A recent article in the Australian Financial Review, Apartment dwellers kick up a stink, highlighted many of the problems associated with strata dwelling. According to the article, which was based on a study carried out by the University of Sydney, over 50% of apartment dwellers had disputes with their neighbours. A large portion of those disputes centred around strata by-laws and who was responsible for paying for necessary repairs. If you live in or are considering living in a strata property, understanding and observing strata by-laws can make the difference between peaceful co-existence and a nightmare scenario.
Why Strata By-Laws Exist
Unlike freestanding dwellings, which are separated by space, strata units are connected by thin walls, ceilings and floors. Strata by-laws exist in order to clarify the rights and responsibilities of strata dwellers living in close proximity and sharing some property in common. However, most of these by-laws were put into place in the 1960s. Since then, the numbers of Australians living in apartments and townhouses has skyrocketed to over 3 million and by some estimates, as many as 45% of inner city dwellers will be living in strata units by 2030. While authorities have been calling for a review of existing legislation, the only way to ensure that you are one of the 49% who do peacefully coexist with their strata neighbours is to observe existing strata by-laws.
Strata By-Laws and Renovations
If you have ever undertaken a kitchen renovation in a single-family dwelling, it was probably a straightforward arrangement between you and your kitchen company. If you decide to renovate your strata title apartment kitchen, it will not be as straightforward. Before work can commence, you will need to have the work approved by the Executive Committee (which represents the Owners Corporation) of your property. Some of the things the committee will look at include:
- Whether or not the proposed renovations will be carried out on your private property (usually the interior of your dwelling only), on common property or both.
- Whether the work constitutes minor or major renovations.
- What impact your renovations will have on your neighbours.
- Who will bear responsibility for maintenance and repair of the changes.
- Will the renovations change the use to which you put your unit (from a dwelling to an office, for instance)?
- Does anyone else need to consent to the proposed changes? A neighbour or local authorities may be examples of this.
Ultimately, you will need to convince the executive committee that your renovations will either enhance or have a neutral impact on the strata community as a whole. The main things that will influence their decision include convincing them that:
- The work will be carried out competently.
- The work is properly insured.
- You will bear responsibility for ongoing maintenance and repair.
- Work will only be done during normal working hours (usually between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays only and not during holidays).
While there are problems associated with strata living, there are many advantages as well. Observing strata by-laws is the best way to ensure that you enjoy the advantages and avoid the problems.