For the last few years load shedding has become an unfortunate reality in South Africa. In recent times South Africans have had to endure two to four sessions of two and a half hour power cuts a day. To complicate matters further, since the pandemic, many people have been forced to work from home. The scheduled load shedding interrupts power supply, and leaves people with no Wi-Fi and increased data usage. In this article I will address some of the options available to persons residing in sectional title schemes to make alternative plans to lessen the detrimental effects of power cuts, such as installation of solar panels.
Required consent to authorise alternative power sources
In the first place I will discuss the process for the authorisation of alternative power sources, such as solar panels in sectional title schemes. Not all schemes, due to their physical features, are able to facilitate solar panels for each section. Large, multi-storey buildings might only be able to have solar panels installed on the roof that serve the units directly below it. The other owners and occupiers would then be asked to tolerate the nuisance, but would not enjoy the benefit of the energy supplied. It is for this reason that the trustees should do a feasibility and costs study on a single solar panels on the roof of the scheme or on another part of common property that could service the whole scheme. An added benefit to a single use solution is that it would service the common property areas too, as opposed to just a few individual units. The shared security systems such as CCTV, alarms, electric fences and access points (vehicle and pedestrian gates) would remain operational.
There are two possible ways in which the installation of the solar panels can be authorised. In the first place PMR 29(2) makes provision for the body corporate to make alterations or improvements to common property that are reasonably necessary. It states that:
“The body corporate may propose to make alterations or improvements to the common property that are reasonably necessary; provided that no such proposal
may be implemented until all members are given at least 30 days written notice with details of:
a) The estimated costs associated with the proposed alterations or improvements;
b) Details of how the body corporate intends to meet the costs, including details of any special contributions or loans by the body corporate that will be required for this purpose; and
c) A motivation for the proposal including drawings of the proposed alterations or improvements showing their effect and a motivation of the need for them;
And if during this notice period any member in writing to the body corporate requests a general meeting to discuss the proposal. The proposal must not be implemented unless it is improved, with or without amendment, by a special resolution adopted at a general meeting.”
The second way in which the installation of the generator and/or solar panels can be authorised is that it could fall into the powers that the trustees have with regard to the management of the scheme. The trustees can install the solar panels in terms of section 4(1)(c) of the STSM Act, which provides that the body corporate has the power to purchase, hire or otherwise acquire movable property for the use of owners for their enjoyment or protection, or in connection with the enjoyment or protection of the common property.
The maintenance of the solar panels can be dealt with in terms of section 3(1)(q) of the STSM Act which provides that the body corporate must keep in a good and serviceable repair and properly maintain the plant, machinery, fixtures and fittings used in connection with common property and sections.
The solar panels installed in terms of this authorisation could be funded in one of two ways. In the first place, the trustees could convene a SGM with notice that a directive needs to be passed by ordinary resolution of the members of the body corporate to authorise the trustees to use existing saved funds for this expense. If there is no
reserve fund the trustees could raise a special levy if the expense is necessary and unbudgeted.
Other considerations for installation of solar panels
The additional solar panel infrastructure will require additional body corporate insurance. In terms of PMR 23(3) a body corporate must obtain a replacement valuation of all buildings and improvements that it must insure at least every three years and present such replacement valuation to the annual general meeting. PMR 23(4) states that a body corporate must prepare for each annual general meeting schedules showing estimates of:
(a) the replacement value of the buildings and all improvements to the common property; and
(b) the replacement value of each unit, excluding the member’s interest in the land included in the scheme. The total of such values of all units must equal the value of all the buildings and improvements.
Therefore the trustees will need obtain a replacement valuation of the solar panels and any infrastructure associated with it, and present it at the next annual general meeting.
It goes without saying that solar panels are unsightly, but under the circumstances, it would seem reasonable to have solar panels installed and used generators for the periods that the electricity is off, subject to certain restrictions. Possible solutions should be discussed to reduce the negative side-effects of the undesirable aesthetic considerations. Solutions could include installing the solar panels in areas in the scheme that are less visible.
Written by Dr. Carryn Melissa Durham of Stratafin