Buying A Unit & Body Corporate Approvals

Body Corporate ApprovalsOne of the most overlooked items when buying a unit is remembering to check that body corporate approval has been granted for any changes.

Body corporate approvals are written documents from the Committee to a lot owner granting permission for whatever is being sought. It might be approval to keep a pet, to install a structure, or an air conditioner, or anything at all.

The issue with approvals is that some will transfer with the lot and some will extinguish when the outgoing lot owner is gone.

For instance, approval to have a pet in a lot will automatically be revoked when the lot owner, or tenant, leaves, or when the pet in question passes away. The new owner, or new pet, will need another approval.

By contrast permission to alter the lot or improvements on common property for which lot owners are responsible will pass from one lot owner to the next without further body corporate approval being sought.

Problems with body corporate approvals arise when the approval is granted with conditions or, alternatively, no permission was sought or granted at all.

An Example Scenario

Imagine you inspect a unit and fall in love. It’s everything you want from the view to the layout to the beautiful timber floors. You make an offer and hey presto (meaning a stressful and moderately expensive legal process) the unit is yours!

Now image if one of the first correspondences you received from the body corporate was a complaint from your downstairs neighbour.

Your beautiful timber floors are too loud. Every time you take a step or move a piece of furniture it echoes through their lot.

The body corporate has directed you to minimise noise and stop annoying your neighbour!

You try to be more careful. You put stoppers underneath all your furniture to muffle the sound. You keep still and try not to move around too much, which in all honesty is a bit of a hassle, and your shiny new unit is starting to feel just a bit tarnished.

You’ve done the best you can but the next communication you receive is a direction to show the body corporate approval or remove the flooring.

What The!?! Can They Do That?

This may sound like a far-fetched scenario but it is a real situation that does happen from time to time.

And yes, if the flooring was installed without body corporate permission then you can be ordered to remove it and, if you don’t, then the order can be enforced through the Magistrates Court.

Equally if the floor was installed without adequate insulation you can be ordered to rectify even to the cost of having to re-floor. That the floor was installed by your predecessor, or even their predecessor for that matter, doesn’t have much bearing on the matter. When you take on the unit you’re taking on all its history as well.

Which is what makes it so important to check the body corporate approvals for any structural changes when you buy a unit.

Who Cares? … Everyone Should

That may sound counter-intuitive; why would the body corporate care what you do in your lot?

They don’t, so long as what you do doesn’t impact any other lot owners or the common property.

In the example above the lot owner is creating a disturbance for the lot owners below with their noisy floor. It may sound petty, but consider, if it was you underneath wouldn’t you want to turn somewhere for help?

So, please don’t demolish any load bearing walls, or install timber flooring without adequate acoustic underlay or hang bright purple blinds in external facing windows when everyone else in the scheme has green.

All these things impact on the other lot owners or detract from the uniformity which forms part of the value of the overall scheme.

Controlling Changes with Body Corporate Approvals

The mechanism for controlling changes in strata schemes is body corporate approvals.

Specifically, if you want to make a change, you must seek permission from the Committee to do so.

Not only do you need to seek it, it also needs to be granted.

And the whole process is helped tremendously if someone takes the time to write it down, preferably in the Committee Meeting minutes when the approval is granted. Minutes of meetings are neither destroyed nor archived whereas correspondence is.

Writing it down is a vital step. Lot owners, Committees and even buildings change. Something that was done by one owner in 2005 with tacit approval of the Committee, may be challenged for the next in 2015.

Coming back to our example scenario if the lot owner can find a written body corporate approval, or even a record of the approval in the minutes, then the floor is validly installed and the body corporate cannot order it removed in breach of by law.

The problems are not over for the lot owner, since now some form of accommodation must be made with the disturbed resident, however the threat of removal is gone.

Finding Body Corporate Approvals

I once spent the better part of a day pouring through body corporate records looking for an approval for a structure erected between 1984 and 1999 in a large high rise.

There were literally hundreds of thousands of documents to review.

Frustratingly the body corporate approvals were granted to lot owner’s rather than lot numbers (lot numbers remain constant but lot owners come and go hence referring to lot 1083 is far better than granting approval to Mr & Mrs Smith) making the whole project enormously difficult.

Unfortunately this is a common problem with it comes time to find body corporate approvals in body corporate records.

Recording of this information can be hit and miss and finding the information will take dedication and attention to detail.

What You Can Do To Help Find Body Corporate Approvals

  • If you seek approval for anything from the body corporate keep the letter granting approval, with any conditions, safe. Include the details when you list your unit.
  • When you inspect a property keep a look out for any alterations or things that look different from this lot to the next. If you spot something ask for an approval.
  • If you’re ever unsure about whether something may have needed approval ask the seller or alternatively, if there is one, the onsite manager.
  • If you do need to find a copy of an approval include the information in your written request for a pre purchase strata report and see if the agent can find the information.
  • Try and find out as much as possible about when the approval may have been granted. It will make finding it in thousands of pages of documents easier.

Conclusion

Hard flooring, air conditioners, shutters, satellite dishes, solar panels and shade sails are all examples of changes that may have required body corporate approval.

If these alterations are present in your potential unit spend some time and effort getting hold of the body corporate approval. It may be a lifesaver.

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.


It's completely free, so please, download it now!

Download Now

Comments

  1. Hi Lisa,
    Thank you for sharing this valuable post! I will mention it in the Downsize with Style podcast show!

  2. Debbie Burke says:

    Hi Lisa,
    thanks so much for this post.
    I am having somewhat the same problem now.
    I purchased my unit 12 months ago, and made it a condition of purchase that I be allowed to lay tiles throughout my unit.
    This was approved in writing by the body corporate before settlement, on condition all requirements placed by them were met.

    I hired a professional tiler and used the highest grade underlay available on the market. Both the tiler and the tile shop where I purchased the tiles told me it was over kill, as I did not need to pay the extra for the underlay and could have gone with the cheaper one as this was all that was required by the body corp.
    However I did not want to get off to a bad start with neighbours and decided to pay the extra to ensure the people under us were protected from our noise.

    Almost immediately the person under us (who I might add is a member of the Body Corp, and a renowned whinger) told us he could here everything. We agreed I should put felt stoppers under all furniture which is regularly moved…ie. dining chairs etc, which I have done.
    We only ever where soft soled shoes inside and are careful of our noise level.

    He now wants us to pay for an echo test to determine the noise level, and if it goes in he’s favour, to remove the tiles and have them replaced with carpet.

    We are at the point of selling our beautiful unit, although with this hanging over our heads it will be impossible.
    I feel we have done everything right and adhered to all that Body Corp asked from us.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Cheers
    Debbie

    • Hi Debbie

      Ouch!

      If the approval was granted, subject to conditions, and you’ve complied with those conditions, then to me it seems you’ve ticked all the boxes. Now that your neighbour doesn’t like it is unfortunate however not necessarily your problem. You have your approval.

      The scheme may, led by the committee member, try and force the issue and this could lead to an Adjudication Application (you’re free to make one as well). That’s my reading anyhow. If things continue my advice would be to speak with a strata Solicitor. I suspect its going to come down to the conditions on the approval.

      Some schemes do make an acoustic test a requirement of condition of the approval. I spoke with someone recently who was going through the same thing and it was actually cheaper to rip up the tiles and replace with carpet that to do the acoustic test. That was a different scenario though: she had no approval.

  3. Ursula Ibsen says:

    Dear Lisa, first I want to thank you for giving me the Opportunity to rely my Problem to you.
    This Complex has an onsite Manager Couple, and about 5 Committee members. Man does Lawnmoving etc., Wife is in Office.
    I have purchased a Villa type Unit in a Complex of 70 Units. There is a Fence between Units and an about 3metre driveway going to the Garage.
    2 of the Units have Shadecloths over part of the Driveway, as I also wanted to install Shadecloth similar to the one already there I asked the Manager (outside Man) if it was ok for me to install same, but nicer looking.
    Manager says, no problem and do not need Approval from Committee Members, as it’s not a permanent Structure, easily removed by 4 Clips, he (the Manager) even offered to help put said Shadecloth up for me. As Committee Members do what Managers suggest (here anyway), as they seem to be in Charge of any Decision which is made in this Complex.
    Had Shadecloth installed by somebody else which seem to have not gone over well with the Manager, so he goes to a Committee Member and says I have installed a Shadecloth without Permission. This Committee Member writes to Body Corp. Manager that Unit 15 has installed Shadecloth without BodyCorp. Members Permission.
    Now I receive letter from BodyCorp Manager saying that I have to remove Shadecloth and apply for permission.
    I do know that other Shadecloths in Complex did not get or need Approval from BodyCorp Members and nothing was ever said on that.
    I now did write for permission to keep my Shadecloth in Place, including Photo. But on last Committee Meeeting my Shadecloth was declined to be there.
    On Conclusion I think that this is unfair as Manager was just beeing spiteful.
    I told Manager that I think he is a mean Coward for not coming to me first after Shadecloth was installed, as the Job done was much better than other installed Shadecloths in Complex.
    I did mention to the Body Corp. Manager, that this Couple (Managers) make all Decisions of what Committee Members vote on, also Body Corp. Manager is good Friend of Managers. So what are other Owners Chances to get Justice here. We the Owners at this Complex pay close to $5000 a year in BC.fee, halve of Units are rentals and Managers also get all Commissions for those, besides close to $130’000 a Year for being here and doing not much for that kind of $, as most Office work involves taking care of the Rentals, not of Owners needs.
    I live in North Qld. Cairns, you may can recommend me to some other local
    Department to find out how I stand with this, as I want to keep my Shadecloth as is.
    I be very grateful for some Advice with this.
    Kind Regards
    Ursula

    • Hi Ursula

      That sounds awful, and got to say fairly typical.

      What you need to do is apply for permission (which you’ve already done). When it’s denied, were there reasons given for the denial? If they were see if they can be addressed. Then reapply. If no reasons were given and they’ve just refused out of hand then make an application for Adjudication with the Office Commissioner Body Corporate.

      It is true you need permission from the committee to have your shade sail installed. Having done it without permission unless there is something very wrong with your shade sail there is no reason for the committee not to now give you permission. The body corporate is required to act reasonably and punishing someone because they didn’t follow the correct process is not, in my opinion, reasonable. An Adjudicator may agree and has the power to grant you permission if that’s the case.

      Do be aware if there are issues you will have to address them first.

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