Many people buy apartments with a view to carrying out multiple renovations. Indeed, some sellers highlight the renovation potential to buyers keen to put their own mark on the property. However, if your new apartment is part of a strata unit, renovation is likely to become more complicated. Find out what a strata title means, and learn more about the steps you may need to take if you want to embark on a renovation project.
How a strata scheme works
Developers can set up strata schemes for both commercial and residential properties, but the term commonly applies to Australian residential apartment blocks or lots. A strata title is a form of ownership of these properties, and the name relates to the multiple levels (or strata) of apartments that generally exist in an average block.
Property owners must register a strata title with the local council. A registered surveyor must draw up a strata plan, which shows each of the lots as well as any areas defined as common property, such as stairwells or storage areas. Each lot has a unit entitlement, and once registered with the council, each apartment owner receives a certificate of title.
Strata plans also involve an owners' corporation, which includes each lot owner in the building. The owners' corporation becomes a legal entity, and this group oversees all decisions related to the maintenance, upkeep and (crucially) renovation of the building.
How strata schemes complicate renovation projects
Lot owners in strata schemes often don't understand which parts of the property they own. As a general principle, lot owners own everything from the interior paint in. While this may cover all the parts of the property you want to renovate, you may run into problems if you want to tackle other areas.
You cannot renovate any area of a strata scheme that the plan shows as common property without permission from the owner's corporation. Each strata plan is different, but areas that fall under this definition probably include:
- Front doors
- Exterior walls
It's also important to understand how far the renovation definition can extend. While many lot owners understand that removing or installing a balcony is a type of renovation, even painting a front door a new colour is likely to need owners' corporation consent. As such, it's easy to see why many renovation projects fall foul of the rules.
These rules are not just there for the sake of bureaucracy. The owners' corporation exists to make sure the building retains its original design. What's more, some changes could potentially breach fire safety regulations, so this level of control generally protects everyone in the building.
Strata unit renovation - following the rules
It's always a good idea to discuss proposed renovation work with the strata manager and/or owners' corporation. This step helps you discuss the proposed approach and can help you understand where your work may involve common areas. While the corporation will need to grant you permission to work on these common areas, this type of early consultation can also help you adapt your plans to avoid more complicated changes.
It's important to understand that you'll need permission from the corporation for any work that could impede on the structural integrity of a wall, even if the wall is inside your apartment. For example, if you want to install wireless speakers in your walls, you need to check that the work won't compromise the wall's structure or the noise insulation between you and your neighbours.
If you decide to renovate a lot in a strata unit, you must give your neighbours 14 days' notice, under Section 62 of the Strata Act. As well as permission from the owners' corporation, you will need written consent from any other lots that your plans will affect.
You will have to pay for any repairs or corrections necessary in common areas or in your neighbours' lots following renovation work. You should normally buy indemnity insurance to protect you from the cost of any accidental damage the work causes. For example, if you accidentally damage a neighbour's wall, you could face a hefty repair bill.
If you want to renovate an apartment in a strata unit, you'll need to carefully follow the rules. Talk to the strata manager or a local renovation expert for more advice.