FAQs about renovating your unit in an Owners Corporation

What if I want to carry out renovations?

Legislation that affects renovations is different in every state and territory. However, there are some basic principals you should adhere to so that your renovation not only goes smoothly, but that relations with your fellow owners remain friendly. They are: know the laws, understand what is yours and what is common property, and seek permission.

The Law

Do I need a copy of my plan of subdivision?

Naturally all renovations must comply with building regulations. If your renovation involves major demolition and wall rearrangements, a structural integrity assessment of your building may also be required. You should familiarise yourself with the relevant strata legislation for your state or territory, your plan of subdivision, and also contract your local council’s planning department to determine their approval requirements.

Plan of Subdivision

Having a copy of the plan of subdivision is essential because you need to be absolutely clear on the precise boundaries of your lot, and what is common property – for which the owners corporation is responsible. You should never solely rely on what you’ve been told by the real estate agent or other owners in your strata scheme.

Plans can often be confusing, so to interpret them correctly it’s wise to seek the expert assistance of a solicitor or conveyancer, as renovations involving mistaken boundaries can end up being extremely expensive!

Property Boundaries

  1. Inner Line: The most prevailing dividing line between an owners lot and common property is the inner line of the walls, floor and ceiling. It means you only own the airspace, not the dividing or external walls. So if your apartment was a cardboard box, you wouldn’t own the cardboard. If the plan of subdivision states "Interior Face: All Boundaries" or "All structural walls, slabs, beams, columns and ducts are deemed to be part of common property", common property inside a lot would include:
  2. All lot perimeter walls, floors, ceilings, perimeter windows, perimeter doors.
  3. All lot structural walls, slabs, beams, columns and ducts.
  4. All surfaces within a lot that have been fixed to perimeter walls, floors or ceilings.
  5. Mid-line: The boundary division “mid-line of boundary walls” can apply where there’s a common or party wall.
  6. Exterior-edge: This applies where the boundaries are set from the exterior edge.
  7. Survey Markers: Where lots such as townhouses have individual gardens, the boundaries are sometimes set through survey markers on the ground. In this case the lot owner is generally responsible for the structures and grounds including exterior walls and roof, but not for services which pass through the lot and are to the benefit of more than one lot, such as sewer or water supply, or possibly even guttering which overlaps unit boundaries.

What are some notable common property items in strata communities?

In Queensland a front door belongs to the owners corporation in a Building Format Plan, but belongs to the lot owner if in a Standard Format Plan. However, a door leading to a balcony in a Building Format Plan belongs to the lot owner.

In New South Wales balcony doors are common property if the strata plan was registered after July 1, 1974; parquetry flooring and timber floorboards are common property if they were originally installed in the apartment, but not necessarily if added later.

These are just some of the examples drawn from the mass of state and territory legislation, so it’s important you’re fully aware of who owns what under the laws covering your locality.

Do I need to get consent from my self-managed strata community before carrying out renovations?

Before undertaking major renovations you must notify the owners corporation. Most renovations impact on common property in some way, and the corporation is responsible for its good management.

In New South Wales, for example, lot owners must provide the owners corporation with a detailed written notice 14 days before commencing any alteration. Seeking their consent also lessens the likelihood of misunderstandings or disagreements.

You should also provide the owners corporation with notification of dates when tradesmen will be visiting, and obtain agreement on parking and bin placement.

Even inside your home there may be common property that could be affected by a renovation, thereby making the owner’s committee assessment more complex.

However, there are some things can generally be done without anyone’s approval, including:

  • internal painting or wallpapering
  • carpeting and using soft or noise-reducing floor coverings;
  • changing light fittings;
  • changing taps or shower heads;
  • fitting blinds and curtains;
  • attaching fixtures to an internal wall;
  • locks and insect screens.

What shared services should I be aware of affecting?

Another consideration for the owners committee will be if your renovation affects services that are shared by other owners. These can include electricity, water, gas, sewage, drainage, TV and internet cable, and fire sprinkler systems.

The lot owner becomes responsible once these services emerge from the walls/ceiling/floor of their unit or where the service within the common property is solely for the benefit of that single lot owner. The precise point may be disputed, so it’s critical the owners committee is consulted.

Ref: Strata Community Aust

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