Unfortunately not all owners within a strata scheme are aware of their rights and obligations regarding strata ownership, which can lead to problems with other lot owners, the strata manager, and the owners corporation.
What does strata ownership involve?
Strata title refers to the type of ownership for individual townhouses, units, villas, and even commercial warehouses, within a complex.
Not only do the individual owners have the right to occupy and enjoy their particular lot, but they also have an interest in the other areas within the complex (such as the driveways, gardens and utilities areas) – referred to as the common property. Every lot owner shares the ownership of the common property.
Owning a strata property is not the same as owning a freestanding house – your use and enjoyment of the property is regulated by legislation and also any by-laws that specifically apply to your strata complex.
- You own your unit or apartment as well as sharing ownership and responsibility for the common property.
- As an owner, you are automatically a member of the “owners corporation” which has responsibility for the common property.
- You have to contribute to the cost of running the building by paying levies, usually on a quarterly basis.
- You also have to pay money into a sinking fund, for future long term expenses such as painting the building or updating the garden areas.
It is important to note that the external walls, windows, doors, the floor (including floor tiles) and the roof do not usually belong to the lot owner, but are considered common property, which means that the repair and maintenance of these areas (and the cost of doing so) usually falls to the owners corporation.
This means that the lot owners own the inside space of the unit, but not the main structure of the building.
So what can I do and not do within the strata complex?
There will be certain restrictions regarding your use and enjoyment of your strata property, as set out in the by-laws for the strata scheme. Typical by-laws will specify rules regarding:
- the keeping of animals – some strata schemes expressly forbid any animals being kept on the property.
- parking on the common property – there will usually be designated spaces for visitors, however parking will be forbidden on any other part of the common property.
- keeping noise to a minimum, to maintain peace and enjoyment for your neighbours.
- drying washing on the balcony.
- changing the “appearance” of your lot – to ensure that the overall look of the property remains consistent, you may be prevented from installing brightly coloured blinds in your windows.
If I want to do something to my property, do I need to obtain permission?
- you must not interfere with any support or shelter provided by your lot for another lot or the common property;
- you must give the owners corporation at least 14 days’ written notice before altering the structure of your lot. The notice must describe the alterations;
- The owners corporation can stop alterations to a lot if it interferes with the common property or any support to the rest of the building;
- you must not interfere with the passage or provision of water, sewerage, drainage, gas or other similar services;
- you must not use your enjoy your lot in such a way which might cause a nuisance or hazard to another resident;
- you must not use or enjoy the common property in a way that may interfere unreasonably with another resident’s use and enjoyment of common property or their lot.
What if a lot owner has changed part of the common property without permission?
If a lot owner wishes to make a change or alteration to something in their lot which forms part of the common property (such as windows), then it must obtain permission of the owners corporation. Usually the owners corporation will review the proposed works, and authorise them with certain conditions being imposed, such as ensuring that the new windows are within the overall look of the entire complex, and that the repair, maintenance and future replacement of the windows are the responsibility of the particular lot owner.
If a lot owner has not obtained prior approval of the owners corporation, perhaps because they were unaware of their obligation to do so, then the owners corporation should take immediate steps to inform the lot owner of their responsibility, and ask that they formally request permission for the works.
If the lot owner refuses to do so, and is unwilling to talk any further about the issue, then there are 2 options available:
- the owners corporation can serve a Notice to Comply with a By-Law on the person who is breaching it (section 45). If that person continues to breach the by-law, then the owners corporation may apply to the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) – Consumer & Commercial Division – for a penalty of up to $550 to be imposed on them (section 203).
- The owners corporation, an owner or resident can apply for mediation through Fair Trading. If no settlement is reached, or if a party does not comply with the settlement agreement, then one side can apply for an order by an Adjudicator or the NCAT (which will be a public hearing, just like a normal court case). If you are unhappy with the Adjudicator’s decision, then you can appeal to the NCAT.
NCAT has the power to make the following types of orders:
- an order that a party pay a sum of money to the other party – if this is not complied with, then the order can become a judgment of the Local Court and enforced through the Sheriff’s Office;
- an order for a lot owner to get consent for repairs to common property;
- an order appointing a strata managing agent;
- an order about levy contributions;
- an order about keeping of animals.
If you require advice or assistance regarding a strata issue, contact our office on 9526 3444 or email Melissa Lammers – firstname.lastname@example.org.