Moving Into A Strata Complex: Top 5 Questions Buyers Ask

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Living in a strata complex has some great advantages…

The power of numbers when it comes to repairs, the convenience of things like garbage collection, gardening and common area cleaning and even the ability to keep a pool or fitness centre on site.

However, this smart way of living in an apartment community also comes with some caveats and it’s important you know what you’re getting into before making that bid or signing that contract.

1. Can I renovate my apartment?

Yes, but there’s a limit to how much you can do without asking permission from the owners’ corporation.

If it’s changing the kitchen, replacing a bathroom vanity or painting the internal walls, your renovation will be considered ‘minor’ and will require approval from a majority of the owners’ corporation.

If you’re planning on ripping the floor up and replacing tiles or floorboards, that’s counted as a major renovation, and you will need to have permission from 75 per cent of the owners’ corporation in order to proceed, as it has the potential to affect the water proofing of the complex.

Likewise, if you plan on replacing external doors and windows or knocking down a wall, you’ll need 75 per cent approval. Don’t forget, most strata by-laws will have rules dictating whether you can have a skip on site and whether tradespeople are able to use the building’s carparking.

2. Can I keep a pet?

 There’s a lot of confusion around this. Strata reform enacted by the NSW government in 2016 meant that a new set of model by-laws were enacted which did not automatically exclude pet ownership, unlike before. This was largely seen as a move to encourage strata complexes to adopt pet friendly policies as apartment developments power ahead and an increasing number of people have little option but to live in a strata complex.

However, this does not mean that all strata complexes have to adapt their by-laws to allow pet ownership, they are free to adapt the law as they see fit.

A lot of existing apartment complexes will maintain a policy of permission to keep a pet not being ‘unreasonably withheld’. This means you can apply for permission to keep a pet, and unless an obvious impediment to you keeping a pet in the apartment arises (common examples would be keeping an unsuitably large pet or too many pets) then permission will likely be granted.

If you don’t agree with the decision reached by the owners’ corporation, you can appeal the decision via mediation, adjudication or an appeal to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Some complexes may maintain a policy of banning pet ownership altogether or restricting the type of pet (cats, and not dogs, for example) so if you already have a furry friend it’s important you know about this before making the plunge.

3. I’m a smoker, will I be welcome?

The reality is that, in the day and age of public no smoking zones, apartment complexes can also ban smoking by adopting a strata by law to the effect. Even in the case where this is not true, smoking in your apartment presents a significant risk of breaching by-laws.

Under the NSW government’s 2016 changes to strata legislation, smoke drift from apartments can be issued with a breach notice.

4. I’m not a party animal, but…

Having a few friends over for a drink in your new place is a great way to socialise, show off your new home and share the spectacular views or entertaining areas of your new property – but it pays to keep things in check.

Check your strata by-laws for rules governing ‘reasonable noise’ in the evening – many owner’s corporations will set a time of 10 or 11pm after which noise which encroaches a neighbour’s right to peaceful enjoyment of their premises can be met with a breach notice. As always, it pays to let your neighbours know if you’ll be having a party (or even invite them) – they might be a little more lenient.

5. I want to list my apartment on Airbnb, will this be allowed?

Many strata by-laws have moved to counter the perceived disturbance to community by making by-laws restricting the activity, however the legality of these by-laws is shrouded in uncertainty, with Fair Trading having declared them invalid.

The state government is currently considering the issue, having released a public paper outlining proposals to require short term letters acquire a license and pay a levy.

If you plan on renting out your new purchase, there’s every chance that this could be permitted to go ahead – but as always, caveat emptor (or in other words, I wouldn’t bank on it).

And finally,

Strata living is great – you’re joining the growing trend for low maintenance community living. But we always advise our buyers to do their due diligence by obtaining a strata report on the strata plan they are buying into, checking the finances, and reading the minutes of any recent AGMs to find out about anything that may not suit them before purchasing.