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Changes to strata management laws and home modifications


Origibnally Posted by Ryan van den Nouwelant on September 5th, 2016 · Cities, Demographics, Law, Strata, Wellbeing

by Ryan van den Nouwelant and Hazel Easthope, City Futures Research Centre

Tubular rails

The recently introduced reforms to strata scheme management have been wide-ranging. Some of the more headline grabbing changes include new by-laws about pets, parking and smoking, electronic voting and tenant participation.

One reform that has not received as much attention is the change to make minor renovations easier: like changing kitchen designs and screwing things into internal common walls. But, for many residents in strata schemes, this could have the biggest impact on their strata living experience. This is because these changes were, at least partly, framed to facilitate home modifications. ‘Home mods’ are the alterations or renovations made to accommodate a person with a disability.

While home mods can be crucial to anyone with a disability, their growing importance is mostly tethered to our ageing population. Making strata living a genuine choice for an ageing population is important to both metropolitan planning agencies and individual developers. New apartment growth and broader infill housing strategies are often linked to (a) shrinking household size and (b) a greater need for proximity to, among other things, community and health infrastructure. Both these factors are premised on the increasing proportion of empty nesters in the housing market. A lot of marketing for new apartment developments reflects this segment of the market too. And all signs suggest the influence of the seniors’ cohort on the housing market is going to grow.

New apartment buildings include a much higher degree of universal accessibility, prescribed by recent changes to building codes and access standards. However, a lot of existing strata schemes, and a lot of homes more generally, predate these requirements and so will be subject to bespoke upgrades as residents’ needs change. This is where home mods play a role. But unlike homeowners in houses or semis, residents in strata schemes need to jump through additional hurdles to adapt their units to match their capacities.

In 2012, Leichhardt council commissioned City Futures to research the process for home mods in strata buildings. The process was complicated, potentially involving engineering reports, passing motions to approve any works and even passing bylaws through owners corporation meetings. And the process – as well as responsibilities of those involved – was unclear, often resting on notions of ‘unjustifiable hardship’ or ‘discrimination’ that would have to be tested in court.

For example, one of the most common home mods is adding handrails. Previously when handrails were to be attached to shared internal walls, they required approval by the owners corporation (because the wall is owned by the whole scheme). Under the new Act they are explicitly identified as ‘cosmetic works’ and so can be installed without any approvals.

It’s still complicated in many areas. Anything that could affect waterproofing, which includes a lot of common bathroom modifications, still needs to be signed off by the body corporate. There will still be challenges in ensuring the building itself can handle the mods, with some wall construction methods and stairway designs making modifications like grab rails, ramps and stair lifts impossible. Anything involving common property outside the unit – common area stairs and building entrances, for example – will still require approvals and possibly additional costs of an engineering report and the like. Plus some strata schemes will have non-standard by-laws in place requiring a greater variety of works to be approved by committees.

The recent reforms, though, are a positive step. They recognise the problem, and will make some common home mods easier. In turn, this will increase the appeal of strata living for a greater proportion of the population.

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