1. THE GOOD: The establishment of the Community Schemes Ombud Service (‘CSOS’) has greatly benefited people who live in community schemes. When they have genuine difficulties with scheme administration, the CSOS can give a wide range of orders to address the problem.

2. THE BAD: Previous articles have highlighted issues of non-compliance with the Community Schemes Ombud Service Act 9 of 2011 (‘CSOS Act’). There has also been a steady flow of complaints about the standard of CSOS’ administration of disputes and the extent to which CSOS staff, including conciliators and adjudicators, are familiar with the law and practice of community scheme administration.

3. THE WAY FORWARD: The CSOS is a state-owned entity funded by community scheme levies, but it is responsible only to the Minister of Human Settlements and Parliament. Aggrieved parties can only appeal a CSOS order or have it reviewed. These processes are beyond most parties’ reach because of the expense involved in approaching the High Court. However, there are five things you can do that will increase your chance of success in a CSOS application and that could avoid the need to consider an appeal or review:

A. Prepare the application or response carefully

  • Ensure that the orders you ask the CSOS to give are within its powers—link each request to a ‘prayer for relief’ specified in section 39 of the CSOS Act.
  • Include all your arguments and refer to your evidence and to case law and academic writings that support your arguments. Give the adjudicator the background information needed to write an order in your favour. Many hearings are held ‘on the papers’ or online, so you may not get another opportunity to draw the adjudicator’s attention to supporting material.

B. Take professional legal advice or educate yourself

  • You may not need a lawyer to represent you at CSOS hearings, but you should get legal advice on the wording and content of any application and response so that you can respond appropriately and give the adjudicator the responses and further information needed to understand your case.
  • If you can’t afford legal advice, buy and study a Paddocks e-book. There are books covering the law that applies to community scheme management, dispute resolution and CSOS adjudications. If you need more detailed instruction, consider one of the Paddocks courses.

C. Record all interactions with CSOS staff

Keep a note of all your interactions with CSOS staff so that you have a record to refer to if there is evidence of procedural irregularities or mistakes that prejudice you. These records will assist you should you want the adjudication formally reviewed.

D. Ensure the adjudicator has seen all your documents

Once an adjudicator has been appointed, ask them to confirm that the documents they have received from CSOS include all those you have submitted.

E. Complain promptly and vigorously—but only when you are prejudiced

  • If you have cause for complaint, make your complaint in writing within a few days of becoming aware of the issue. If you are not sure whether you have been prejudiced, get legal advice on the point.
  • Complain first to the person involved, but if your issue is not resolved, address the regional ombud. If this does not produce a solution, complain to the chief ombud and CSOS’ head office adjudicator-general. If complaints within CSOS are not dealt with, complain to the Minister of Human Settlements and the departmental Ombudsman. Keep a copy of all your complaints.
  • To encourage CSOS to give better service, aggrieved community scheme participants  should speak up, state their issues clearly and, when it is appropriate, continue complaining until their reasonable requirements are met.

Graham Paddock is a specialist community schemes attorney, notary and conveyancer. He has been advising clients and teaching students for over 40 years, and was an adjunct professor at UCT for 10 years.

Article reference: Paddocks Press: Volume 17, Issue 8.

This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution license.

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