Navigating the legal consequences of the sudden scramble for power
Solar Solutions and Inverter Insights for South African Sectional Title Schemes – A Legal Illumination
Legal Development 09 November 2023 09 November 2023
Recent statistics provide that there are currently over 56000 sectional title schemes in South Africa with over 5million people living in organised communities. Accordingly, given the ongoing electricity crisis and the persistent effects of load-shedding, many South Africans living in sectional title schemes wanting to install solar panels will be faced with the question of who is responsible for the installation and maintenance of these alternative energy solutions.
The answer to this question is found in the Sectional Title Schemes Management Act 8 of 2011 ("the Act") read together with the Prescribed Management & Conduct Rules ("the Rules”).
These provisions stipulate that any owner wishing to install solar panels on common property (such as a roof) would need to hold exclusive use rights over such property. The rights to an exclusive use area is allocated to an owner by way of a special resolution requiring a 75% vote in favour of assigning the exclusive use area to that owner.
The Rules provide that owners are prohibited from making material changes (which the installation of solar panels is considered to be) to their exclusive use areas without the written consent of the trustees of the body corporate.
Moreover, if one has regard to the Rules and the provisions of the Act, it is clear that whilst owners are dutybound to ensure that the exclusive use areas are kept neat and tidy, it is ultimately the body corporate’s responsibility to maintain the exclusive use areas, with it being entitled to raise levies to cover the costs of doing so.
In addition, the Rules permit the trustees to propose alterations and improvements to the common property which they consider to be reasonably necessary. Such proposal must be made on at least 30 days’ written notice to the owners in the scheme and must detail the estimated costs, the way in which the body corporate intends to meet these costs, and a motivation for the proposal. Bearing this in mind, it is commercially sensible for the trustees to assume the responsibility for the installation of solar panels themselves.
However, constrained kitties, lack of space exposed to sunlight and complicated approval procedures have many homeowners preferring to install battery-powered inverters instead of solar panels to meet their alternative energy needs.
Given South African opportunism, everyone from your local gardener to your next-door-neighbour’s pool maintenance company are now installers of inverter and other alternative energy offerings. It is accordingly essential for consumers to remain vigilant when choosing their preferred inverter option and installer. In an attempt to counter the use of fly-by-night operators offering inferior systems, municipalities are introducing lists of pre-approved inverters. The City of Cape Town’s list can be found here.
If your chosen system is tied to the grid, then this system must be registered with the City of Cape Town. As of 1 October 2023, only applications for the registration of inverters on this pre-approved list will be considered for approval by the City.
Grid-tied system registration is not optional; it's a legal requirement. Failure to register may result in disconnection, fines, or repudiation of your insurance claim.
In short, the adoption of alternative energy solutions caries both promise and obligation. Our next article will provide an in-depth guide to the essential registration process when it comes to installing inverters.