Living in a strata community means that most issues are solved by the owners’ corporation. They are responsible for any issues that arise within the strata scheme(s). Although a straightforward concept, matters can become complicated especially when the issue of paying for repairs is live. It is sometimes difficult to tell who is responsible. Is it the private lot owner or the owners’ corporation? Plumbing issues within a strata scheme are definitely a grey area.
To understand the boundaries when it comes to repairs and maintenance issues within a strata scheme, it is vital that you understand what constitutes common property, limited common property, and strata lots.
How to Handle Plumbing Issues in A Strata Setting?
Normally, plumbing involves a lot of hidden parts that could be inside or outside of a private lot. Most of these parts are not visible, making it hard to establish exactly who is responsible. If you are a lot owner, you are advised to report to the strata board immediately when you notice any plumbing issues or any potential damage due to faulty plumbing. This could be either within the apartment or on common property.
After your notification, it is the duty of the body corporate to call in a professional to make the professional assessment in relation to liability. For minor repairs, it should not be necessary to call a meeting (but, check the owners’ corporation rules). Larger repairs may require the owners’ corporation to meet and discuss the potential costs or course of action.
If the owners’ corporation takes no action, put in a motion to request for the repairs during the next meeting. You may also request a mediation session from the NSW Department of Fair Trading to speed up the process.
In most cases, a strata scheme has a capital works fund or reserve which could cover plumbing repairs and maintenance in the 10-year plan.
Who is Responsible for Plumbing Issues in A Strata Scheme?
Whether the water damage has occurred because a burst pipe, a storm, or a leaking pipe, it can cause considerable damage and stress to residents. According to the NSW Department of Fair Trading, “the basic rule is that everything inside the airspace of the unit, including all internal walls, fixtures, carpet and paint on the walls is usually the lot and therefore the responsibility of the lot owner.”
We discuss the most common plumbing issues and who is responsible for each:
- A blocked shower drainage: As this is under the floor, the owners’ corporation is responsible.
- A ruptured pipe in the bathroom: This depends on whether the burst pipe is in the boundary wall or not. If it is, the owners’ corporation takes responsibility. If the ruptured pipe is in an internal wall, the lot owner takes responsibility unless the pipe serves multiple lots in which case the owners’ corporation takes responsibility.
- Mould or damp spots in your lot: The lot owner is responsible for any water penetration issues on the internal walls while the owners’ corporation takes charge if the same issues occur on external walls.
- A clogged showerhead: The responsibility for such falls squarely on the lot owner because the showerhead is an internal fixture.
- A broken kitchen sink that causes water damage to your lot and the neighbour’s unit: Any plumbing issue within your airspace including sinks, dishwashers, baths, and toilets are the lot owner’s responsibility. However, the owners’ corporation may take responsibility for some of the issues.
- Water leaks into your lot from a neighbouring lot: This depends on the source of water that’s running off. If the source of the leak is common property, it is the owners’ corporation responsibility. If it is as a result of an overwatered neighbouring lot, it is the lot owner’s responsibility.
Exceptions to the above instances include damage as a result of a damaged hot water system. For instance, if the hot water unit serves only a single lot, it is the responsibility of the lot owner to maintain it. He is also responsible for other expenses such as its wiring to the property, regardless of where it is located.
Who Takes Responsibility in Case of Water Damage?
Despite all precautions to eliminate the possibility of water damage, it still happens. In strata or community scheme settings, as a lot owner, you could find it difficult to determine who you should talk to should you suffer any water damage and what exactly you will be responsible for. The following guidelines not only covers water damage issues but could also extend to other calamities such as fires and floods.
1) When there is any damage or loss to common property, the owners’ corporation is responsible for the repairs. This also includes repairs to the item causing the damage such as a clogged gutter, a failed roof or a leaking pipe.
2) Should there be property damage or loss in one or multiple strata lots or common property and the cost of the damage caused exceeds the owners’ corporation’s insurance deductible, the affected parties may submit an insurance claim through the owners’ corporation’s policy. This implies that the repairs within damaged lots or common property, excluding any improvements and enhancements, will be paid for by the owners’ corporation. The corporation is then reimbursed by the insurer. In the event the damage is less than the minimum deductible or only slightly exceeds it, the owners’ corporation may decide not to file for an insurance claim. This does not void the lot owners of their insurance benefits.
3) Where water damage originates from one lot to another or the common property, the owners’ corporation could assign the responsibility to the lot owner and ask for reimbursement of the insurance deductible from the owner. Many owners’ corporations endorse a ‘chargeback’ by-law which permits them to claim the deductible from the responsible lot owner without going to court.
4) In case of an emergency, such as a leak that happens in the middle of the night, the owners’ corporation through the building manager will be summoned to act upon it immediately. This is because, at that time, the source of the leak might be unclear. As it is unreasonable to ask the lot owners to take care of the problem at that time, the owners’ corporation should arrange for a plumber, roofing contractor or any other professional to help stop the leak immediately.
How Can You Prevent Water Damage in A Strata Scheme?
A proper maintenance schedule helps identify risk areas both visible and invisible. In most cases, an insurance company will not cover damages that are as a result of poor maintenance, wear and tear, and a problem that has been left to deteriorate over time. Water problems might go unnoticed until there’s visible evidence such as leakages, dampness, and mould. At that moment, the impact could be dangerous as it could spread to other lots or to the common area.
The key points you should look into include:
- The age of the building (a building that’s more than 30 years is highly susceptible to plumbing issues).
- Does the building continually experience bursting pipes?
Pipes in hard to reach areas might be difficult to inspect. In such a case, testing the water purity regularly will help you establish whether there is corrosion. If the water pressure is a concern, the owners’ corporation should consider installing pressure limiting valves at the main supply to reduce the pressure of the water before it enters the building. Such valves could extend the life of the pipes by about 5 years as it helps to minimise abnormal vibrations and deterioration.
In the cold season, water pipes could freeze and burst causing extensive damage. Before the cold weather sets in, identify any equipment and piping which are susceptible to freezing. You can ask the owners’ corporation to insulate any piping plumbing material that is on common property. Lot owners can prepare for the cold weather by draining any plumbing equipment and condensation units and protecting them with anti-freeze products.
During the cold season, lot owners should inspect their plumbing systems daily to identify any frozen pipes. When performing the inspections, turn the taps on and ensure there is a steady flow of water. A non-existent or slow flow of water is a sign that your pipes are frozen. Should you suspect a frozen pipe, contact the building manager immediately.
Sewer backups could also cause extensive water damage. They occur when sewer systems are blocked or if the sewage exceeds the set capacity limit. It is the owners’ corporation’s responsibility to have the sewer lines inspected regularly so blockages can be treated in a timely manner. This also allows for the early detection of blockages. In case of a blockage, the corporation can call upon a professional plumber to install backwater valves to prevent the sewage from flooding the strata building.
Living in a strata scheme usually implies that most of the repair and maintenance issues you face are solved by the owners’ corporation through the strata manager. Whichever plumbing issues arise in your strata scheme, it would be best to discuss them with your strata management services provider especially if you are uncertain on how you should proceed.
At Our Body Corp, we help you take better control of your body corporate function with our efficient online strata management software. Get in touch with us today via 1300 848 343 for more information.