When renovating a strata property, you need to ask the owners corporation for permission because it owns the building. It is different when renovating a house because you are renovating your own building.

Up until now, almost all strata renovations have required the owners corporation to give approval by way of a special resolution (a 75% majority) at a general meeting.

This requirement for approval by the owners corporation / body corporate arises because the external walls, the floor and the ceiling of each lot are common property, which is owned by the owners corporation. As a general rule, the strata owner owns only the skin of paint on the external walls and ceilings, the floor coverings, and of course the airspace and fittings in between.

The new Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 (NSW) (the “Strata Management Act”) recognises three kinds of renovations – cosmetic, minor and major. It has made it easier for strata owners to carry out cosmetic work because no approval is required; and because only a simple majority resolution is required to approve minor renovations. A special resolution is required to approve major work.

This article explains the new rules for renovations – which apply to all strata property - strata units, strata townhouses and commercial strata properties.

The new rules for renovations to a strata property #1 – Cosmetic work

The new Strata Laws allow a strata owner to carry out cosmetic work, without asking for the approval of the owners corporation.

In this respect, the new Strata Laws simply confirm what owners have always assumed to be the case – hanging pictures, patching and painting, installing a security device, do not require approval.

The list of cosmetic work, and the rules that apply are found in Section 109 of the Strata Management Act, which is as follows:

(1) The owner of a lot in a strata scheme may carry out cosmetic work to common property in connection with the owner’s lot without the approval of the owners corporation.

(2) "Cosmetic work" includes but is not limited to … :

(a) installing or replacing hooks, nails or screws for hanging paintings and other things on walls,

(b) installing or replacing handrails,

(c)   painting,

(d) filling minor holes and cracks in internal walls,

(e) laying carpet,

(f)   installing or replacing built-in wardrobes,

(g) installing or replacing internal blinds and curtains,

(h) any other work prescribed by the regulations for the purposes of this subsection.

(3) An owner of a lot must ensure that:

(a) any damage caused to any part of the common property by the carrying out of cosmetic work by or on behalf of the owner is repaired, and

(b) the cosmetic work and any repairs are carried out in a competent and proper manner.

Notes:

  • This law applies only to owners. It does not apply to tenants. Tenants must still request the landlord’s permission to carry out cosmetic work.
  • Only internal blinds and curtains, not external blinds and curtains, are on this list. The reason is that it is a breach of model by-law 12 for an owner or occupier to “maintain within the lot anything visible from outside the lot that, viewed from outside the lot, is not in keeping with the rest of the building.” Therefore, external blinds and curtains need approval if there is a ‘building appearance’ by-law such as model by-law 12.
  • Security locks, window safety devices, insect and animal screens and child barriers have been added to the list of cosmetic work in model by-law 2.
  • The owners corporation can add cosmetic work to this list by adopting a new by-law, as long as the work does not involve structural changes, waterproofing or altering fire safety fittings. It cannot add work which is listed as minor renovations. It cannot remove items from this list.
  • The owners corporation cannot override the new Strata Laws by requiring approval for cosmetic work. Existing by-laws which conflict are invalidated by the new Strata Laws.

The new rules for renovations to a strata property #2 – Minor renovations

The new Strata Laws allow a strata owner to carry out minor renovations, if they obtain approval from the owners corporation by way of a general resolution (a 50% majority) at a general meeting of the owners corporation.

The fact that a general resolution is sufficient, instead of a special resolution, represents the major change in the new Strata Laws for renovation approvals.

The list of minor renovations, and the rules that apply, are found in Section 110 of the Strata Management Act, which is as follows:

(1) The owner of a lot in a strata scheme may carry out work for the purposes of minor renovations to common property in connection with the owner’s lot with the approval of the owners corporation given by resolution at a general meeting. A special resolution authorising the work is not required.

(2) The approval may be subject to reasonable conditions imposed by the owners corporation and cannot be unreasonably withheld by the owners corporation.

(3)  "Minor renovations" include but are not limited to … :

(a) renovating a kitchen,

(b) changing recessed light fittings,

(c)   installing or replacing wood or other hard floors,

(d) installing or replacing wiring or cabling or power or access points,

(e) work involving reconfiguring walls,

(f)   removing carpet or other soft floor coverings to expose underlying wooden or other hard floors,

(g) installing a rainwater tank,

(h) installing a clothesline,

(i)    installing a reverse cycle split system air conditioner,

(j)   installing a solar photovoltaic system or solar hot water,

(k) installing a heat pump,

(l)    installing ceiling insulation.

(4) Before obtaining the approval of the owners corporation, an owner of a lot must give written notice of proposed minor renovations to the owners corporation, including the following:

(a) details of the work, including copies of any plans,

(b) duration and times of the work,

(c)   details of the persons carrying out the work, including qualifications to carry out the work,

(d) arrangements to manage any resulting rubbish or debris.

(5) An owner of a lot must ensure that:

(a) any damage caused to any part of the common property by the carrying out of minor renovations by or on behalf of the owner is repaired, and

(b) the minor renovations and any repairs are carried out in a competent and proper manner.

Notes:

  • Satisfactory details of the work, the contractor / builder, removal of debris and proposed dates are required before the approval is given. The approval can be given subject to reasonable conditions.
  • Reasonable conditions could include that a licensed tradesperson be engaged, with appropriate insurance, and an engineer’s certificate be obtained for structural work (all at the owner’s cost).
  • For example, the approval for installation of new or replacement timber or other hard floors such as tiles should be given conditionally upon compliance with the AAAC Guideline for Apartment and Townhouse Acoustic Rating. The conditions would normally include a condition that the strata owner maintains any items installed in good repair, at the owner’s cost.
  • An appeal lies to the Tribunal (NCAT) if the owners corporation unreasonably refuses to approve the work or imposes unreasonable conditions.
  • Neither installing nor replacing a gas or electric hot water heater appear in this list – so their status in terms of approval required is unknown.
  • Renovations which include waterproofing are not minor renovations. Changes to the external appearance of the building are not minor renovations. And if ‘reconfiguring a wall’ involves structural work it is not a minor renovation.
  • The list found in section 110 of the Strata Management Act has been supplemented by a list in section 28 of the Strata Schemes Management Regulation 2016 (paragraphs (f) to (l) were added).
  • The owners corporation can add minor renovations to this list by adopting a new by-law, as long as the work does not involve structural changes, waterproofing or altering fire safety fittings. It cannot remove items from this list.
  • The owners corporation cannot override the new Strata Laws by requiring a special resolution instead of a general resolution for approval for minor renovations. Existing by-laws which conflict are invalidated by the new Strata Laws.

The new rules for renovations to a strata property #3 – Major work

For major work, a strata owner must obtain approval by a special resolution (a 75% majority) at a general meeting of the owners corporation, if there is no strata by-law in place authorising the work. The approval for major work is usually registered as a Special By-Law because it is easier to enforce the obligation for maintenance imposed on the owner. In this respect, the new Strata Laws are the same as the former Strata Laws.

All renovation work is major work unless it is on the list of cosmetic work or minor renovations.

The requirement for approval is set out in Section 111 of the Strata Management Act, which is as follows:

An owner of a lot in a strata scheme must not carry out work on the common property unless the owner is authorised to do so:

(a) under this Part, or

(b) under a by-law made under this Part or a common property rights by-law, or

(c)   by an approval of the owners corporation given by special resolution or in any other manner authorised by the by-laws.

The approval process is set out in Section 108 of the Strata Management Act, which is as follows:

(1) … an owner of a lot in a strata scheme may add to the common property, alter the common property or erect a new structure on common property for the purpose of improving or enhancing the common property.

(2) Any such action may be taken by the ... owner only if a special resolution has first been passed by the owners corporation that specifically authorises the taking of the particular action proposed.

(3) A special resolution under this section that authorises action to be taken in relation to the common property by an owner of a lot may specify whether the ongoing maintenance of the common property once the action has been taken is the responsibility of the owners corporation or the owner.

Notes:

  • The Strata Management Act does not provide a list of major work, because it covers ‘all work which is not listed as cosmetic work and minor renovations’. Work which involves waterproofing, structural change or changing the appearance of the building is major work.
  • This is a list we have drawn up from a variety of sources, which indicates what work is major work:
  1. Bathroom renovations which involve removal and replacement of tiles, baths, showers, basins and toilets,
  2. Laundry renovations which involve removal and replacement of tiles and tubs,
  3. Repositioning kitchens, bathrooms and laundries,
  4. New plumbing work – for water, drainage or gas lines,
  5. Replacement of external windows or doors,
  6. Extending into the roof space,
  7. Installing a false ceiling, replacing a ceiling,
  8. Installing awnings or pergolas,
  9. Enclosing balconies or car spaces,
  10. Demolishing walls to create an open plan or to join two adjacent units together,
  11. Installing a satellite dish or antenna.
  • The owners corporation is entitled to require satisfactory details of the work, the contractor / builder, removal of debris and proposed dates before giving approval – and the approval can be given subject to reasonable conditions (the same as for minor renovations).
  • Reasonable conditions would include that a licensed tradesperson be engaged, with appropriate insurance, a structural engineer’s certificate, a waterproofer’s certificate, and that a by-law be registered (all at the owner’s cost). The conditions would normally include an obligation that the strata owner maintains any items installed in good repair, at the owner’s cost.
  • An appeal lies to the Tribunal (NCAT) if the owners corporation unreasonably refuses to approve the work or imposes unreasonable conditions.
  • The new Strata Laws do not invalidate current by-laws in place which deal with major works. Essentially, the new Strata Laws remain the same as the former Strata Laws.

Conclusion

The new Strata Laws provide considerably clarity in terms of when the approval of the owners corporation is required for renovations, and how that approval is to be obtained.

The lists of cosmetic works and minor renovations which are contained in the new Strata Laws are especially useful, when dealing with requests for approval and complaints about unauthorised work.

The new Strata Laws provide the owners corporation with a degree of flexibility to mould its by-laws to supplement the lists and to impose conditions for approval.