When you purchase a strata titled unit in many states in Australia, it is unlikely you will be able to improve its individual operational performance without the consent of the owners corporation.
In fact in some states, like Western Australia, the Strata Titles Act defines the need for a ‘resolution without dissent’ for any structural improvements, which can include solar PV on rooftops, battery storage or rainwater tanks that may need to be placed in or on a common area. In other words, one vote against the motion and its not possible to go ahead. The individual proprietor is left with a final option to appeal to the State Administrative Tribunal.
In recent years, there has also been a dramatic increase in the installation of sustainability infrastructure, particularly solar panels, which has led to questions about how the existing strata title legislation may inhibit such installations.
The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) is one Australian jurisdiction to specifically address the installation of sustainability infrastructure in its Unit Titles (Management) ACT (2011) outlining provisions and governance. Its only limitation is that it does not apply to individual proprietors seeking to invest and enjoy the benefit of the infrastructure for their own use, and rather applies to an owners corporation installing sustainability infrastructure for the benefit of all proprietors.
Although relevant to vertical schemes, this legislation does not go far enough for horizontal dwellings. Many villas and townhouses have direct and exclusive access to roof areas. These rooftop areas could be used by individual lot owners to install infrastructure such as solar hot water systems or solar PV electricity generation for their use. Exclusive use bylaws would need to be prepared and registered with proper due diligence, and this can be expensive with surveyors and insurance indemnification amongst other expense.
Solutions to this would be to soften voting requirements to an ordinary resolution or majority, making improvements to information and disclosure at point of sale and in management of strata schemes, and standardizing insurance policies to include sustainability infrastructure installed, owned and operated by the individual proprietor as part of the overall building insurance policy.
Like in NSW and ACT, the Western Australian State Government is undergoing a review of the strata title legislation to, among other things, introduce the concept of community title. The review presents an opportunity to remove regulatory barriers to the installation of sustainability infrastructure, and efforts have been made to see its appropriate inclusion in the reforms.
Not only will well-considered changes to strata law allow for higher efficiencies and new technologies to be implemented in aging strata buildings, but it will result in low-carbon and affordable outcomes for occupants and improve the value proposition of these properties.
The latest statement from Landgate, who are administering the Reforms in WA, confirms they are seeking ways to make it easier to install sustainability or utility infrastructure on common property within strata and survey-strata schemes. However, they have not defined this improvement for horizontal schemes where individual proprietors can gain the benefit.
It would be unfortunate for horizontal schemes to be left behind again, and not be part of the innovative policy we need to see in this country. We continue to work with stakeholders and relevant parties to see all options are rigorously investigated and considered.