New Laws to Control What You Do at Home

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A suite of new strata laws were passed by the NSW parliament on August 12.

The 90-odd changes outlined in the Strata Schemes Management Regulation 2016 are said to provide a modern framework for people living in apartments and townhouses. Some of the key changes to strata laws include a more streamlined process for collective sales, ensuring building defects are addressed at an early stage and enabling greater participation by utilising modern technologies such as teleconferencing and social media.

Many of the major changes relate to owners of strata properties. But what are the implications of these new laws for tenants?

A raft of new model bylaws will come into effect governing behaviour around smoking, overcrowding and pets. Each strata scheme has its own bylaws, which are rules that control the conduct of residents and the use of common property. So, for instance, a specific bylaw to do with noise will work alongside current NSW noise regulations.

The model bylaws outlined in the reforms do not apply to a strata scheme unless they are adopted by the owners’ corporation – the body made up of all owners. Under the new legislation owners will have to review bylaws within twelve months, allowing to them customise the laws to suit their specific needs.

Overcrowding

The reforms allow owners’ corporations to pass bylaws that can limit the number of people residing in an apartment or townhouse. However, these measures must still allow no fewer than two adults per bedroom.

It has been said that the intention of this measure is to curb multi-occupancy of apartments within cities and close to universities, with as many as four students currently occupying some rooms. The new laws are designed to promote health and safety, while reducing noise and water usage. It means owners will more easily be able to enforce laws relating to multiple occupancy.

Larger families will not be affected, as the laws do not apply to kids. If an owner has evidence that there are more tenants than permitted, it can take the matter to the NSW Civil and Administration Tribunal where penalties of up to $5,500 apply for a first offence, or $11,000 for each subsequent offence within the same year.

Pets

The new laws will make it easier for owner corporations to allow pets in their buildings by deleting any mention of pet bans. And schemes that currently don’t allow for pets will be encouraged to consider lifting their existing bans.

The laws mean a tenant can keep an animal in their apartment, as long as they give written notice to the owners’ corporation within 14 days. However, the owners’ corporation can disapprove of a pet, provided they don’t come to the decision “unreasonably”, and they provide a written explanation for the refusal.

Tenants who have an assistance animal are legally allowed to keep a pet in a building that has a ban. However, they may be required to provide the owners’ corporation with evidence that the pet is an assistance animal under Section 9 of the 1992 Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act.

Smoking

Under the new legislation, drifting smoke is now considered a nuisance or a hazard. It will therefore be captured by laws preventing tenants from causing a nuisance or a hazard that interferes with the amenity of another resident. The implication is that a tenant can smoke tobacco or any other substance in their apartment, but they must ensure it does not drift onto the balcony of another’s.

Exceptions include where there’s a designated smoking area or the resident has written approval from the owners’ corporation.

Where a neighbour’s smoke is offending another resident, the bylaws allow the owners corporation to enforce a ban or refer the matter to the Tribunal.

Barbeques

Fears that the great Aussie barbie could be under threat due to the offensive smoke bylaws were to no avail, as there is no mention of barbeques in the legislation.

Tenants are therefore free to enjoy sizzling sausages on their balconies with no repercussions.

Increased penalties

Under the new legislation, those who breach a bylaw will now face a maximum penalty of $1,100, doubling the previous maximum fine of $550. The Tribunal will also have the power to issue a fine of up to $2,200 for each instance a person breaks the same bylaw within 12 months.

Currently, owners’ corporations must serve a “notice to comply” before any fine can be imposed by the Tribunal, and this will continue. However, if a second breach of a bylaw occurs, after the first penalty has been issued, the owners’ corporation will be able to apply for a second penalty without any notice being issued.

Tenants will have improved participation

The legislation also provides for a number of scheme management reforms, including greater participation for tenants. Currently, tenants are not required to participate in meetings and have no voting rights, unless they’ve been nominated by an owner.

Under the new reforms, if more than half the dwellings in a strata scheme are occupied by tenants, they will be able to elect a representative to attend meetings and speak on their behalf.

However, the representative may be excluded from strata meetings if certain matters, such as financial ones, are being discussed. And the representative will not be able to vote on any decisions affecting the strata scheme.

The new laws are set to take effect on November 30 this year.

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