Buying an apartment, duplex or a home within a complex is not the same as buying a freestanding home. Typically, these are strata properties, meaning they come with their own set of rules and fees. These rules are known as by-laws, and they are there to make sure everyone in that community is able to enjoy their home in harmony with their neighbours.
While you may own your apartment, the steps that lead to your front door are likely to belong to everyone, and if you are wishing to make changes to shared property you need to consult others. The Strata Titles Act 1985 is administered by Landgate, and its website https://www.landgate/wa.gov.au/ features two useful publications – A Guide to Strata Titles and the Strata Titles Practice Manual – for anyone who lives in or owns a unit. As of July this year, the Western Australian Government was progressing the drafting of legislation to reform strata laws in WA.
The reforms aim to fix current problems experienced by strata owners through better dispute resolution, improved management of schemes, regulation of strata managers and safeguards for the termination of schemes.
When you buy a strata property you agree to follow these by-laws and pay a levy. You are also given voting rights at the strata group’s annual general meeting. Strata Community Australia (SCAWA) is a membership organisation for strata managers; it provides the following tips for apartment buyers on its website.
- Do your research – When purchasing strata titled properties, the seller is required by law to provide certain notifiable information about the scheme before the purchaser signs the contract. Have a professional search the books and records of the strata company to view finances and any issues the company is facing.
- Know what you are buying into – Check the car space or garage you were shown is correctly allocated to the apartment – the strata plan will usually detail this. Strata plan details are available from the seller. You can obtain a copy of the Certificate of Title and copy of the strata plan which relates to the lot you are interested in, from Landgate.
- Know your rights – All by-laws are not the same. You should obtain a full copy of the by-laws that are specific to your strata company so you understand the rules you will be required to live by.
- Don’t forget the levies – Remember you will have to budget for levies to fund the annual running expenses of the strata company and the building’s long term maintenance. Ultimately, this protects the value of your financial investment.
- Be informed – Educate yourself about your rights and responsibilities when living in a strata title property and know who your ‘council of owners’ are. The strata council is regarded as the ‘board of directors’ of the strata company. Councillors are elected at general meetings. Attend the annual general meeting so your voice is heard and consider becoming a member of your building’s strata council.
- Know who to call – Find out what emergency arrangements are in place or who to contact on your council if something goes wrong in the building.
- Love thy neighbour – In an apartment building your neighbour is just on the other side of the wall, so be considerate of noise levels and disruptions. Keeping on friendly terms will benefit you both.