Extreme Weather Events – Lessons from the KZN Floods

    If adversity breeds resilience, then the KZN community and property/business owners are going to be some of the toughest and most resilient people in the country.

    Having endured Covid, destructive lockdowns, near civil war with extreme lawlessness and looting and the destruction of property, we are now emerging from the harshest natural disaster many of us have ever experienced. The April 2022 KZN floods can be considered extreme by any measure and the tragic loss of life is currently close to 450 people with several still missing with as many as 40,000 people displaced. The reality of what follows in the aftermath of a flood is now clear to all with water supply terminated or limited, power supply terminated, cell and WIFI communications down, roads and bridges washed away and even homes and sectional title complexes devastated and obliterated. 

    Informal settlements that are close to rivers were swept away in the floodwaters which begs the obvious question as to how informal settlements should be managed and controlled. The government has already recognized the impact of the floods and declared it a national disaster and mobilized all aspects of government to aid the relief and rebuilding operations. The bulk of the emergency aid is however currently being provided by private groups and the general population. South Africans have responded with great generosity and willingness to assist where possible.

    Formal housing communities such as those residential developments in Umdloti faced the full force and destruction of the flood. I was shocked to watch the aerial footage of the destruction of part of the Surf Side sectional title complex off Bellamont Road in Umdloti. This sectional scheme is 35 years old -it’s been around for a while through all sorts of extreme weather conditions. It consists of 98 units with a median valuation of R2,425,000 per unit. The Body Corporate of Surf Side's insurance policy will now be tested, and the insurers will no doubt be scrutinizing the potential causes of the channeling of the floodwaters through the scheme. 

    Some hard lessons should be learned from these floods and relate to insurance, design and storm-water control measures for freehold properties, sectional schemes and Home Owner Associations (HOAs). 

    A Body Corporate’s insurance is typically described to cover the destruction of the building and the cost of rebuilding the scheme and the related professional fees. Most people would think, "What are the chances of complete destruction?". Well, we now have several excellent examples of this. Not only have the buildings disappeared the actual land on which those buildings were situated has been washed away leaving a massive canyon. The remaining neighbouring units may also have to be demolished to underpin and secure the foundations.

    HOAs often debate the cost and need for stormwater control measures. These are critical and even though they come at a cost, cannot be ignored. If you are buying into a new residential scheme, ask questions regarding the stormwater control infrastructure and the detail around this. If you are buying into an older scheme ask for information relating to the existing measures in place and pay special attention to the risks of neighbouring areas acting as a potential conduit of storm water into your property.

    The wisdom around design aspects to control stormwater ingress into buildings such as large overhangs, especially on weather side elevations, and the vulnerability of flat roof sections to leaks is now evident. Boundary walls between homes and complexes and how the flow of water is controlled around these are important and yet typically demand little thought but remain something to consider when investing in a property.

    For all properties where the risk of complete demolition through fire, flood or any other event is possible, special care must be taken to ensure that the insurance cover in place comprehensively addresses these risks.

    For freehold property owners, where the responsibility of insurance and stormwater controls remain the sole responsibility of the owner, the lessons to learn from the KZN floods are to err on the side of caution. Rather be over-insured than under-insured and have a professional assess any areas of concern regarding retaining walls and steep banks.

    Author: Seeff Property Group
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