Strata Owner Feels the Need to Shoot

Should anyone who turns up to a strata meeting with a gun in their pocket be banned from ever living in a community scheme?

For those of us who have been involved in strata for a while, it’s only a matter of time when a strata meeting will turn ugly.

You’re usually dealing with some very volatile elements in any given strata scheme – it’s about people’s rights and responsibilities. There are people for whom the right to do what they want in the home that they own, goes without saying – which is rarely the right fit with a lifestyle that depends on a sense of community such as strata living.

Logic and reason can be quickly forgotten as recently seen in the news where an elderly Sydney man was involved in the shooting of his building manager during a bitter strata meeting.

Click here to view the full media article.

For NSW strata legal or levy collection advice please contact us here or call 02 9562 1266, we’re happy to assist.

Security of Payment Warnings Abolished

The Building and Construction Industry Security Of Payment Amendment Act 2013 is proclaimed to commence on 21 April 2014.

The Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act 1999 was amended by the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Amendment Act 2013. The amendments will not apply to construction contracts entered into before 21 April 2014. The Act applies to all construction contracts entered into by owners corporations for work on the common property.

The principal changes which affect owners corporations are as follows:

  • Owners corporations will now be a principal under the main contract with the head contractor.
    A progress payment is to be made by a principal to a head contractor 15 business days after a payment claim is made or such earlier date as may be provided by the contract.
  • It is no longer possible to contractually extend the period for the making of the payment.
    The contractor is no longer required to endorse a payment claim made under the Act in any way. This means that you must treat every invoice or payment claim under a construction contract or any construction arrangement as being subject to the Act.
  • You will need to immediately enquire from your principal on receipt of any invoice for construction work, whether there is a dispute in relation to payment and, if there is, ensure that a payment schedule is prepared and served on the contractor within 15 business days of receipt of the invoice. Failure to do so will remove any right to withhold any part of the payment claim.
  • Head contractors must now serve a supporting statutory statement with a payment claim which must include a declaration to the effect that all subcontractors have been paid.
  • Failure to serve a supporting statement leaves the head contractor liable to a fine up to $22,000.00 but does not invalidate the payment claim.

For NSW strata legal or levy collection advice please contact us here or call 02 9562 1266, we’re happy to assist.

Supreme Court Ups the Ante on General Meetings

A new decision not only renders void resolutions passed at general meetings called improperly but paves the way for owners who lose valuable rights because a resolution is invalid to sue the person responsible for the calling off the meeting. 

Click here to read the full article – Strata General Meetings

For NSW strata legal or levy collection advice please contact us here or call 02 9562 1266, we’re happy to assist.

Stay of Eviction Refused for Levy Debtors

The Supreme Court of NSW has recently held in two cases involving JS Mueller & Co that a bankrupt lot owner will not be entitled to a stay of an eviction from their strata unit where it is clear that the owner has made no attempt to pay overdue strata levies.

Please click here to view the full article – Stay of Eviction Refused for Levy Debtors

For NSW strata legal or levy collection advice please contact us here or call 02 9562 1266, we’re happy to assist.

Swimming Pool Legislation Deferred

Commencement of the Swimming Pools Amendment Act 2012 has now been deferred for 12 months to 29 April 2015.

For details of the legislation and its ramifications for owners corporations refer to the following article.

Click here for the full article – Swimming Pool Legislation

For NSW strata legal or levy collection advice please contact us here or call 02 9562 1266, we’re happy to assist.

Strata By-laws Differ Across State Boundaries

Historically, with each of the individual states and territories throughout Australia having their own strata legislation, the downside has been that the lack of national uniformity has presented significant challenges with interpretation and enforcement of the relevant legislation across different jurisdictions.

There are currently three principal jurisdictions throughout Australia − New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland − each having introduced strata laws during the 1960s, with New South Wales leading the way in 1961. However, over the decades, each of the states has replaced and consolidated legislation at differing times, with regular, ongoing reviews of strata and community legislation taking place at a different pace across the country as governments endeavour to harmonise communal living environments and address issues which arise as communal living density increases.

Three law firms in these principal state-based jurisdictions have formed an alliance, aptly named Strata Lawyers Australia, comprising one law firm from each state which specialises in the practice of strata and community title law. The purpose of this alliance is to combine the local expertise of each firm in order to provide a quality, nation-wide legal service which will maximise the effectiveness of strata law services for stakeholders in the strata industry in each state.

Sydney-based firm, JS Mueller & Co, is an active member of this strategic alliance and draws on local expertise to provide industry-leading legal services and advice, enabling them to operate across state borders and provide the most relevant and comprehensive legal service possible.

Recent developments within the strata industry across the country have meant that the implementation of a national alliance of strata law firms will have a direct and meaningful impact on the efficiency and delivery of legal services in this industry. Indeed industry growth and consolidation have seen an emerging trend of strata management businesses operating across multiple jurisdictions.

A number of other states and territories, particularly the ACT, have recognised the need to modernise regulatory arrangements for the strata sector and are keen to see the various jurisdictions brought into line.

JS Mueller & Co strata lawyer, Adrian Mueller, says that, for example, “ACT strata laws are quite different from strata laws in other jurisdictions. The ACT Unit Titles Management Act has some unique provisions”.

Adrian’s extensive expertise has seen him deliver ground-breaking papers and seminars to strata lawyers and managers throughout the country − a definite asset to the services offered by the Strata Lawyers Australia alliance.

It is Adrian’s recommendation that comprehensive legal advice is always obtained from a specialist in the relevant jurisdiction when dealing with contentious strata issues, particularly in light of the significant variations nation-wide.

National consolidation in the strata industry will see growth in the number of strata management businesses and law firms operating across borders including through strategic alliances such as Strata Lawyers Australia. And consolidation of national licensing is expected to bolster confidence among strata managers and make strata communities a more viable option for our ever-expanding population density, but will almost certainly require continual monitoring and ongoing legislative reform well into the foreseeable future.

For NSW strata legal or levy collection advice please contact us here or call 02 9562 1266, we’re happy to assist.


NSW Fair Trading Confirms New Strata Pet By-laws

Traditionally, keeping animals in apartment or unit buildings have been sternly frowned upon.

Rigid by-laws (the rules governing the day-to-day ‘housekeeping’ of the strata scheme) imposed by owners corporations have tended to be rigid and often subject to change at very short notice − and often not generally in favour of the tenant − and have led to many unfortunate events occurring where ‘hidden’ pets have been revealed in the most unpleasant circumstances, resulting in hefty fines and/or fractured (or terminated) living arrangements.

And with an estimated one in five people in New South Wales living within a strata scheme, the chances of a potential (or current) tenant owning a pet are high.

Essentially, pets should not be kept in strata accommodation without owners being sure of the relevant pet by-laws and obtaining the necessary approvals.  Pet owners are affected by both their strata community’s by-laws and their state legislation (although owners corporation consent is not necessary to keep a guide dog in a strata scheme).

When renting in a strata building, the by-laws should be reviewed and the real estate agent should confirm with the landlord of the property whether a pet is allowed. When buying, the terms of the by-laws should be confirmed with the owners corporation, and those terms should be explained to the purchaser by an experienced strata lawyer prior to entering into a contract.

Under recent legislation reviews in New South Wales, the NSW Fair Trading Minister has confirmed that changes to the legislation include default by-laws being altered so that pets will be allowed, subject to ‘reasonable’ approvals and conditions set by executive committees, or owners corporations.

However, if an existing strata scheme has a by-law which bans pets that ban remains in place under the new legislation. Equally, if an existing strata scheme wishes to allow pets, a by-law will still need to be voted in. If a new strata scheme wishes to ban pets it can do so by introducing such a by-law, if a 75% majority vote is obtained.

Adrian Mueller,  specialist strata title lawyer with Sydney’s JS Mueller & Co, says “that the changes will have an impact on new strata buildings as the new laws will apply to them. But the new laws will not apply to existing buildings unless owners corporations choose to adopt them.”

A professional speaker at forums on strata law for strata managers state-wide, Adrian says, “often people do not bother to check the by-laws before moving into an apartment. This is foolish and can lead to significant and expensive problems for pet owners.”

With by-laws and state legislation being updated regularly, the advice from JS Mueller & Co is that pet owners should always obtain a copy of their strata by-laws from the owners corporation and legal advice should also be obtained. Should a dispute arise assistance is also available from the relevant state government department, NSW Fair Trading.

For NSW strata legal or levy collection advice please contact us here or call 02 9562 1266, we’re happy to assist.


Chinese Interest in Australian Property

There are two schools of thought surrounding the apparent ‘surge’ in Chinese interest in the Australian property market.

One is that the Chinese are ‘only interested in newly built properties and buildings’; the other, that this is not necessarily the case, and the Chinese are actually equally interested in land, or existing homes which they can renovate or knock down.

Whichever trend the current data leans towards, the fact is that Australia is now among the most popular property investment destinations for the Chinese, who are reported to have spent almost $6 billion in Australia’s real estate market last financial year. The driving force behind this sudden influx of foreign investment appears to be due to China’s own financial policies forcing the financially wealthy to seek better returns outside their homeland, making them the fastest growing international property buyers in both the global and Australian real estate markets.

Their interest seems to be sparking strong surges within the Australian property market and, as a result, pushing prices up in Australian capital cities − particularly Sydney and Melbourne. Incomes of the average Australian workers aren’t keeping up with the price rises, which is leaving the market open for an increasing number of wealthy overseas investors.

While Chinese buyers have been active in the Australian property market for some time, it has been during the last twelve months their investment activity has been more pronounced.

Many of these buyers have friends or relatives in Australia to bid for them, but there is no requirement for foreign investors to reside in Australia themselves, subject to the relevant provisions in the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 (Cth). This means multitudes of overseas buyers fly into Australia to inspect and buy properties they simply found on the internet.

However, purchasing investment properties in this manner poses significant problems for many of the investors, as the legal requirements surrounding foreign investment in Australia differ greatly from those affecting the domestic investment industry. Building regulations, strata laws, contracts, monetary exchanges and tenancy laws within the Australian property market can be areas fraught with challenges for the Chinese investors, as well as Australian vendors, and it is an area of law that requires specialist knowledge and experience.

“Australian property laws operate very differently to Chinese law. There are many traps for unwary Chinese investors, says strata lawyer, Clifford To.”

With over eight years’ experience in property development, town planning and administrative law, Cantonese-speaking Clifford forms part of the expert team at JS Mueller & Co and is an expert in helping Chinese investors navigate the legal minefield of property investment in Australia.

Chinese investors need to understand the way Australian property laws impact on them. Not having a proper understanding of the law can have disastrous consequences, Clifford says. ”

With a reported, 90 million Chinese searching for investment property online every month, and more than half of them purchased their properties with cash, the impact on the Australia economy is expected to be significant.

For NSW strata legal or levy collection advice please contact us here or call 02 9562 1266, we’re happy to assist.


To Stay or to Go? It’s Your (Neighbour’s!) Choice.

That’s the concept many strata unit and apartment owners in New South Wales will be faced with if controversial changes to strata laws, proposed by the NSW Government, go ahead in July 2015.

Under the proposal, the consent of only a 75% majority of strata unit owners in a block will be required to consent to its demolition.

This is in stark contrast to the current laws, which require agreement by 100% of strata unit owners for a block to be sold to a developer for demolition. This proposal will effectively enable that 75% to force their neighbours (the minority 25%) to sell their homes, whether they are willing or not. An unpleasant prospect for that minority, despite compensation and relocation assistance.

With many strata blocks within New South Wales becoming quite dated, ongoing maintenance and renovation is, without doubt, an extremely costly process, with the preferred option being to simply demolish the buildings and build more aesthetically appealing higher density buildings. Currently, the 100% agreement strata laws force apartment owners to maintain and repair their buildings, regardless of the cost, and irrespective of whether developers could potentially pay a fair price to demolish and replace the buildings with modern, more liveable apartments. This has been a contentious issue for some time.

There are several positives should this law come into effect. For example, some of Sydney’s trendiest suburbs are host to some of its oldest, and least sustainable, buildings. The reforms would allow for redevelopment rather than expensive maintenance, offering potential increases in tenancy numbers and far more energy efficient buildings. Local council height restrictions could be more effectively adhered to, and, of course, it opens the door for stimulation within the building industry.

There are, of course, anticipated negatives to the proposed reform. There is potential for a small number of developers to over or underpay strata owners for their properties, thereby affecting the property market, and potential for owners to lose their lifelong residence and be insufficiently compensated. However, some safeguards are apparently planned, such as the enforcement of independent valuations, and there is talk of an ”extinguishment commissioner” who will hear appeals against unfair payments.

Should the reforms come to fruition, developers could be encouraged to offer apartment owners options such as ‘first option to buy deals’ and assistance with temporary or permanent relocation.

In circumstances such as these, legal advice will be imperative for strata owners.

“The new strata laws will introduce novel concepts unfamiliar to apartment owners and other stakeholders in the strata industry. These will need to be explained in simple language to make sure all stakeholders know where they stand,” says Bruce Bentley, partner of Sydney strata law firm, JS Mueller & Co.

Bruce specialises in strata law and those areas of the law that particularly affect the development, management and administration of group title communities.

“An apartment is someone’s home and most valuable asset. That is something worth protecting. Knowing where you stand if there is a proposal to sell under the new laws will be vital said, Bruce.”

The focus of the strata reforms is on improving the lives of people living in strata communities by increasing transparency and engagement within strata developments. These are worthy goals. But the proof is in the eating, and time will tell if the Government is able to deliver on its promise to improve strata living through more modern strata laws.

For NSW strata legal or levy collection advice please contact us here or call 02 9562 1266, we’re happy to assist.


Supreme Court Corrects Error in Strata Plan

Surveyors are not perfect. They can make mistakes when drawing strata plans.

But what happens once a strata plan containing errors is registered? Are the errors able to be corrected? A recent Supreme Court case confirms that the answer is “yes”.

Click here for the full article – Supreme Court Corrects Strata Plan Error

For NSW strata legal or levy collection advice please contact us here or call 02 9562 1266, we’re happy to assist.