Life in the sectional title environment can, very occasionally, take a drastic turn for the worse. Death comes to us all but for some it takes place on body corporate property. This may occur in one of four ways – death by natural causes, accident, murder or suicide.
Where the death is discovered and dealt with quickly there may be minimal, if any, involvement by the body corporate. Depending on the circumstances of the death, body corporate involvement may be unavoidable. Where the death occurs on common property or where the relevant unit owners are unable to take responsibility for the situation, the body corporate may have no choice but to be involved in bringing closure to the situation.
In the event that the death occurs as a result of the body corporate property or the negligence on the part of any body corporate member, liability and responsibility may rest with the body corporate. In most cases their liability insurance will respond but that is a topic for a separate article.
Where, as a consequence of the death, body corporate property is damaged, consideration must be given to who bears the responsibility for the reinstatement of the damaged property. Provided the body corporate has adequate property insurance, most property insurers should respond to a claim for reasonable costs incurred in reinstating the damaged property.
The clean-up and removal of human remains is a very delicate matter that must be handled by professionals. One cannot simply clean up remaining human tissue after the corpse is removed in the same manner as other substances. Numerous factors must be taken into account such as the potential for contamination of property and people by diseases and bacteria contained in or brought on by the human remains.
Depending on the circumstances surrounding the death, when the deceased is found and removed from the property immediately, there is unlikely to be any damage to property. However, if the deceased is only found on the property sometime after death occurs, there may be significant contamination of body corporate property due to decomposition of the human remains. An example of such a situation would be the death of an occupant who lives alone with little if any interaction with others and if not observed by neighbours for some time would not be readily missed. The delay in discovery and resultant decomposition of the deceased will contaminate the immediate vicinity causing damage to property. The longer the delay, the worse the contamination.
In the case of murder or suicide, depending on the specific circumstances of the incident, human remains and tissue may come into contact with a wide surface area of property. This will necessitate the involvement of an expert crime scene clean-up team qualified to handle such circumstances.
Where a death occurs, the first step is to inform the South African Police Services. If necessary, they will appoint forensic specialists to investigate and should instruct the Department of Health to take care of the removal and decontamination of all human remains. Regrettably the department of Health are not always entirely reliable and in such a situation, the family of the deceased or trustees should call in the services of a specialist crime scene clean-up contractor. An insurance claim for property damage will be based on the costs incurred as a result of the clean-up and reinstatement of insured property.
Death on body corporate property and especially in common property will always be traumatic. It is important that the trustees make every effort to protect the members and residents against exposure to such an incident and to safe guard the dignity of the deceased and their family.
Author: Bruce Gibson, Addsure
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