When you buy an apartment, what exactly do you buy – and what do you get?

In this article, part of the reap benefits living together series, we are going to look at what it really means to buy an apartment under the Sectional Properties Act (SPA). This act provides the legal framework for the registration of stratified interests in land (usually buildings). When you buy a unit registered under SPA, you do not privately own the building – not the roof or the floor or the load bearing walls. You do not own the wires and pipes embedded in them. It is therefore important to really understand what you are buying.

The sectional properties act has a very clear distinction between common property and what is privately owned. Common property is owned by everyone who owns one or more units in the property. The obligation to maintain it is placed on everyone, in proportion to the total area that is privately owned within the property. That means if you own property on the ground floor, you are proportionately responsible for repairing the roof at the person living on the top floor. Similarly, the person at the top is proportionately responsible for fixing drainage problems experienced by the person in the ground floor.

What you own privately is the space enclosed by the inner undecorated surface. You own the paint on the wall and the right to enjoy the space and services availed in the building. This distinction is important when you wish to make changes and renovations to the unit. The owner of a unit can only make cosmetic changes on their property. If they wish to make substantial renovations such as altering a wall or blocking off a corridor, it is necessary to request for the consent of the management board. In addition, the corporation is empowered to lease or grant permission to one of the unit owners to have exclusive use of parts of common property (for example if you own the whole floor, you may want to restrict any access by adding your doors even at the corridors.

When you buy sectional property, you get a title deed. You do NOT get a lease or sublease. In our next article, we will compare registration under SPA to registration of subleases.



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