As strata schemes control building maintenance and resident behaviour in apartment buildings or townhouses, it’s essential for tenants to understand their rights, responsibilities and how strata schemes affect them.
The majority of Australian apartment buildings fall under strata schemes, but tenants often don’t understand strata or know how it affects them. If you’re a tenant in a strata building, here’s what you need to know.
What Is Strata And How Does It Work?
In Australia, strata is the most common way of managing the legal ownership of parts of a building, or 'lots', such as apartments and townhouses. Under a strata scheme, people own their individual lot and share ownership of common spaces with all other owners within the building. These common spaces can include gardens, driveways, pools, hallways, the building exterior, lifts and stairs, plus more.
To manage the maintenance and repairs for these shared areas, all lot owners pay mandatory levies each year that are used to cover the day-to-day costs such as cleaning, gardening and taking out rubbish bins, as well as to pay for planned or emergency works - like upgrades or plumbing or roof repairs. As the owner of the property, the landlord pays these fees, but you can read more about them here if you’re interested.
By-laws In Strata Buildings
Under strata schemes, all building residents must adhere to a set of by-laws that govern resident behaviour and the use of common spaces. These by-laws vary for each scheme and are agreed on by the owners’ corporation. And they apply to all residents - owner occupiers, landlords, visitors and tenants.
Understanding the by-laws is very important for tenants, as doing something that contradicts the by-laws could place you in breach of your tenancy agreement. By-laws include rules about things like pet ownership, noise levels, parking and smoking. They’ll be listed in your agreement, so be sure you understand them before signing the lease, or ask your property manager for clarification.
While there might be specific by-laws for parking, the general rule for strata buildings states that residents must only park in spaces allocated to them and not in spaces reserved for visitors or emergency services.
Landlord, Property Manager And Strata: Who Is Responsible For What?
Each strata scheme is managed by an owners’ corporations and a strata committee. All lot owners automatically become members of the owners’ corporation upon purchasing a property in the building, whereas the strata committee is an elected group of no more than nine owners, which makes decisions on behalf of the owners’ corporation.
So when you’re a tenant with a landlord and a property manager, how do you know who is responsible for what in your strata-managed building? Generally speaking, your landlord or property manager will look after anything within your apartment, such as:
- Carpet or flooring
- Electrical or plumbing issues within the apartment
- Walls and light fixtures
Conversely, the strata committee and owners’ corporation are responsible for:
- Repairs and maintenance of the building’s exterior, including windows, gardens and shared parking spaces
- Building-wide electricity or plumbing issues
- Hallways, stairs and lobby areas
- Building insurance and finances
- Records and accounts
- Enforcing by-laws
As a tenant, your first port of call for any issue should be your property manager, who can best advise you on how to proceed with any repair or maintenance issue. Tenants do have the right to contact the strata committee or owners’ corporation directly about issues, but you should also include your property manager or landlord on any communication so they’re aware.
Tenant Rights And Strata Meetings
As a tenant living in a strata property, you have a right to be kept informed about what is happening in the building. In some older buildings, there might be a noticeboard in a common area, where information is posted for all residents to read. This is less common in schemes that started after 1 July 1997, so check with your property manager if you’re unsure.
While in reality it’s usually uncommon for tenants to do so, you’re also permitted to attend owners’ corporation and strata committee meetings, but the owners’ corporation can exclude you if financial matters are being discussed. While you can attend the meetings, you can’t speak or vote on issues, unless you’ve been authorised to do so. If tenants occupy 50% or more of the building’s lots, a tenant representative can be elected to speak at strata committee meetings, but they will still not be able to vote.
The landlord must ensure you’re added to the strata roll when you sign the lease, which will mean you can receive notices about upcoming meetings and attend them.
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