Inundated by water leak questions?

The unpredictability of Queensland’s weather was on show just before Easter and again on Friday 1 May with severe flash flooding, followed by a seemingly incompatible clear and sunny Saturday.

It is when rain gets as heavy as we have recently experienced that your strata property, like all property, will pop a leak. As the on-site manager, your phone number is the one most owners or tenants will punch in when they get unwanted water into their apartment, whether it be from storms , leaking pipes or overflowing baths in other units.

While the priority is to get trusted trades people in to minimise damage (either for common property or for individual lot owners), you might also have to field some questions from worried lot owners about whether the costs will be borne by them individually or by the body corporate.

It must be said from the outset that this is a topic of complexity, where the smallest detail may change the outcome. Your body corporate manager is across all the details and can help you with more specific questions. However, below is a quick summary that can help you provide some initial advice to worried lot owners following unwanted water ingress.

Part of a lot or part of common property?

The Body Corporate and Community Management Act sets out a simple starting point: the body corporate is responsible for common property and the owner of a lot is responsible for their lot. This sounds simple, but the only way to say with certainty what is common property and what is part of a lot is to look at the survey plan.

The survey plan for your scheme will show where the boundaries are between common property and lots. These boundary locations will differ between schemes registered as a standard format plan, such as a townhouse complex (where the building is usually contained within a lot and common property is limited to gardens, roads and shared utility infrastructure) and a building format plan, such as an apartment building (where the building itself is subdivided into lots and common property).

A further complication is that water can travel a long distance and cause damage far from where the leak starts. For this reason, allocation of responsibility is not always possible until a thorough investigation has taken place. However, a look at some common examples can provide a general idea of where responsibility will lie.

Section 159 of the Standard Module provides that the body corporate is ultimately responsible for maintaining the water proof membrane in good condition in subdivided buildings. So, for example, if water leaks from an overflowing bath in one unit to the unit below because of a deteriorated waterproofing membrane, the body corporate will be responsible for the membrane repair as well as the resultant damage to the below unit.

However, the situation is different if an individual lot owner damages the membrane, for example, by incorrectly installing planter boxes. They will then be responsible for the cost of repairing the membrane and any costs to rectify water leaks to lower floors.

Utility infrastructure, including water pipes, is normally common property and therefore the responsibility of the body corporate. However, it will be a lot owner’s responsibility if the pipe

supplies a utility service to only one lot
is within the boundaries of a lot
is not within a boundary structure for the lot.

For example, a leaking water pipe servicing one unit located between a kitchen wall and lounge room wall will be the lot owner’s responsibility as it is within the boundaries of a lot, and is not in a boundary structure. On the other hand, a pipe servicing one lot may still be body corporate responsibility when it is located in a wall between two lots or in the roof, as it is in a boundary structure.

Again, a detailed look at the scheme’s survey plan is necessary to determine with certainty where the boundaries of a lot lie, and which structures are boundary structures.

Storm damage – insurance

After periods of damaging storms questions inevitably surface about what water damage will be covered by body corporate insurance and what lot owners must claim on their own insurance.

Body corporate insurance will cover any storm damage to the building, for example if a tree has fallen and damaged walls, roofs, fixtures and fittings (toilets, bench tops, fixed tiles). However, water damage to contents and also carpet as a result of the fallen tree would be claimed on the owner’s individual insurance.

This summary is necessarily brief –a conclusive answer about water damage responsibility will generally only be reached by a thorough examination of the survey plans and the particular facts.

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