Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Renovating your strata property – 10 big questions answered

Renovating your strata property

When it comes to the Australian dream, bigger is better.  Right?

Not if the latest trends are anything to go by.

With the cost of living on the up and up and housing affordability at all time lows, more Australians than ever are heading into the high rise world of apartment living.

But unless you’ve got $66 million or so in spare change, apartment living definitely means much more of a squeeze.

However, that doesn’t mean you’re missing out on the Aussie dream.

Apartment living is the new Aussie dream

It’s just not true that moving into an apartment means you’re missing out.  In fact, the era of limited space doesn’t just mean money saving and lifestyle simplification, there are also a myriad of imaginative ideas on renovating your strata property as well as decorating tricks that can make the tiniest of spaces into the most nifty, practical and stylish place you’ve ever imagined living in.

But let’s save those tricks for another day.  First, there are hurdles to clear.

While the generally small space and footprint means they’re easier to transform than a house, renovating your strata property requires some careful homework.

The biggest hurdle to clear relates to the body corporate, owners corporation or strata committee that governs what you can and can’t do to your slice of the building.

What’s strata again?

As you’re at Strataville, you probably don’t need us to explain what strata title actually is.  But in a nutshell, it’s the groundbreaking Aussie property law concept that means you actually own a bit of a bigger building, in addition to shared ownership of other common property.

It’s managed via the owners corporation or body corporate, and in Sydney, strata accounts for over half of all current residential property purchases.

Yeah, yeah – but when can you start knocking walls out?

Without getting too deep into why smashing down walls isn’t necessarily a good idea in an apartment building, it’s crucial to understand the rules and laws that govern, guide and restrict how you can renovate a strata property.

Strata renovations and the rules.  Here’s what to know in 10 steps:

Question 1: What are your plans?

First up, it’s necessary to categorise what you intend to do.  Will it be:

Cosmetic work?  Minor renovations?  Or major renovations?

These are the three categories of strata scheme renovations as outlined by NSW Fair Trading

And even if you’re just touching up, it’s a good idea to check and get permission before you start renovating your strata property.  Skip this step and you could find yourself ordered to put everything back as you found it – and very much in the bad books.

Read Related: Strata Renovation Approvals

Question 2: Who’s on the hook?

As we’ve said, if you skip a step, you not only could in the bad books, you might be told to restore everything to how it was before you got started.

And if you damage common property, there’s also only one person on the hook for repairs: You.

Question 3: Do I really need permission to hang a picture?

If in doubt, it’s a good idea to check with the body corporate or owners corporation before getting stuck in.

But it’s important to note that owning a strata title apartment is definitely NOT like being in a tenant/landlord relationship.  If you want to hang a picture, you should definitely feel free.  But if you want to rip up carpet, you may find that the strata rules or by-laws state that for noise reasons, floorboards are a no-no.

However, you can do plenty of cosmetic renovations to your strata apartment while resting easy that you’re in the clear.

These include banging in hooks, nails and screws, installing handrails, filling in holes and cracks, and of course re-painting the inside walls.

All of these things fall into the category of ‘cosmetic’ – which means you’re in the clear.  And if your owners corporation passes a by-law and agrees that something a little more significant can be defined as ‘cosmetic’, you may get the go-ahead for that, as well.

If in doubt, check.

Question 4: Is it worth taking a risk?

Feeling bold?  Think you can get away with renovating your strata property without telling a soul?

No.  Don’t be silly.  Once you start work, your neighbours will know you’re hammering and drilling.  Want to make a bet they won’t tell the owners corporation?

Question 5: What do I definitely need permission for?

For renovations considered ‘minor’ and ‘major’, you definitely need the go-ahead from the owners corporation before getting started.

You may even need to draw up your plans so that the committee knows what you intend and can object, but generally it will simply go to a vote and you’ll get the green light if more than 50% say ‘Yea!’

Question 6: What if I want to renovate a kitchen?

It may not be particularly ‘minor’ in your mind, but overhauling a kitchen would probably still fall into the ‘minor’ category.  This means that all you need is that vote from the strata committee, and you’re good to go.

Your ‘minor’ reno could include changing recessed light fittings, ripping up and replacing hard floors, and adding reverse cycle air conditioning.  ‘Minor’ renovations even extend as far as changing the actual internal walls, and the committee might also agree to categorise other types of work as minor as well.

So there’s plenty of scope to renovating your strata property to your heart’s content under strata title.

Read related: Types of Strata Renovations

Question 7: What if I want to do seriously ‘major’ stuff?

Now that you know you can safely do the kitchen without too much fuss, you may be wondering what other renovations are possible under strata.

Think your plans will involve actual structural changes, waterproofing, or the need for wider council approval?  Then you will fall into the ‘major’ renovations category.

These are things that can change how your apartment looks from the outside or might affect the ‘common property’ that everyone shares.

Getting the go-ahead for this type of work is a little more tricky.  First, the strata committee would need 14 days written notice to check over your plans, and then they’ll instigate a ‘special resolution’ vote that requires 75% assent.

Question 8: What about if common property is involved?

As outlined above, if you’re going to affect the ‘common property’ that everyone shares, that’s a pretty major renovation.

But you may affect common property even for what you consider to be quite ordinary renovations, like installing an air conditioner that affects a common property wall.  Even if that’s the case, the committee could still give you the go-ahead by passing a by-law to give you exclusive use of that space.

But if you do get exclusive use, you will also have to make sure that property is properly looked after and maintained.

Read Related: Five tips for Strata Renovation

Question 9: What if the owners corporation says no?

It’s certainly possible that you won’t get the approval you’re looking for to do your dream renovations.

The committee may decide that it affects common property, other residents, or even that your documentation is not up to scratch.  If you do get a ‘no’, there is some recourse to challenge the decision.

This is done through a body like the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT), and they’ll have a good look at whether the owners corporation is being fair or whether mediation or an appeal is appropriate.

Question 10: Should I tell the neighbours?

Before you start swinging hammers and drilling drills, it’s a very good idea to let your immediate neighbours know that you’ll be doing some renos.  At the end of the day, people are fairly decent – and they might be reassured if they know that all of that drilling will be over within a week, and always wrapped up by close of business on weeknights.

But if you tick those neighbours off, they’ll start looking into their options to ruin your plans – and they definitely won’t invite you to their next party.

Renovating your strata property is hard but rewarding project. But do your homework, be smart, and be considerate – and make sure you max out the new Aussie dream.  Happy strata renovations!

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