Body Corporate Balconies: Common Property or Part of the Lot

Body corporate balconies cause a surprising amount of drama. This Melbourne waterproofing website reports:

A recent insurance survey has shown that “Balcony Waterproofing” has the highest failure rate of all areas in the building envelope.

As you’ll see below there are many common ways in which balconies fail. This article will explore the issues that arise with balconies and who is responsible for rectification.

Please do note that balconies and their components are complex. Much of what I’m discussing is a simplified overview to give some direction and its entirely possible I’ll say something that’s too simplistic or even misleading. In all situations you’ll need to check with your building professional.

So … Is It Common Property or Part of the Lot?

A balcony has several key components:key components of a body corporate balcony

  • the balustrade
  • surface tiling (or other material)
  • waterproof membrane
  • the concrete slab

The balustrade is the exterior boundary of the building therefore is common property and body corporate responsibility.

NOTE: If the balustrade looks out over an exclusive use area it is not considered on the boundary of common property and will be lot owner responsibility. Thanks to Michael for the tip!

The surface tiling is wholly contained within the lot and is lot owner responsibility.

Waterproof membranes are also contained within the lot. However, Regulations require the body corporate to maintain in good order roofing membranes that are not common property but that provide protection for lots and / or common property. That includes balcony waterproof membranes.

The boundaries of the lot are half way between the walls, floor, ceilings and doors, meaning midway in the concrete slab two lots, or a lot and common property meet. When infrastructure serves two or more lots it is common property and body corporate responsibility.

Doors or Windows onto a Balcony

balcony doorsIn majority of cases the balcony is part of the lot.

The doors that access the balcony are wholly contained within the lot and are lot owner responsibility.

Any windows from the lot onto the balcony are also lot owner responsibility.

Occasionally balconies are allocated as exclusive use. Refer to your by-laws for the terms of the exclusive use allocations.

If the area is exclusive use it usually, subject to the terms of the allocation, comes down to a question of what is “maintenance” and what is a “structural”.

The Most Common Issues With Body Corporate Balconies

A well maintained concrete balcony should last for 40 – 50 years.

Other than “well maintained” there are other underlying assumptions including:

  1. The balcony was well designed in the first place with good drainage.
  2. The balcony and all it’s components were well constructed.
  3. Good quality and location appropriate materials were used in construction.

Sadly, body corporate balconies often fail to meet those basic assumptions.

Water Leaks

The most common issue with body corporate balconies is, by far, water ingress. From the same Melbourne waterproofing site above:

1.8% of the total construction cost is spent on waterproofing membranes for balcony areas, and yet leaking balconies account for a staggering 83% of building defect complaints.

Water leaks from a balcony can be into the lot or common property below or beside or into the subject lot.

Adequate drainage is the first issue that should be checked. An incorrect fall (resulting from poor design or construction) can funnel water directly into the lot or away from the appropriate drains.

Water pooling in also indicates poor draining.

Leaks to the lot below are, usually, indicators of a failure of the waterproof membrane.

There are lots of reasons membranes fail but poor workmanship accounts for up to 90% of failures. That can be everything from the slab being too wet to bond with the membrane, poor preparation of the surface, poor application of the membrane or subsequent tearing of the membrane when tiles are added or afterwards.

I’ve seen three building where waterproof membranes where simply never applied to balconies.

Leaks into the lot are more problematic since the failure may be the windows and doors rather than the balconies themselves. Or, as is often the case, the leaks have multiple causes.

If you have water ingress issues from your balcony have your own sliding doors checked first. If that proves not to be the cause of ingress then report the matter to your body corporate.

If you have water ingress from the lot above or common property report straight to the body corporate.

Cracked or “Drummy” tiles

cracked balcony tilesTiles are laid over the waterproof membrane to which they bond providing protection for the membrane which itself stops water leaking into the lot below and protects the slab.

Sometimes expansion joints are inadequate and the tiles push against each other as the slab moves. When that happens the tiles can become de-bonded from the membrane and lift becoming “drummy”, named because of the hollow drumming sound they make with struck with something heavy.

Read more about lifting or drummy tiles here.

Cracked tiles are, usually, the result of some sort of impact though it is possible that underlying issues can cause tiles to move and crack.

Cracked or lifted tiles need to be repaired as soon as possible. Movement of the tiles can tear the waterproof membrane. Even if the tiles come away cleanly it opens the way for water to penetrate to the membrane. It will have no way to drain away and can cause deterioration.

Repair of drummy or cracked tiles is lot owner responsibility.

If the cause of the problem comes from a structural issue such as concrete spalling the repair will be the body corporate responsibility.

See below a discussion re who is responsible for tiles when the works are body corporate responsibility.

Deterioration of the Balustrade or Fittings

Balustrades are made of all sorts of materials such as concrete, steel, wood or glass. They’re also fixed to the slab by either cementing in place or a complex arrangement of bolts.blue balcony balustrades

All the materials are open to the elements and erosion or other deterioration will happen.

Regular maintenance is crucial. Concrete and steel balustrades should be painted regularly as painting seals the structure and prevents rust. Wooden balustrades, usually part of a wooden balcony, need to be treated regularly and inspected for evidence of wood rot and / or timber pests. Glass balustrades need to be cleaned and inspected regularly.

The most common balustrade issue is a breakdown of the connection to the slab. If bolts are used they can rust weakening the structure.

When Balustrades No Longer Meet Australian Standards

Balustrades, like all building items, are subject to Australian Standards. Australian Standards are made more rigid, reasonably often, certainly more often than balcony balustrades are changed.

The changes to the Standards are not retroactive so if a non-compliant balustrade remains in good order then it’s a not an issue. The balustrade may be maintained, indefinitely.

There comes a point however when maintenance becomes a repair. Balustrades that are not compliant with Australian Standards may not be repaired.

It is common for a strata scheme with balustrade issues to find that replacement is their only option.

Concrete Cancer  

cracked concreteConcrete cancer, or more correctly concrete spalling, is common in coastal areas.

Unchecked concrete spalling will destroy a building. The Iluka building, a Surfers Paradise icon built in the 1970’s, was demolished in 2013 because it had become structurally unsound due to spalling.

For most buildings concrete cancer is a treatable problem.

Regular painting is crucial. The paint seals the concrete against moisture penetration. Painting goes hand in hand with inspection of the building and, if identified, repair of any spalling.

Balconies are checked and painted regularly in concrete buildings as part of their regular maintenance.

Brick buildings by contrast don’t need regular painting and balcony slabs are sometimes overlooked. The exposed concrete slab for the balcony should still be both inspected, painted and repaired if necessary.

Waterproofing Works To Body Corporate Balconies

The body corporate is responsible for maintaining the waterproof membrane in a good condition. The owner is responsible for the tiles on top of that membrane.

So what happens when the tiles need to be removed to address an issue with the membrane?

A lot will depend on the condition of tiles and the reasons the membrane needs addressing.

If the membrane is leaking but the tiles on top of the membrane are in good condition then the body corporate is responsible for the cost of removing the tiles, rectifying the membrane and relaying similar tiles. If the lot owner would like upgraded tiles they may pay the extra cost.

If the condition of the tiles is poor things are less clear. An order has been made that the lot owner is responsible for the cost to purchase and re-lay the tiles, notwithstanding the waterproofing works are necessary, because the condition of the current tiles was poor.

In this Blue Lagoon decision a lot owner sought reimbursement for tiling works as the water was pooling under the tiles, allegedly causing the tiles to lift and crack. The application was dismissed for several reasons including that the works had already begun prior to communication with the body corporate about possible problems. As the scheme had no way to check validity of the claims the owner’s application for reimbursement was dismissed.

Renovating a Balcony

Making changes to your balcony is something that should be discussed with the body corporate prior to any works being undertaken. Tiles that have been laid well bond with the waterproof membrane below and removing them without damage is a challenge.

A conversation at the beginning might avoid drama later.

Conclusion

This article is intended as an overview of the body corporate balconies, where they go wrong and who is responsible for fixing what.

It is a complex subject, both in terms of the physical make up of a balcony and determining where fault and financial liability lie.

Persistence, communication and reliable building professionals are key to smooth resolution of issues.

THE BASICS OF BODY CORPORATES

A little knowledge can go a long way


I see so many stressful and frustrating issues in body corporate records that result from simple misunderstandings it hurts my head. If I could do one thing to help it would be to teach everyone the basic rules, so they can avoid all these dramas.


With that in mind I've put together a short eBook that sets out the basics everyone owning in a body corporate really should know. It won't make those big issues go away, but it will give you a firm grounding from which to communicate.


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Comments

  1. Michael says:

    In QLD it can be even more convoluted. If the balustrade overlooks your exclusive use area then it becomes the lot owners responsibility according to BCCM.

    I live in a complex of 12, 2 story townhouses. 5 have balconies overlooking their exclusive use area and 2 overlooking common area. The 2 are maintained by the body corp and the 5 by the owners.

    Michael

    • Hi Michael

      Good tip! Thanks for sharing.

      I knew the doors and windows onto the balcony would be lot owner responsibility if the balcony was exclusive use area but didn’t know that could be extended to balustrades. Makes sense.

  2. Lisa,

    Thanks for your articles – they are very helpful and informative.

    We always advise our members to keep the communication with the body corporate open, updated and informative. Proactive attitude of owners in advising body corporate in writing about any problems as soon as they happen, preferably with evidence such as pictures, and keeping a log of the dates, pictures, videos etc. for future reference helps immensely if the repair / maintenance issues are to be addressed fairly and equitably.

    It is also important that the owners understand the value of maintenance and understand that sinking fund needs to be maintained in sufficient levels to address any issues in timely manner.

    Jana Koutova, Executive Officer, Unit Owners Association of Queensland Inc.

    • Hi Jana

      Good advice re keeping a log! Excellent idea.

      Also good point about sinking funds. Simply identifying that its body corporate responsibility doesn’t automatically mean the works can proceed without a great deal of rejigging and planning.

  3. Ken Morris says:

    Hi, Some questions resulting from your interesting article on balconies
    You reference the windows & doors opening onto the balcony as part of the lot so lot owner’s responsibility
    Q1 Aren’t the doors & windows part of the main “building structure”
    Q2 What about the wall structure that supports windows & doors to balcony, surely part of the “building structure”
    Q3. When building comes up fro repaint, are the walls referred to paid for by BC Repaint or are they back charged to lot owner?

    • Hi Ken

      The door and windows opening onto the balcony are part of the lot.

      If a door or a window share a boundary with common property then they are considered to be common property since it would be unfeasible to share the cost. So for instance, your front door opens onto the common property hallway so is considered common property and the body corporate must maintain. The internal doors open inside the unit and are lot owner responsibility.

      Its the same with windows. If the window is into a part of the lot, which usually only happens on balconies, then the lot owner is responsible. If the window is in the boundary wall of the scheme then it is common property.

      With repainting, yes, the wall repainted could be charged back to the owner, and sometimes is if the painting is required other than with the entirety of the building. Usually buildings are painted in one go so by funding the whole paint owners are in essence paying for their portion of the walls to be painted.

      Q2 re the wall structure supports, windows and doors to balcony is a damn good question and I have no unequivocal answer for you. I agree the structure that surrounds the doors and windows is part of the building structure. Owners must maintain however. I expect it will come down to how much is a maintenance and repairs vs structural issues. Again however I don’t have a clear answer. If the situation arises I would certainly argue body corporate responsibility until shown otherwise.

  4. Cheryl Boneham says:

    Hello. I have been reading your publication for quite some time, and wonder why all of your articles apply to Building Format Plans? Would really appreciate some articles referring to Standard Format Plans please.

    • Hi Cheryl

      95% of what I write relates to both standard format plan and building format plan. Its only a question of boundaries of common property.

      In there something in particular you’d like to know more about? I’m always looking for ideas.

  5. Hi Lisa

    Our unit has a large uncovered balcony that is built above another lot’s garage. The tiles have not been laid well and there is possibly a poor (or no) waterproof membrane underneath.

    During wet weather, our balcony is leaking water onto the garage below.

    Can you please advise if this falls completely under us as lot owners, or will some fall under body corporate? Our balcony is private use.

    Any help would be great!

    Thanks

    Matt & Emma

    • Hi Matt

      Ooh, that doesn’t sound good.

      If the area is exclusive use then it is lot owner responsibility unless you can prove that the issue is caused by failure to maintain by the body corporate. Its difficult to do with exclusive use as lot owners are required to maintain exclusive use areas.

      If you haven’t spoken with the body corporate start by doing so. They may take responsibility.

      If they’re already referred it to you get someone to have a look, estimate cause and costs to repair. Take it from there.

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