Strata Fundamentals – Know Your Rights and Responsibilities
Strata living can be easy and relatively stress free – provided you have a functional Owners Corporation and a responsive and proactive strata managing agent. If you aren’t so lucky, you could be in for a rough ride. The best way to avoid and deal with strata nightmares is to understand how strata works, do due diligence before you buy and to be actively involved in your strata community.
Understand Strata Scheme
Familiarise yourself with the following concepts:
- Owners Corporation – you and all the other lot owners form the Owners Corporation, which has principal responsibility for managing the scheme. You have voting rights in accordance with your unit entitlement and you will pay levies to the Owners Corporation for maintenance of the common property.
- Strata Managing Agent – a person or company appointed by the Owners Corporation exercise the functions of the Owners Corporation on its behalf.
- Executive Committee, Secretary, Treasurer – lot owners appointed to executive roles within the Owners Corporation
- Common property – You will own and have responsibility to repair and maintain the airspace within your lot. This generally includes internal walls and floor coverings but not floors, ceilings or external walls. Everything not within a lot is the common property, owned collectively by the Owners Corporation.
- By-Laws – these are rules governing life in the strata scheme For example, by-laws may dictate how common property can be used and how it is maintained, whether pets are allowed and what is acceptable behaviour for occupants of the strata scheme.
Do Your Research Before You Buy
It is imperative that you obtain a Strata Inspection Report, or inspect the Owners Corporation Records yourself, before you buy into a strata scheme. Strata Inspection Reports indicate how the strata scheme functions: how strata levies are spent, how disputes are handled and how repair requests are dealt with. Strata Inspection Reports may reveal personality clashes or noisy neighbours, as well as any structural issues which may end up being very expensive.
Another simple yet effective form of due diligence is to visit your future neighbours and pick their brains about life in the development. Make sure to ask about noise, whether the common property is maintained well and how quickly repairs are done.
Know Your Rights and Responsibilities
It is your responsibility, as well as in your interests, to familiarise yourself with the strata by-laws applicable to your development. If you know the by-laws, you will know when a neighbour’s annoying or inconsiderate behaviour is a breach and in turn will minimise the likelihood of an inadvertent breach by you. For example, many owners do not realise that their strata scheme prohibits installation of non-uniform curtains or blinds, or even outdoor lighting or shade structures. Remember your Owners Corporation can issue fines for breaches of by-laws.
A common headache for owners of strata title units is dealing with repairs. In some cases it is the Owners Corporation’s responsibility to carry out repairs within your unit. The repair request process may vary according to your strata by-laws, however generally the first step is to notify the Managing Agent and/or the Secretary of the Owners Corporation of the problem. If your request does not progress, write to the Owners Corporation via the Secretary putting forward a motion to be considered at the next meeting. If all else fails, you can apply to the Department of Fair Trading for mediation.
Additional rights and responsibilities are outlined in the Strata Schemes Management Act and Regulations.
- Do your research before you buy
- Know your rights and responsibilities
- Get involved
Strata living can be political. If you want things done your way, you need to get involved. Active participants in the strata community are more likely to have influence when it counts. You should attend meetings, read reports, vote and even try for a spot on the executive committee.
Written by Peter McNamara, partner of Clark McNamara Lawyers, Sydney