Fixing up the anomalies

How silly can the law be? Did you know that the current NSW strata laws require owners corporation approval before a unit owner can insert a picture hook into a wall inside a unit where that wall separates one lot from another lot? This is because the internal face of that wall is regarded as common property.

The basic rule is that everything inside the air space of the unit, including all internal walls, fixtures, carpet and paint on the walls, is usually part of the lot and therefore the responsibility of the unit owner. However, everything outside of that air space – including walls, windows, doors and tiles fixed to the floor and boundary walls – is usually common property and therefore the responsibility of the owners corporation.

It is not always clear what is common property and what is an individual lot. This creates arguments about whether the owners corporation or the unit owner is responsible for the repair or maintenance of a particular item. Help is on the way!

Under the proposed changes to the Strata Schemes Management Act (expected this year), the New South Wales government is looking to establish new requirements with regard to owners’ renovations so that:

• an owner does not need approval to make minor or cosmetic changes to the common property inside a lot (such as inserting that picture hook, painting a wall or installing handrails around that unit to assist elderly people);

• notice must be given to an executive committee before changes are made to common property inside a lot where those changes are not minor or cosmetic (like refitting a bathroom or installing recessed light fittings); and owners corporation approval is needed for all renovations that:

• require a change to the external appearance of the lot

• are structural or permanent

• require development consent, or

• are likely to have a significant impact on the amenity of a residence (such as installing hardwood floors, knocking out internal walls, installing an air-conditioning unit or installing access ramps to the front door).

Also, the law currently requires an owners corporation to repair any damage to common property, irrespective of whether an owner or occupier has caused that damage. The new laws will provide that if an owner/resident causes damage to the common property, the owners corporation may seek ano from the tribunal requiring the damage to be rectified or, at least, recoup the repair costs – a win for common sense!

Col Myers, Small Myers Hughes

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