Your Guide to Property Rights and Harmony

If you own a property that is part of a body corporate or strata scheme, you know that it can be complex. Getting a working understanding of your property rights and body corporate or strata by-laws can sometimes feel like navigating a maze. 

But these regulations and by-laws are a pivotal part of the smooth operation of strata living. They ensure fairness, maintain property values and foster community harmony among all the residents. And as an owner these are all very important!

What is a strata title property?

When you purchase a strata title property, you’re purchasing the lot – that is the unit, apartment or townhouse for example – as well as a share in the common property. These are areas like gardens, pools, foyers and lifts. 

While you own a share of the common property as part of your property purchase, you also own a share of the responsibility of taking care of these common areas.

Types of strata title property

Strata title properties come in a huge variety, but some of the most common are:

  • residential apartments
  • townhouses 
  • commercial or residential units
  • serviced apartments
  • retirement villages
  • retail shops 

The body corporate – aka, owners corporation in a strata scheme?

An owners corporation (often referred to as the ‘body corporate’) is made up of all the owners in a strata scheme. So when you purchase a property that’s part of a strata scheme, you automatically become part of the owners corporation. 

An owners corporation manages the strata scheme. They also make rules – or by-laws – which are binding on the owners and tenants regarding the use of common property. In general these are designed to protect the common interests of the owners (and ensure the property maintains its value!). These by-laws also determine what you are responsible for in terms of the property.

Some common strata by-laws

While every strata scheme will be different, there are some common strata by-laws you should be aware of before buying into a strata property. 

Financial commitments: administration, capital works and special levies

There are three primary types of financial commitments in a strata scheme beyond your purchase price. These are administration levies, capital works levies and special levies.

  1. Administration levies
  2. Capital works levies. Capital works levies fund long-term projects and major repairs to make sure that the property remains in the best condition possible and retains its value for the benefit of the owners.
  3. Special levies. Special levies will cover any unexpected expenses that come up, particularly if there’s not enough cash in the capital works account.

The amount of levies that you’ll pay depends on the size of your property, the amenities in your common property and other factors like the property’s location. So if you own the penthouse of a central Byron Bay apartment complex with a pool and gym on site, you’ll likely pay more than if you have a one-bedroom apartment in a building located in the outer suburbs with only a small garden amenity. NSW strata properties with facilities have average fees of between 0.8% and 1.2% of a property’s value. Those without many facilities are between 0.3% and 0.7%.

Strata meetings, voting rights and special resolutions

The owners corporation manages the strata scheme and this requires strata meetings. The owners corporation must have at least one annual general meeting every year. In between these annual general meetings (called AGMs), the owners corporation will call committee meetings or general meetings. These are meetings set according to the strata by-laws, where owners make the day-to-day decisions that keep the strata properties running well. 

As an owner you have voting rights within the strata scheme which are based on your unit entitlement. So just like you will pay more fees depending on your property size, you will also get voting rights. In general voting rights give you the right to vote on any decisions that impact the management and direction of the property.

Sometimes there will be a special resolution vote called. A special resolution is a change that requires a high threshold of affirmative votes in order to pass – being 75%. Special resolutions are generally needed for significant decisions such as changing by-laws, selling any common property or any major renovations.

Changes to a building's façade

One property issue that often comes up in strata schemes is how can an individual modify the exterior of their own property unit. This could include decorating for holidays, adding sun shades to windows and the like. In general, if you want to modify the exterior of a strata property, including your own individual balcony or windows, you’ll usually need to get consent from the owners corporation. 

Sometimes your particular strata by-laws will actually require a special resolution for any changes to the façade. This is because these types of modifications can impact the aesthetic appeal and uniformity of the property and can potentially impact the value of the property as well. 

Pets in strata schemes

Another big question that comes up in apartment and unit ownership is about pets. Are pets allowed in strata properties? And, if so, are they allowed in common areas?

Today, pets are always allowed in strata properties. An owners corporation cannot stop you from owning a pet unless the pet causes ‘unreasonable interference’. Some examples of what might be considered unreasonable interference could be making constant noise, attacking or threatening another person or animal on the property or if the animal brings a health risk.  

Regardless of the general rule, the owners corporation can make their own by-laws about pets as long as they don’t put an outright ban on any pets, or ban pets based on size, type or quantity. The strata by-laws might require you to inform the owners corporation of any pets that you’re bringing into the property. They might require you to tell them the breed type, weight, age and vaccination information. 

The by-laws might also put limits on the common areas that pets are allowed to frequent. For example, your dog may not be allowed in the pool or pool area. 

What happens if you have a strata dispute?

Despite everyone’s best efforts and clear strata by-laws, disputes can happen and are fairly common. These might be noise complaints, pet complaints, parking issues or even by-law breaches.

In New South Wales the way to handle a strata dispute is to:

  1. First, use any internal dispute resolution processes set out in strata by-laws. These could be as simple as having a meeting with the other party, or might involve hiring an outside mediator.
  2. Second, you can use the free mediation services available from NSW Fair Trading. It’s a 15 minute process to fill in an application to apply for strata mediation.
  3. Third, if steps one and two fail, you may turn to the tribunal process through the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal. This is a last resort and the tribunal will expect that you’ve gone the previous steps before coming to them.

Tribunal process

The tribunal process generally involves submitting an application, presenting evidence and attending hearing. In most cases, you’ll be expected to go through this process on your own. However, if you get permission you may have a lawyer appear in the tribunal on your behalf. This might be important if it’s a serious or financially significant dispute.

Tribunals are not courts, but they do have power to make binding decisions within their jurisdiction – in this case, anything to do with strata disputes. It’s a great way to resolve your dispute without the time and expense of traditional courts.

Whether or not you get permission to have a lawyer appear on your behalf, it’s important to seek legal advice when navigating the tribunal process. An expert strata lawyer will be able to help you to get the best outcomes for your situation.

How Patrick Dawson Law can help

Common property by-laws and regulations can be complex. Sometimes you’ll need an experienced property lawyer on your side. 

If you need help with understanding your strata scheme, owners corporation by-laws or your common property rights, contact our team today. You can also find more free resources and blogs right here. 

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