Overcrowding in strata properties, when more is not so merry
As more people choose strata or body corporate living in cities, overcrowding in strata properties is a growing concern. Let’s explore why it’s an issue and what you can do to enhance the quality of strata living.
The UNSW City’s Future Australian National Strata Data 2018 report revealed that approximately nine per cent of Australians live in strata property, with the highest percentage of 15 percent in New South Wales (NSW). The combination of more people living in strata property, and pressure in the affordable housing sector has led to increased overcrowding in strata properties.
Learn more from PICA Group on how deal with overcrowding in strata:
Why is overcrowded strata living an issue?
Overcrowded apartment units may have serious ramifications for strata schemes. The most obvious issues are fire safety, occupant health and overuse of common services not meant to accommodate greater numbers than those approved.
If apartments are overcrowded, it may be difficult for an evacuation to take place in the event of a fire. Tenants in overcrowded apartments are also less likely to report leaky taps, blocked drains and overloaded electrical services as this might draw unwanted attention to the overcrowding. Occupiers of overcrowded apartments are also less likely to let in fire safety inspectors.
What can be done about overcrowding?
In New South Wales
In NSW, Section 137 of the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 allows by-laws to impose occupancy limits, with some conditions set out in the regulations, such as the limit may not be fewer than two adults per bedroom. In this case, the by-law has no effect if it is inconsistent with any planning approvals or other laws. Anyone breaching overcrowding by-laws can be hit with a fine, which can double if there is a second breach within 12 months.
The City of Sydney has also set up an Unauthorised Accommodation Investigation Team which investigates non-approved accommodation. Members of the public can report anonymously premises that may need investigation.
Overcrowding in apartments in QLD is handled by the body corporate through enforcement of by-laws and local councils. However, the body corporate has limited powers and must give seven days written notice prior to entering a lot, except in the case of an emergency.
Under the Local Government Act 2009 (Qld) an authorised person can enter a property for circumstances such as to find out whether the conditions of an approval have been complied with. The Body Corporate and Community Management Act gives the local government authorised under law to enter a lot, to also enter the common property.
Overcrowding in apartment units in VIC are also governed by the owners corporation but again, their powers to act are limited. The Residential Tenancies Act 1997 does not stipulate whether there is a maximum number of tenants/occupiers allowed in units, however, all occupants must be listed on the tenancy agreement. In the case of sub-letting, one or more existing tenants will rent out part or all the property to other people. The tenants who signed the initial tenancy agreement are the ‘head tenants’ and those tenants renting from them are called ‘sub-tenants’. A tenant must not sub-let without the landlord’s written approval.
Reforms to strata laws and renting laws in VIC are currently under review. The Victorian Government plans to implement those changes to the Residential Tenancies Act by 1 July 2020.
How to tackle overcrowding in a strata property?
Your by-laws and building rules are your first point of reference. They apply to all owners and occupants equally to ensure strata living is fair and enjoyable for all. Owners or occupiers who ignore the strata committee’s warnings or are in breach of by-laws repeatedly can be issued fines and penalties from the relevant state tribunal.
While strata by-laws can recommend the ideal number of occupants, it’s difficult to monitor and restrict adults from sharing rooms or discriminate between residents, their partners, caregivers or family members. So, if your by-laws are unclear or appear to be unfair, unreasonable or discriminatory, you can file a motion to have them amended at an AGM through a special resolution.
If you’d like to find out more on managing overcrowding in your strata property, ask a question at StrataFAQ.com.au. Or for a consultation to review your by-laws by our Kemps Petersons Legal team, click here.