When it comes to owning a strata property, it’s important that you know your rights and responsibilities for what you own and what is shared. Community living has its benefits, but it also has its challenges. One of them is the sharing of boundaries and common property in strata.
Sharing boundaries and responsibilities
Before we explore the topic further, it’ll be worthwhile to first ensure the meanings of a few key terms are clearly understood:
What is a lot?
A lot usually refers to individual dwellings in a strata scheme and comprises the cubic air space contained within the inner surface of the boundary walls, the under surface of the ceiling and the upper surface of the floor. Car spaces, garages, and laundries can also form part of a lot or be a separate lot known as a utility or parking lot.
The basic rule is that everything inside a lot is the owner’s property which includes all internal walls, fixtures, carpet and paint on the walls.
What is common property?
Common property in relation to a strata scheme, means any area of land and common infrastructure which does not form part of any lot. Common property is owned by the body corporate or owners corporation as “tenants in common” in shares proportional to the lot entitlements of their respective lots.
What is a strata or building format plan?
A strata or building format plan is a document that outlines the subdivision of a parcel of land into separate lots and common property. These plans are registered with the state’s relevant land titles office. All strata owners should have a copy of their scheme’s strata or building format plan so they can refer to it for an understanding of what is common property, what forms part of their lot, and what their unit entitlement is.
How to define the boundaries of a lot
The boundaries which define each lot fall into two categories:
- Vertical boundaries, these are defined by lines on the floor plan which relate to structures
- Horizontal boundaries, these are defined by a structural surface, such as a floor or ceiling, or a stratum statement relating to a structural surface.
Who is responsible for property repairs within your lot?
Generally, anything that is within the inside of your own private lot is yours to take care of. However, there are exceptions to that rule, such as repairs to infrastructure that may be located within your unit, but is deemed common property, so it’s always wise to check before doing any repairs or upgrades if you are unsure.
For example, if your taps and faucets have developed a leak, that’s also something you need to pause and consider before diving in to get them fixed yourself. This is because your plumbing may run through the whole building and any fixes you make yourself may affect your neighbours as well.
Take the help of a professional tradesman or qualified plumber to find out where the leak has originated. Finding the source can clear out most of the grey areas about who pays for what kind of issues and how much.
If you’ve added fixtures and cosmetic renovations on the inside of your home – that’s your responsibility. This includes items such as:
- Bathroom cabinets, shower screens
- Basins, toilet bowls and cisterns
- Paintwork within the apartment
- Light switches in the apartment
- Security cards and keys
- Internal carpet and linoleum
- Built in wardrobes and cupboards
- Stoves and ovens.
Who is responsible for common property repairs and improvements?
Your owners corporation or body corporate is responsible for the upkeep and repairs of common property such as the gardens, basement car parking, hallways, stairs, lifts, foyers, and pools.
Owners should let the strata committee know of any problems or repairs required. If the problem is a minor repair, it might be able to be fixed without the need for a meeting. If there’s a major problem, a meeting might be needed to authorise expenditure, or decide what action to take.
While improvements such as adding cameras to external walls, skylights and solar panels to roofs, new tiles on your floors, or enclosing your balcony may appear to be reasonable improvements to make, you may be making changes to common property and therefore approval may be required.
Who is responsible for maintaining fences and boundaries?
Retaining walls and fences can be a tricky issue amongst lot owners. If there’s a boundary wall dividing two private properties, the owners must mutually agree to see to its maintenance and share the costs of repairs. Your building rules or by-laws can clarify the sharing of responsibilities and costs in some areas, and if not, you may want to discuss this with your neighbour to determine an amiable middle ground.
If your fences lie between private and common property, depending on the distance and placement of the fence, costs of maintenance may have to be borne in part by the lot owner and the body corporate or owners corporation.
If there’s a dispute, your body corporate and strata committee can help you mediate matters between your neighbour and you. If self-resolution and mediation fails, you can apply for dispute resolution with the relevant government bodies within your state.
Who is responsible for repairs resulting from storm damage?
Storms and bad weather can make life difficult for property owners. So, it is important that your property is protected:
- Find out if your owners corporation or body corporate has adequate insurance to cover storm damage to the building.
- Before you choose an insurance policy or a provider, read the fine print. Find out about any hidden clauses and excess charges – insurers may have higher excess for properties with repeated storm damage. Flood damage is usually not covered by most insurance providers in many states – so take care to check what kind of damage may leave your property vulnerable.
- Ensure you know what type of building defects affect the insurance cover type, excess, and cost. Ask your strata committee for a copy of the necessary documentation for insurance clearance.
- When building defects come to light, your committee should take prompt action to get the defects and damages rectified – insurance providers will take this into account while evaluating your building.
Where to get legal guidance on who’s responsible for what