Casey’s question relates to who is responsible for repairing unauthorised strata works
A previous owner had completed some very illegal plumbing and electrical work.
My plumber has informed me, for example, one drain in the apartment has been connected to the buildings sewer breather pipe, rather than the buildings sewer.
I am happy to pay for this to be rectified by a licenced plumber, with very minimal, maybe only 10 min work on common property. I see this as urgent work, as it is very badly done, and illegal, and I am not sure who is responsible for this work to be completed.
I think one of the previous owners, moved the location of the entire kitchen into another section of the apartment, and did a horrible job in connecting the new plumbing. I do not want to get in trouble in the future, or cause any issues with strata, but I want the plumbing to be up to code, and not cause any future issues for the building.
Can I instruct my plumber to complete these works? Can I get in trouble for the works done by previous owners, or be responsible to have them rectified?
Unauthorised Strata Works
An owners corporation has a strict duty to repair and maintain the strata common property (Section 106). Recent case law could show a different position in relation to the maintenance and repair of unapproved renovations or unauthorised strata works.
The Krimbogiannis case centred on the responsibilities of the owners corporation in relation to dealing with unauthorised strata works being an unapproved change to common property.
The NSW Court of Appeal determined that where an occupier or owner of a lot has removed (or changed) common property without authorisation (formerly under section 62), the owners corporation has a duty to reinstate that common property and seek access to the lot to perform such works and if necessary seek a Tribunal or court order that such access be provided.
Read related: Common Property works lands in the Supreme Court
What does this all mean?
It could be interpreted that the owners corporation is responsible for removing any alterations or additions to the common property that have been made by an owner without its approval and restoring the common property to its previous condition. And that the owners corporation is not responsible for repairing defects in alterations or additions to the common property that have been made by an owner without its approval.
Read related: A Guide to Common Property
Where to from here?
If you were wanting to re-locate the kitchen today, it is likely that the type of renovation or alternation would be classified as a minor renovation and require a general resolution of the owners corporation (Section 110).
You have indicated a willingness to rectify the works at your own cost. Any reasonable owners corporation would see this as an appropriate course of action.
The owners corporation can choose to remove the common property alterations or negotiate with the new lot owner about their compliance and on-going maintenance costs.
If the owners corporation is prepared to allow the unauthorised strata works to remain, a by-law should be made to permit the works to be kept on certain conditions. Those conditions should include a requirement for the owner to maintain and repair the works.
Much of the above deals with complex unauthorised strata works issues. In your circumstances we are just talking about some dodgy wiring and plumbing. First, talk about it with the owners corporation and mutually agree on a way forward. Your strata manager or chairperson is the appropriate person to speak with.
A short email stating that you have discovered a wrongly installed sewer connection and that you seek permission to rectify the issue at your own cost. It is simply changing a drain connection from the sewer breather pipe to the building sewer. You can probably remain mute on the electrical work as this can be done without any approval.
The owners corporation may only require a scope of works, the contractor details along with their insurance and licence particulars.
If these negotiations stall or you can’t agree you should consider free mediation from Fair Trading.