Property developer fights country estate's 'draconian' rules

Maybe it's just me but I believe that when you CHOOSE to live in a security estate, you do so willingly with a clear concept of the fact that your security and chosen lifestyle comes with certain restrictions.  If you don't want to subject yourself to these Rules and Regulations ... don't buy there!

It strikes me that the Plaintiff's daughter must be a "spoiled brat" (although I don't know her personally) based upon her actions.  In these estates, there are often children walking or riding their bicycles, elderly people out for a stroll and even golf carts crossing the "main" roads at various intersections.  The Plaintiff's daughter flagrantly chose to endager the lives of others on not one but three occassions.  No matter if you are a billionaire or just plain Joe Blogs, such arrogance is ugly.  The sense of entitlement and lack of consideration is unacceptable.

Having said that, the rules pertaining to domestic workers do indeed seem to be draconian. I accept the need to restrict access (for security) but once someone has been cleared to enter, to then place such restrictions on their movement smacks of the Pass Laws of old.

Still, I don't believe that the court case was sparked by a sense of injustice on behalf of domestic workers but rather by one peeved individual with resources whose nose was put out of joint when someone had the "audacity" to hold his daughter to account for her reckless actions.

Gareth Shepperson
Commercial and Property Attorney

Property developer fights country estate's 'draconian' rules

A Durban businessman and self-proclaimed champion of the people, reputedly worth almost R1 billion, is fighting to overturn 'draconian' rules at the plush Mount Edgecombe Country Club Estate and this week took the battle to court.

A view of the golf-course at Mount Edgecombe

Nemesh Singh, a property developer who has lived at the complex for more than 10 years, filed papers that take a stab at the lush green hills, litter-free walkways and serenity of Mount Edgecombe Estate Two, dubbed 'Pleasantville' by wealthy residents.

The estate's management have reacted angrily, saying they will fight Singh tooth and nail and rejecting his allegations that they rule over residents with an iron fist by enforcing a book of rules that make the estate 'seem like an autonomous sovereignty'.

Singh complains that domestic workers may not walk around freely and that residents are routinely fined for 'misdemeanours' and often locked out of their homes when management sees fit.

A lockout was enforced after Singh's daughter was recorded travelling at speeds between 55km/h and 63km/h on three occasions. She was fined R1 500 for each offence.

Conduct fines on the estate range from R250 to R25 000.

According to the rules, domestic workers may only walk through the estate when the bus from the entrance to the homes of their employers is unavailable. If they are found transgressing this rule, home owners become liable for a fine.

Singh, speaking through his attorney, Sivi Pather, says he deems the regulations 'heavy handed, unlawful and irrational'.

In his papers in the Durban High Court this week, Singh accuses the heads of the estate of running their 'own city state'.

The Mount Edgecombe Country Club Estate Management Association Two, the body which regulates the affairs of the development, is listed as the first respondent.

The papers also bring to the fore other regulations to which Singh has taken umbrage:

The estate's policing of roads in the complex and issuing of traffic fines.

Depriving residents of their free choice in engaging building contractors and service providers.

Residents being denied access to the estate when they are in arrears with levy repayments.

Another resident at the complex, Munshurai Ramanadh, is listed as the second applicant.

The minister of transport, the MEC for transport and the eThekwini Municipality are the other respondents.

Estate manager Terry Keller confirmed the association's intention to challenge the action. 'We will be responding legally,' said Keller.

In the notice document, the merit of each 'illegal' rule is dissected and measured against the backdrop of the country's legislation.

The roads in the estate, despite being in the bounds of the estate, are public roads, says Singh. However, the association has reduced the speed limit to 40km/h.

The estate management operate speed measuring devices on the site. Speeding motorists become liable for a fine. All fines need to be paid before an appeal is launched.

Singh contends that according to national road traffic regulations:

Speed limits on public roads are set at 60km/h in urban areas, and the association is not authorised to lower the limit.

Only certified traffic or police officers are permitted to enforce the rules of the road and operate speedmeasuring devices.

Singh says residents having to pay fines before any appeal goes against the audi alteram partem principle, which means listening to both sides before making a ruling.

He also alleges that the association's move to retain money collected from fines, instead of directing it to the municipality, is an act of corruption. Apart from belonging to a trust that owns four houses on the estate, Singh is a prolific property investor and developer, particularly in the greater La Lucia office park sector.

His property portfolio is worth about R700 million.

During his time in the property industry he has become acquainted with a number of contractors and providers, with whom he says he has forged relationships of trust.

As a result he is able to secure favourable rates with them in return for the volume of work he provides them. But he is unable to call on them because they are not on the estate association's list of approved contractors.

Singh maintains this is an unlawful practice because it is in violation of the Consumer Protection and Competition acts.

The businessman also asks why he has been refused permission to extend the working times of his domestic workers by an hour. Domestic workers are permitted to work on the estate between 6am and 6pm.

Ramanadh says he landed in trouble when his domestic workers were spotted walking on the estate by security personnel.

His wife was issued with a warning notice in respect of their domestic workers' alleged contravention of the rules.

An extract from the notice read: '...received numerous complaints of domestics walking on the estate, we have no control over non-residents once they entered the estate is a safety concern to some residents and management (sic).'

Ramanadh also alleges that the association is selective when applying this particular rule.

He claims to have spotted the domestic workers of certain other residents walking through the estate, but they have received no caution or sanction.

Keller said: 'Security is our biggest expense. We're always looking at the latest trends.

'There has been the odd incident where something goes missing from garages, but there has been no other major incident in the year I have been here.'

Singh's ire was stirred when he and his family were denied access to the estate.

The shutout stemmed from three speeding fines his daughter received in October, which he disputed and refused to pay.

On January 21 he received an SMS from the association informing him about his deactivated access discs and his family's cancelled biometric access.

Singh, who was overseas at the time, had to launch an urgent spoliation application with the Durban High Court.

The interim relief he sought to gain entry to his home was granted.

That matter is yet to be finalised. The property mogul has subsequently asked the court to merge it with this application.

Arising from the first matter, and after consulting with his lawyers, Singh says he decided to take up the cudgels on behalf of other residents who do not have the time or the inclination to oppose what he called the association's unlawful rules.

Singh claims he attempted cordially to address the issues with the association in February, via his attorney, but was ignored.

Instead, he says, the association asked when he intended to launch his court application and also indicated it was not prepared to entertain any undertaking he sought. Singh says: 'We don't want it to seem as if we are taking the law into our own hands. All we want is our complaints to be heard.'

  • Plenty to smile about in Pleasantville

    Want to live on a picturesque golf estate where you can rest easy even when you forget to lock your doors or remove the keys from your car's ignition?

    Fancy mingling with the famous and the beautiful for a couple of drinks after a round or two on one of the most beautifully manicured courses in the country?

    If you have a cool R6 million and some change lying about, you too could settle in the Mount Edgecombe Country Club Estate Two.

    And if you want to go high-end, it will set you back as much as R50m, according to Sally Cameron of Pam Golding Properties Mt Edgecombe.

    But you'll have to wait in line if you want to join the well-heeled at this tranquil and family-friendly haven.

    Located near the Gateway Theatre of Shopping and the nearby concentration of business parks, real estate doesn't come any more prime than this.

    It's no wonder property owners don't part easily with homes on this estate, ranked among the top 10 in the land.

    'They definitely don't sell them easily as there is nowhere else to find a better lifestyle and value, close to all amenities,' said Cameron.

    She said the waiting list of people wanting to buy properties never diminishes.

    'We have approximately 100 clients looking to buy on the estate at the moment, and some have been waiting for as long as nine months. They are prepared to wait this length of time for the right house and to secure a home on the estate.'

    The majority of properties on the estate are freehold sites, with the balance made up by sectional titles.

    Cameron said some of the 'cheaper' properties fetched just over R2m, while the top-end homes could cost R50m or more.

    'Setting them apart from the others would be their positioning, privacy, large and level ground, off-street parking, plenty of garages, and top-ofthe-range finishes.'

    Apart from the multimillion-rand price tag to secure one of the 900 plush properties on this estate, prospective buyers must factor the monthly levy, currently set at R1 600, and municipal rates charges averaging R4 200 a month, into their budget.

    But for all the well-heeled, high-flying businessmen and world-famous sportsmen and women who call it home, splurging on these 'safe' houses is not an issue.

    Cameron said while the rolling green hills and valleys, the park like-setting with its water features and herds of buck roaming the fairways, is breathtaking, the biggest drawcard is the safety features.

    'The most important factor is security; it gives residents peace of mind,' she said.

    'Not worrying about burglar guards, alarms or breakins and living on a well-run and maintained estate that ensures their investment is secure, is priceless.'

    Terry Keller, manager of the 18-year-old estate, said he and his team were constantly looking at new ways to make the estate a highly desirable place to live.

    'Our mission is to make this estate safe and environmentally friendly while ensuring the owners' investments hold their value,' said Keller.

    He said while it is intrinsically no different from other top estates in the country, the maintenance of very high standards and paying meticulous attention to access control gave them a differential.

    The 2m palisade fencing, crowned with lines of electric fencing, that runs along the periphery, and guarded security booms have kept out unwanted guests.

    Inside, security personnel maintain around-the-clock shifts to ensure all is well. 'We keep up with the latest trends and regularly invest in security upgrades,' Keller said.

    For those residents who enjoy a round of golf, Mt Edgecombe is heaven. The course cuts around the wetlands and eco-friendly areas where no development takes place.

    'Our golf course is perfectly manicured, down to the last daisy,' Keller said.

    He said the clubhouse, set on the edge of the Pani Dam between the 14th and 9th holes, is a popular meeting place for golfers and socialites.

    Other amenities include tennis courts, bowling greens, three community centres with pools, and braai facilities.

    But Richard Ballard from the University of KZN's School of Built Environment and Development Studies believes gated complexes are an expression of the inequalities in South Africa.

    'It is striking that some people can afford the finest living environment while others can barely eke out a living,' Ballard said.

    About 10 years ago the government made a play for developments to include affordable houses alongside them but Ballard says there was a big uproar. 'People in these complexes didn't want to be living with low-cost houses alongside their homes. In an ideal city people would work to build the best living environment for all, not just a few. Also, they would be tolerant of different kinds of people.'

    Ballard concedes: 'It's obviously not irrational for people with resources to want to live in a plush and safe environment.'

    Sunday Independent

  • Gareth Shepperson
    Commercial and Property Attorney


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    Denny Crane
    It's not me ... yet. Denny Crane from the TV series Boston Legal. Click on picture if you're not sure who he is!