Here’s how to apply for dispute resolution through CSOS
I’ve long held the belief that the best way to settle a dispute in a housing scheme is by engaging with the other party to talk through the issues, arrive at consensus on some and agree to differ on others.
A state of impasse calls for another approach, and that’s where the Community Schemes Ombud Service (CSOS) comes in, removing the need for expensive and lengthy litigation.
Once an application has been submitted to the Ombudsman, as I did in the Cape Town offices of the Ombudsman recently, the application is considered within a specified period (usually about four days) and a decision is taken as to whether or not the application is valid. A range of factors come into play, among which are:
- Has the applicant tried to resolve the matter using internal processes?
- Is the documentation in order?
- Does the relief being sought fall within the powers of the Ombudsman?
The powers of the Ombudsman are fully laid out in the 23-page Community Schemes Ombud Service Act, which is well worth the read if you’re considering filing an application. The Ombudsman can decide whether or not to seek reconciliation between the parties or he/she can order that an arbitrator consider the matter. Once accepted the application attracts a fee of R50, but if the matter goes to arbitration additional fees come into play.
It’s important to note that payment must be made only by electronic transfer and the reference number of your application must be included when you email proof of payment to the CSOS office where you filed your application. I was in the city for other reasons a few days ago and called in at the CSOS office in Cape Town to pay the R50 fee in cash. However, CSOS offices do not accept cash payments.
A formal process has to be followed to register a complaint. The Application for Dispute Resolution document can be downloaded off the web from the CSOS site and from various other sites (email HomeTimes: firstname.lastname@example.org and we will email it directly to you).
I completed the three-page application form and then added a supporting document of over 5,000 words. In addition, I filed six appendices that are referenced in my support document.
In my application I am seeking to have an arbitrator appointed to adjudicate the lengthy series of issues I have raised. My case may well be fairly unusual in that I have received two lawyers’ letters from an attorney acting for the trustee against whom I subsequently lodged the application. Prior to receiving the lawyer’s letters threatening legal action I and a group of concerned owners in my sectional title apartment block had attempted without success to engage with the board of trustees about issues of concern. The trustees refused to meet with us and declined to recognise our group of concerned owners. Not that the group needs the board’s recognition, of course.
A lengthy (private and confidential) letter in which the group’s concerns were raised was sent to the relevant trustee by registered mail and answers to the concerns were received from an attorney acting for the trustee. Some of the answers raised further questions, the responses to which require scrutiny by an independent party (in my opinion). I made a written request to the trustee’s attorney to hold a meeting with the trustee but with an independent party present. That request was ignored, thus triggering my application to the Ombudsman for dispute resolution.
I will be taking readers through the process as it unfolds over the coming weeks and months. According to various media reports property owners are making increasing use of the CSOS process.
Written by: Blake Wilkins