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In the previous article regarding “informal” decisions by directors, we considered what acts or decisions may be considered as informal decisions by directors. The precedents established by the courts were discussed, which precedents are considered regarding the enforceability of these “consents” and the validity of informal decisions by directors. Directors of homeowners’ associations have been forewarned to be diligent and carefully choose their words in conversations with other members, especially when these members paint pictures of proposed building projects. And more specifically, directors are to keep their opinion for the debate of the properly tabled application, especially concerning additions and alterations to the property of the member. The rules of the homeowners’ association regarding aesthetics and other such requirements should be paramount in the decision-making process.
But what if the member did comply with the prescribed formal requirements and the board of directors did not approve the request? Where does that leave the directors and the member?
The courts will not interfere with the decision made by a homeowners’ association save on recognised grounds of judicial review as applied to voluntary associations whose members have bound themselves to its rules, which include the conferring of decision–making functions of elected body of directors (Turner vs Jockey Club of South Africa 1974 (3) SA; SA Medical & Dental Council vs McLoughlin 1948 (2) SA 355 (AD) and Marlin vs Durban Turf Club & Others 1942 AD 112).
The grounds of judicial review are restricted to whether the tribunal was competent to make the decision and whether it complied with the requirements of procedural and substantive fairness which effectively is limited to whether the procedure or decision taken was tainted by irregularity or illegality – unfairness per se is not enough (Bel Porto School Governing Body & Others vs Premier, Western Cape & Another 2002 (3) SA).
The traditional common law grounds of review of a voluntary association tribunal include illegality, procedural unfairness and irrationality. Prior to the constitutional dispensation, the ambit of the voluntary associations had been settled in case law. The Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, Act 3 of 2000 (PAJA) applies to administrative action on the part of an organ of state or a juristic person exercising a public power or performing a public function. Accordingly, directors of homeowners’ associations do not fall within the scope of the PAJA. Section 39(2) of the Constitution on the other hand, requires a court, when developing the common law, to promote the spirit, purport and objectives of the Bill of Rights.
The judgement in the matter of Theron and Andere vs Ring van Wellington van die NG Sending Kerk in Suid-Afrika en Andere 1976 (2) SA 1 (A) has already confirmed that a reasonableness test based on rationality was a competent basis under the common law powers to review decisions of voluntary associations. The court will therefore consider a ground of review that included unreasonableness in the sense that the decision could not reasonably be supported by evidence. There appears to be no difference in principle for present purposes between common law grounds of review in relation to voluntary associations and the grounds of review provided for by PAJA.
Various case laws confirm that a court will only interfere with the decision of the directors of a homeowners’ association where that body has failed to comply with the natural justice requirements of legality, procedural fairness and reasonableness, the latter in the sense of a rational connection existing between the facts presented and the considerations that were applied in reaching the conclusion.
If the Memorandum of Incorporation or rules of the homeowners’ association prescribe a formal procedure to follow for permission or consent to be obtained regarding any alteration or other building projects, any member who did not submit a formal request for the building project, even if it is only the erection of a fence and did not include the detail of the fence to be erected for approval prior to the erection thereof, then the fence is “illegal”.
The board of directors of any homeowners’ association has an obligation to enforce the Memorandum of Association and/or the Memorandum of Incorporation and the rules of the association, and should do so in the interests of the whole of the estate and all its members.
Any building project which has been embarked on or even finished without proper procedures followed by the homeowner, and which does not comply with the aesthetical requirements of the homeowners’ association as is prescribed in the rules, are “illegal” in that the member erected the building without formally complying with the requirements of the homeowners’ association. Directors should carefully consider each and every such building project within the jurisdiction of the association and, in the best interest of all members of the association, invite such members affected for an informal, amicable discussion regarding the removal or further alteration of the building or building project, even if it is only a fence and the time periods to do so. It is important to note that such members should still be obliged to comply with the formal requirements as prescribed by the association. These applications can be tabled in terms of the formal procedures prescribed with consideration to formally consent thereto retrospectively by the board of directors on condition that all prescriptive requirements have been fully met, even if it is merely aesthetically.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omission excepted. (E&OE)