must properly supervise their children, their children’s friends and children of their visitors so that no nuisance, damage or loss would be caused to any occupant, unit or the common property.

I n Amanda Ngubombini’s case, the complex has no defined rules for children’s conduct, or fines in place.

Constas says if a complex has a swimming pool, extra caution must be exercised - adult supervision must be compulsory and there must also be a disclaimer sign at the pool to protect the complex and the trustees in the event of an incident.

“Queries have often been raised about whether fines can be imposed in the rules around the issue of children’s conduct. They can be. However, in order to impose fines, the rules must be crystal clear. Any rule speaking to fines must provide a sub-clause wherein it provides the owner being fined with the right to be heard. The amount of the fine should also be stipulated in the rules, with the proviso that the amounts must be reasonable.”

In Ngubombini’s case, there are no defined rules for children’s conduct, or fines in place for the complex, but sectional title legislation is unequivocal: an owner is responsible for the conduct of their occupants and visitors - including children.

“Ngubombini would have a case against the parents of the guilty children in respect of the financial damage. She could approach the Community Schemes Ombudsman Service in respect of an order for the parents to compensate her for her loss of clothing and could also lay a charge of vandalism at the closest police station.”

Contact the CSOS at 010 593 0533, email [email protected] or visit the website at csos.org.za.

* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her at [email protected], tweet her @georginacrouth and follow her on Facebook.

The Star