• Natalie Smith

The Community Schemes Ombud Service: Longing a Dispute

In schemes where there is shared responsibility for building and areas and residents need to abide by community rules, there is often conflict that arises and as such, The Community Schemes Ombud Service (CSOS) aims to resolve disputes in a cost-effective and efficient manner and regulate the conduct of parties residing in community schemes. Further, CSOS vets conduct and management rules, promote good governance and educates members regarding community schemes. According to the Community Scheme Ombud Service Act a community scheme “means any scheme or arrangement in terms of which there is shared use of and responsibility for parts of land and buildings, including but not limited to a sectional titles development scheme, a share block company, a home or property owner’s association, however constituted, established to administer a property development, a housing scheme for retired persons,…” CSOS was established in 2016 at the same time that the Community Scheme Ombud Service Act was brought into force. Any person in a community scheme may lodge an application to the CSOS if such person is a party to or is materially affected by a dispute. How To Lodge A Dispute With CSOS APPLICATION An application must be sent to CSOS and this application must be registered and acknowledged by CSOS. The first step of the dispute resolution process includes receipt, registration and acknowledgement of a new application. The application can fall into one (or more) of the following categories: · Management Services · Financial Issues · Physical Works · Behavioural Issues · Meetings and Resolutions · Scheme Governance Issues · General and other issues Disputes can be between two community owners or residents or between the community association and an owner or resident. ASSESSMENT There are various grounds on which an application to CSOS may be rejected. CSOS will assess the application to verify the validity of the application. The grounds on which CSOS may reject an application are: · The matter falls outside of the jurisdiction of the CSOS. · Failure to exhaust the internal disputes mechanism processes that exist within the particular community scheme. · Failure by the applicant to comply with the 14-day written request for further information · Another competent authority such as a court of law and/or tribunal can best deal with the matter. · Application for waiver of adjudication fees is denied. If there is no internal dispute resolution process at a community scheme then applicants can approach CSOS directly. The application is set down for conciliation once it has been established that the application is valid and can be resolved. CONCILIATION There are two types of conciliation categories: · Informal Type - quick telephone conciliation · Formal Type - conciliation hearing All parties to a dispute participate in a conciliation hearing which is chaired by the CSOS Conciliator who is there to assist the parties in finding a resolution. If the matter is not resolved, the conciliator will issue a Notice of Non-Resolution and Referral to Adjudication. INVESTIGATION AND ADJUDICATION Matters that are referred for adjudication will be subject to a thorough investigation prior to presentation at the adjudication hearing. The investigation process may include inter alia: · Requests for additional information and/or documentation. · Requests for sworn statements or affidavits · Analysis of photo evidence. · Conducting inspections in loco as per section 51 of the Act. · The review of all relevant and applicable legislative and other prescripts. At the adjudication hearing, the Adjudicator will consider all the evidence presented and will hand down a determination which is binding on all parties to the dispute. Adjudicator orders are enforceable in the Magistrate Court or High Court depending on the quantum or nature of the relief granted in the determination. If you fall into one or more of the defined community scheme categories then CSOS is an available avenue for you to resolve disputes and should be used for an efficient and cost-effective route to resolution.

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