Looking to renovate your apartment or unit? Make sure you get the OK from strata before starting work.
While living in a strata building has many benefits, it can also make some aspects of property ownership a little confusing. If you want to makeover your unit or apartment, you’ll first need to obtain strata approval for renovations before you start swinging a hammer.
But what sort of approval do you need to obtain and what can you do to streamline the approval process? Read on to find out.
Renovating a strata-titled property
Renovating can be a stressful and time-consuming exercise at the best of times, but it can be even more complicated when you live in a strata-titled property. Not only will you need to take into account the needs and complaints of neighbouring properties, but you will also need to get approval from the owners’ corporation before work can begin.
Owners’ corporation approval is required because the work could affect the appearance of the building and could also cause disruptions to your neighbours. Right at the beginning, when you start forming plans for your renovation, it’s important to take a look at the strata by-laws and the difference between individual and common property.
Under most strata schemes, you own the inside of the apartment but not the structure of the building. This means that the outer walls, ceiling, roof and floor are all common property, but the internal walls, carpet, bath tubs, benchtops and other fixtures are all owned by you.
Any renovations to common walls, floors, ceilings or other common property will require owners’ corporation approval. At the same time, you may also require approval when you want to renovate property that you own. For example, replacing bathroom tiles could potentially affect the waterproofing of your bathroom and have flooding implications for people in other units, so owners’ corporation approval will be required. Similarly, you’ll need to enlist the services of an engineer if you want to knock down an internal wall, which will also need the green light from the owners’ corporation.
The table below shows the difference between what is usually classified as either individual or common property.
|Individual property||Common property|
What laws apply?
Laws governing the management of strata-titled properties differ around Australia, so it’s important to familiarise yourself with the legislation that applies in your state or territory. The laws outline which types of renovation projects require prior approval, and also give information on details such as the amount of notice you must give your neighbours before work begins.
It’s also important to remember that strata laws are often reviewed and adjusted. For example, new laws will begin in NSW from November 2016. Under these new laws, the approval process for owner renovations should be much clearer. Renovations are classified into three levels:
- Tier 1:
- Minor or cosmetic changes – approval not required. This includes minor additions such as hanging pictures.
- Tier 2:
- Minor renovations – general resolution required (50% approval from owners’ corporation). These include renovations that don’t have any impact on a property’s external appearance or its waterproofing, and that do not require any structural changes. This could include a kitchen renovation or installing new floorboards.
- Tier 3:
- Major renovations – special resolution required (75% of owners’ corporation approval). Any renovations that involve structural changes or that affect external appearance or waterproofing will fall into this category.
Laws in other parts of Australia are similar but not identical, so make sure you’re aware exactly what sort of approval is required and how you need to obtain it before you start work. However, generally speaking, if you’re doing anything other than making a minor cosmetic change, you’ll need to get the nod from the owners’ corporation first.
How to obtain approval
Once you’ve familiarised yourself with the relevant legislation and strata by-laws, you’re ready to put together an application for strata approval for your renovations. Depending on the type and scope of your project, you may want to engage an architect at this stage to start working on preliminary drawings. Having an expert on board can strengthen your chances of approval – it may even be essential in some cases – but don’t get detailed plans drawn up until you have obtained full approval.
You will need to provide specific details about the planned renovations to the owners’ corporation. Preparation is key here and it’s important to provide as much information as possible, including:
- The type of works and how they will affect common property
- The duration of the renovations
- How common areas will be used during the renovations and for how long
Remember that the more information you can provide, the better your chances of obtaining approval. Getting a report from an external consultant, for example, an architect or engineer, may help win over voters.
Discussing all the details of the renovation with the owners of properties connecting to yours before the matter is put to the vote is also recommended. This will help keep your neighbours fully informed of your plans and increase the chances of them voting in your favour.
However, even once approval is granted, keep in mind that the owners’ corporation may also attach certain conditions. For example, these could concern the type of materials that can be used in the renovation, the hours during which work can take place, the licences required by any builders or tradesmen completing the work or perhaps even the payment of a security bond before work can start.
More tips for renovating a strata-titled property
- Read the by-laws. Thinking of purchasing a strata-titled property? Make sure to read the strata by-laws and find out what is classified as common property and what is and isn’t allowed when it comes to renovations. Familiarising yourself with the by-laws before you sign a contract could save you a lot of stress and frustration in the long run.
- Don’t start without it. Never start work without first obtaining any approval necessary. If you fail to follow the correct process, you could be hit with hefty fines and even be forced to return your apartment to exactly how it was before work began.
- Get it in writing. Once you receive the appropriate approval from the owners’ corporation, make sure to get that approval in writing. This is important in case any problems or disputes arise in future.
- Be patient. Gaining strata approval for renovations can be a painstakingly slow process. The owners’ corporation has a responsibility to ensure that the rights of all property owners will be looked after, so sometimes obtaining the necessary approval can take much longer than you hoped. Allow a month or two for the process to run its course, but remember that the larger and more complex your renovation project, the longer approval will take.
- Don’t forget about council approval. Anything more complex than cosmetic changes may require approval from your local council as well. This is separate to strata approval for renovations, so check with your local council what you need to do to obtain their approval.
- Be considerate. This last tip is a very important one. The builder and tradies you use to complete your renovation project need to be respectful towards other residents of the building. This means obeying all noise restrictions, keeping common areas tidy and generally being thoughtful of the needs of other residents at all times. If these guidelines aren’t followed, your neighbours could throw up more obstacles to prevent your renovation being completed and you could potentially get them offside for years to come.