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How can you make improvements to strata common areas?

By Andrew Bell

Like any lifestyle, apartment living has its ups and downs. You'll get to enjoy increased security, fantastic on-site facilities, more affordable living and, most importantly, minimal maintenance duties.

That said, with an owners corporation managing the strata title, improvements to common areas may not happen how and when you'd like. While it's tempting to take the old Australian DIY approach, there are rules surrounding strata titles that limit your legal rights to make unapproved changes to shared spaces.

Here, we address how you can go about enacting positive change in the common areas of your apartment building.

What is a common area?

When you buy a lot within a strata title, you are entitled to make changes within the boundaries of that lot. Connected space on the same property that is not another owner's lot is deemed to be a common area. Some examples include:

  • Hallways,
  • Foyers,
  • Driveways,
  • Gardens and nature strips,
  • Interiors of boundary walls, ceilings and floors,
  • Shared balconies
  • Front doors.

It's also worth nothing that pipes or electrical lines that service multiple lots are considered common property as well – so they are the owners corporation's responsibility to maintain.

What is an improvement?

This may seem like a silly question, but it does make a difference when talking about strata. This is because something may be considered maintenance rather than an improvement.

Where something is considered to be maintenance, it is the responsibility of the owners corporation and they are liable if it is not completed to standard. Whereas if something is an improvement, the owners corporation is not legally obligated to enable it.

An improvement can be the addition of a new building, a structural change to the common area or a non-structural change such as installing air conditioning.

The Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997 does not clearly define the difference, however adjudicator's orders have previously used a "like for like" rule. For example, replacing a wooden fence with another of a different material would be considered an improvement. Meanwhile, simply putting up a new wooden fence would count as maintenance.

That said, using new materials or products does not automatically constitute an improvement. This is because certain items may no longer be available, meaning a similar but more modern alternative may be necessary. This would be considered maintenance.

Can the owners corporation make improvements to common areas?

Yes – however they must be approved at a committee meeting and are limited by the associated costs of improvements.

In general, basic improvements can be approved via committee resolution provided the total cost is not greater than $200 times the number of lots in the scheme.

There are circumstances where this value may be increased. Where improvements would cost more than the above value, but not more than $2000 times the number of lots, they may be approved pending a majority vote by all owners within the scheme. Most costly improvements must be be approved by special resolution at a general meeting.

Can I make improvements to common areas?

No – not without permission from the owners corporation.

If you would like to make changes to the common areas of your strata scheme, you can appeal to the owners corporation. The committee will be able to approve your request provided:

  • Your improvements do not cost more than $3,000,
  • They do not detract from the appearance of another lot and,
  • No owner's duties will be breached by the use or enjoyment of the improvement.

Otherwise, the owners corporation will have to provide a majority vote.

You will be expected to provide details of the work including valuation, comply with any conditions of approval and oversee future maintenance of the improvement. If it results in an increase to the owners corporation's insurance premiums, you may be asked to pay the difference.

Understanding your rights is vital when you live in a strata scheme. To discuss your freedoms within your property or seek a licensed property manager to assist your owners corporation, get in touch with Ray White Surfers Paradise today.

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