COVID-19 and moving forward: best practice actions for committees and owners

Here’s how to ensure you’re following COVID-19 best practice for your strata apartment property. With the federal government producing a roadmap for a COVID-safe Australia and with most states starting to see an easing of restrictions, it is important committees plan how they intend to return to a sense of normal. It is also important committee members understand their role and duty of care when making COVID-safe community living decisions.

To help committee members and owners make the right choices to reduce community transmission and spikes, we have collated the best practice steps to be followed.

 

COVID-19 changes to strata and community living laws

Most states have introduced a range of temporary legislative changes to give strata and multi-owned properties flexibility to manage their property during COVID-19. The regulatory changes, in many cases, also provide community living properties additional support to minimise the financial impacts of COVID-19.

Committees and owners should understand and allow for the new changes that affect them. The legislative amendments include changes such as:
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  • Electronic voting
  • Affixing seals and signing documents electronically
  • How to reimburse money used from other funds
  • When and how much interest can be applied to late levies
  • When debt collection proceedings can be initiated for late levies.
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While changes vary from state to state, we have provided information that summarises or outlines the relevant changes committees and owners should know. To find out what community living legislative changes have been undertaken in your state, visit:
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Adhering to COVID-safe roadmaps and social distancing rules

While the federal COVID-safe roadmap seems straightforward, committees play a critical part in its implementation and success. Committee members have a legal responsibility to make sure the property is maintained in a safe condition and have a duty of care to all who come and go from the property.

Committee members must, therefore, make decisions in line with the restrictions that apply to their state and communicate these with owners and residents.

COVID-19 restrictions, as we have seen with recent out brakes in Victoria — resulting in a tightening of restrictions, are geographically specific and states will move at different times. Committees will need to continue to pay attention to government advice and public health restrictions and make decisions accordingly.
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Committees must:

  • Stay up-to-date with information about social distancing and gathering sizes, and make decisions for common property activity accordingly. Social distancing and gathering sizes apply to meetings held face-to-face and all common property activity. For most states, this would mean a 1.5-meter distance between people (or one person per four square meters whichever is the lesser), and a gathering size of no more than 20 people in any one place.
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    • Annual general meetings and committee meetings should still go ahead. However, social distancing regulations must be adhered to. If restrictions can’t be met, alternatives such as electronic meetings should be held — see relevant state-based legislation changes that support meeting alternatives and what must be undertaken by the secretary.
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    • Social distancing and gathering restrictions apply across community living properties, including common area spaces such as hallways, recreational areas, entrances, lifts, and private lots.
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  • Communicate any COVID-19 decisions and restrictions to all owners and residents in a way that meets the communication needs of the diverse communities that live within the building.
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  • Take appropriate steps to ensure health, safety, and hygiene on common property for occupants, visitors, and contractors.
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  • Because common property restrictions fall under a public health order, committees will be required to record the personal contact details of those who use common property facilities. This means taking names, phone, or email in case of a breakout. The visitor’s details must be stored safely and securely for the required time and then deleted.
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    • Committees in Queensland must keep personal details for a minimum of 56 days.
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    • Committees in Victoria will have to keep personal details for a minimum of 28 days.
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    • Some committees in NSW may have to keep information for 28 days, however, this will need to be clarified with managers and legislation.
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  • Committees must also monitor the assets specific to their property and see whether they are allowed to be open yet. For example, gyms can be open in the current phase (phase two), while saunas aren’t allowed to be open until phase three.
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  • As an ongoing precaution, committees must make reasonable risk assessments within the powers of the committee’s authority to determine if facilities should remain open. It’s important to note, where there is no government or public health restriction or guideline, a committee can’t restrict the access to common areas or facilities without a by-law.

 

Best practice for apartment strata committees and owners to undertake for a COVID-19 safe environment

Remaining proactive and providing clear and regular communication with all owners and occupants will be key for managing COVID-19 while also returning to a sense of normal. To assist committees in delivering their duty of care, the following steps will help to be thorough in the transition period.
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Strata committees should:

  • Maintain increased cleaning and hygiene schedules around the property.
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  • Keep common property areas well signposted to reinforce and inform about restrictions. This includes lifts, entertainment areas, foyers, in-door entertainment areas and recreational rooms.
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  • In common property areas that are deemed higher risk, such as pools, include signage that states: not to use facilities if feeling unwell, encourages hygiene practices and provides a risk disclaimer.
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  • Confirm which common property facilities are allowed to be open in your state. For example, if you have a sauna — this can’t operate this until phase three, so provide signs about its closure.
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  • Keep contact information of visitors and contractors. If this is done via soft copy, make sure pens are sanitised between uses.
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  • Make sure all contractors submit a Safe Work Method Statement which will now include additional processes for COVID-19 personal protective equipment and social distancing measures.
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  • If you need help with COVID-19 signs for your property, visit Safe Work Australia and the federal government’s COVID-19 resources page.
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  • When in doubt, ask you strata manager for advice or support.

 

We hope you find these steps on COVID-19 best practice actions for strata apartments useful. To stay up to date about other legislation changes, visit our legislation page. Alternatively, to find out more about how PICA Group is managing COVID-19 and community living, visit our page about precautions and moving forward together.