When badly behaved children take the shine off community living

Many people choose to live in a residential complex or estate for the safety and security that it offers their children. What happens, however, when it is the children that are the menace in your tranquil home environment?

According to specialist community schemes attorney and BBM Law director Marina Constas, wayward children are a common cause of dissent among neighbours in community schemes like apartments, complexes and housing estates.

She says that while many types of childish mischief may seem harmless, she has experienced some serious, and even life-threatening cases of children behaving badly in residential developments.

“Take, for example, a case at a large development on the Vaal River, where two youngsters were driving their quad bike recklessly and ended up driving right through the lounge window of a unit, seriously injuring the occupant who was watching television at the time.”

Constas cites another example in which three children in an upmarket complex in Northcliff decided that it would be fun to open the petrol caps of every car in the complex and pour sand into the vehicles’ petrol tanks.

“To their considerable credit, the trustees of these complexes immediately drafted new rules headed ‘Supervision of Children’,” she says. “The rules were passed by a special resolution of the owners, and stated that residents must properly supervise their children, their children’s friends and children of their visitors so that no nuisance, damage or loss would be caused to any occupant, unit or the common property. In addition, the new rules banned the use of quad bikes, skateboards, bicycles and tricycles on common property.”

Fair, appropriate rules are the only way to minimise conflicts around children’s behaviour in community schemes, Constas stresses. “There must be a balance between peace and quiet on the one hand, and the interests of the children who live in the complex on the other.

“The difficulty in many complexes is that the rules of the scheme do not sufficiently lay down what can and can’t be expected from children or their parents. Trustees or directors have a duty to set out what is acceptable behaviour by children, bearing in mind at all times that any rule which is made in this regard must be reasonable,” she says.

If a complex has a swimming pool, Constas says that extra caution must be exercised when it comes to drafting rules.

“Not only must a rule be included to make it mandatory for an adult to supervise and accompany a child to the pool, but there must also be a disclaimer sign at the pool to protect the complex and the trustees in the event of an incident.”

The issue of fines imposed on the parents of errant children is a tricky one, but it can be done, Constas says.

“Queries have often been raised with me as to whether or not fines can be imposed in the rules around the issue of children’s conduct. They can be; however, in order to impose fines, the rules must be crystal clear. Furthermore, any rule speaking to fines must provide a sub clause wherein it provides the owner being fined with the right to be heard. The amount of the fine should also be stipulated in the rules, with the proviso that the amounts must be reasonable.

“There is inevitably one safe bet in a community scheme. When you hit owners’ pockets, there is always an overwhelming shift in attitude. Should any dispute around this topic be taken to the Community Schemes Ombud Service, the applicant would be required to provide evidence of the behaviour. It also makes for a stronger case to have more than one person complaining. This issue around children’s behaviour highlights the fact that communal living is all about consideration, balance and communication,” Constas concludes.