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Strata unit renovations – do you need consent or a special bylaw?

Property Law

If you are planning to renovate a unit in a strata scheme (including, for example, a townhouse) it’s important to know whether you need to get the consent of the owners corporation or even a special bylaw authorising the work.

Cosmetic work

The Strata Schemes Management Act, 2015 permits a unit owner to carry out ‘cosmetic work’ without the approval of the owners corporation.  ‘Cosmetic work’ includes:

  • installing or replacing hooks, nails or screws for hanging paintings and other things on walls
  • installing or replacing handrails
  • painting
  • filling minor holes and cracks in internal walls
  • laying carpet
  • installing or replacing built-in wardrobes
  • installing or replacing internal blinds and curtains

However, ‘cosmetic work’ does not include the following, which therefore require the owners corporation’s approval, given by the passing of a resolution in a general meeting of the owners:

What are ‘minor renovations’?

‘Minor renovations’ include:

  • renovating a kitchen
  • changing recessed light fittings
  • installing or replacing wood or other hard floors
  • installing or replacing wiring or cabling or power or access points
  • work involving reconfiguring walls

In order to obtain the owners corporation’s approval for minor renovations, a unit owner must provide details of the proposed work, including:

  • details of the work, including copies of any plans
  • duration and times of the work
  • details of the persons carrying out the work, including qualifications to carry out the work
  • arrangements to manage any resulting rubbish or debris

The owners corporation may impose reasonable conditions for its approval of minor renovations.

Other renovations

‘Minor renovations’ do not include the following, which must be authorised by a by-law or by a special resolution of the owners corporation or in another manner allowed by the by-laws:

  • work involving structural changes
  • work that changes the external appearance of a lot
  • work involving waterproofing
  • work for which consent or another approval is required under any other Act

What’s in a by-law?

Generally speaking, the main items covered by a by-law authorising work on the common property of a building include:

  • a description of the authorised work
  • insurance for the risks associated with the work
  • standards of workmanship
  • contractors’ qualifications
  • conduct of construction work
  • avoidance of damage to other property and nuisance to occupiers of other units
  • responsibility for future maintenance of the work
  • payment of the owners corporation’s costs in connection with preparation and passing of the bylaw

Who drafts the by-law?

Since a by-law is a rule prescribed by the owners corporation, it is normal for the owners corporation to have the by-law drafted by its lawyers and then submit it to the unit owner for approval, before presenting it for passing at a general meeting.

However, sometimes an owners corporation requires the unit owner to arrange for his/her lawyers to draft the by-law and submit it to the owners corporation for its approval.  The catch with this is that it may result in the owners corporation’s lawyers demanding amendments to the draft, thus increasing the cost to the unit owner.

Minimising the risk

This risk of multiple drafts and/or protracted negotiation of the terms of a by-law authorising work on a strata unit may be minimised by ensuring that the first draft of the by-law is comprehensive in its terms. Atkinson Vinden Lawyers has many years of experience of drafting strata by-laws and can prepare them in a way that optimises the chances of them being accepted without significant amendment.  Please contact a member of our property law team on (02) 9411 4466 for advice on drafting a by-law for your proposed renovation.

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