Common Property Boundaries

Defining common property boundaries in a body corporate is essential in working out who is responsible for what.

As a general rule of thumb: common property = body corporate responsibility, lot = lot owner responsibility.

Bodies corporate are forbidden from spending joint funds on works that benefit a lot and for lot owners there is no sense in paying for something you don’t need to. Knowing where your responsibility starts and ends is as simple as knowing where your boundaries are.

The key to common property boundaries, with some exceptions which I’ll discuss below, is where the boundaries between lot and common property lie.

Standard Format Plan and Building Format Plan is shorthand for common property boundaries

In Queensland strata schemes are categorised into Standard Format Plan (SFP) and Building Format Plan (BFP).

The original Building Unit & Group Titles Act (BUGTA) had two separate types of schemes. Building Unit Plans, or vertical developments and Group Title Plans or horizontal developments.

When legislation changed in 1997 BUP became BFP and GTP became SFP.

It sounds confusing but it isn’t really.

All vertical developments, be they 2 floors of 100,  are Building Format Plan and the boundaries are measured from the centre of the doors, floors, walls and ceilings. So for instance your front door: half is considered your lot and half common property.

Boundaries in a Standard Format Plan are measured from pegs in the ground exactly the same as for a house lot. The only difference is the unit is located within a common property precinct rather than a street.

Things get confused because horizontal developments can be either BFP or SFP and the plan itself tells you which applies.

The difference between BFP and SFP

All this discussion of vertical vs horizontal is challenging. Let’s look at a simple example.

common property boundaries for a duplex

A common duplex arrangement of two lots joint only at a shared wall in the garage.

This is a common duplex arrangement. The two properties are joint only at their garage.

This sort of property can be registered as either a standard format plan or a building format plan.

If a BFP then common property could look like this:

Common property of duplex registered as BFP

A duplex registered as a BFP contains two individual lots surrounded by common property.

The area around each lot is common property. The lots are the buildings themselves only. The boundary would be measured half way through the doors, floors, ceilings and walls.

If a sinkhole developed in the garden of lot 1 in this example it would be body corporate responsibility to resolve.

If a SFP common property could look like this:

Duplex showing common property SFP

A duplex registered as a SFP contains two large lots and a small amount of common property.

The boundaries are measured by pegs in the ground and the lot includes the building and all its surrounding land just like a freestanding home. The difference is the two lots share some common property.

If a sinkhole developed in garden of lot 1 in this example it would be up to lot 1 to resolve.

The main difference between SFP and BFP is less common property, more lot. Less common property means less administration and lower levies.

Joint lots and joint infrastructure

A lot of common property, particularly in these SFP examples, is invisible, such as plumbing and electrics. How then do you decide who is responsible for what?

Common property, other than chunks of land, is defined as something that serves two or more lots, and it can be located in one lot but still serve multiple lots.

So for instance, if the main sewer line for both lots ran through the garden of lot 2 then it would be body corporate responsibility to maintain notwithstanding the infrastructure is contained within a lot. It benefits both parties.

Another good example is the roof.

In example above of SFP Duplex any leaks in the roof would be in one property or the other, hence the responsibility of that owner. By contrast the guttering is one complete system that services both lots hence body corporate responsibility.

Infrastructure on common property that is lot owner responsibility

Just because some part of the infrastructure is located in common property doesn’t automatically make it body corporate responsibility either.

Infrastructure on common property that services only one lot is the responsibility of that lot owner.

common property electricity

Common property switchboard is like a power board. The body corporate is responsible for maintaining in good condition and getting electricity to it however each lot is individually responsible their connection

Imagine a scheme’s switchboard and main’s power supply could be represented as a power board. That board itself would be on common property, as would the leads servicing each lot.

The body corporate is responsible for making sure the power board is live.

Each lot is responsible for maintaining the connection from the power board to their own lot, even though the connection is on common property.

Common property allocated as exclusive use

In our BFP duplex example above the yards of the individual lots would likely be allocated to the respective lots as exclusive use.

Individual lot owners are responsible for the maintenance of exclusive use areas.

That begs a bunch of other questions. What is maintenance? What is structural? How far are lot owners expected to go to maintain the area?

Answering is going to be dependent on the circumstance of each case and will be dependent on a lot of different factors, not least of which is going to be how your particular scheme decides to treat things.

If this is your situation, and you object to the decision made, seek legal advice or contact Office Commissioner Body Corporate.

Conclusion

One of the most common disputes in bodies corporate is who pays for what and a lot of owners are caught out being charged for things they don’t expect.

The overriding principle of body corporate legislation is fairness. Everyone pays their own way, except to the degree that the cost should be shared with other owners.

This is complex stuff and mistakes happen all the time. You must protect your own rights because no one else is going to. The best way to do that is to get clear on what is your responsibility and what is not.

SFP and BFP get tossed around a lot. Don’t get distracted by the terms. What’s being talked about is the lot and common property boundaries.

And remember, regardless of the type of plan your scheme is, there is only one legislation. The BCCM Act 1997 applies to all schemes registered with a Community Management Statement (CMS).

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. I recently had a situation where our strata raised a special urgent levy where all owners had to pay $3000 to repair the rooves of some of the units. The issue is that there are four new units at the back (three attached to each other, one separate) and then there are 8 old units at the front in lots of four (four attached to each other). All units are at ground level. It was the 8 old units that required the new rooves, none of the four newer units at the back, which are not at all attached to the older units, required new rooves. We all had to pay. Is this common practice?

    • Hi Charmaine

      The setup you’re describing with newer and older units in differing blocks is not at all usual. A lot will depend on the way the scheme is set up. Most likely it’s been set as a BFP and owners are to share costs like the roof.

      Your first task will be to find out. Maybe call your manager and ask about it. Ask why you had to contribute when it wasn’t your roof. The most likely answer will be because BFP.

      Then it might be worth speaking to the Office of Commissioner BC about this. Its an unusual configuration and there might be something they can help with.

      Whatever you do you need to do it quick because there is a statute of limitations on being able to complain.

  2. hi Lisa, I read all of your blogs with much interest and thank you for same – you should start an advocacy service for owners as it is desperately needed out here!! I am fairly new to CMS and have found the depth of misinformation among longstanding committee and even strata managers exhausting and frustrating! I do try to stand up for my rights – for example the committee decided to change the fence colour and material and pay for two separate lot owners fences and will not respond to my questions about this and now it’s been well over a year and they aer continuing to approve new fences in the different colour and material and still wont respond to questions about it, saying it’s too late – but why is it?! If they have done this wrong then they should fix it and give the rightful vote to owners. I cant lodge a BCCM Form1 because it’s not a by-law issue, I can’t formally oppose the decision because it is >$200 in value and there are no actual minutes with the decision recorded. I have signed up for the committee which is due to happen next week but I don’t like my chances of hearing from them even in that case. I have sent letters, emails, researched high and low and feel completely at a loss. I wish I had known about your service before I bought in to here as I am sure it would have shown up such issues. Strata searches are big in NSW but I hadnt heard of them here in QLD – I didnt even know we had them until I was desperately searching for answers!

    • Hi Don’t give up, read the legislation it is not impossible to understand and it is free to download. Our Committee has been the same by just completely ignoring my attempt to have them fix subsidence in our property.After 7 months no emails have been replied to by the Secretary.
      It has been a hard slog, but I have finally got a conciliation meeting with the Commissioner. hopefully to resolve issue. I have now been elected onto the committee by a lot of unhappy community members, and will attempt to sort out the old and stubborn committee members. they should not be allowed to get away with this, they are supposed to be looking after the community.

      • Hi Alan

        Congratulations on making it onto the committee and well done you for taking on the job.

        And I agree totally about the legislation. Its complex but you can get your head around it. Usually you’re only looking at the one issue or group of issues.

    • Hi H

      Thank you so much, I’m glad you find it useful.

      Congratulations on being voted onto the committee. Often committee members find their way on to deal with issues they’re experiencing. You’re right about the misinformation out there and many committees are acting on it to the detriment of lot owners. Its challenging because you’re forced into a position of having to confront the issue to protect your rights. It instantly puts everyone’s back up but it was them that created the situation in the first place! So frustrating.

      With the fence it’s likely that nothing will be done. If approval was granted and more than one person has made the change then generally speaking its an accepted change. Adjudicators are unlikely to order it changed again now. They’re reluctant to force issues unless it will make a big difference.

      Thank you for taking a stab at committee. I’m sure your fellow owners will appreciate it.

  3. Justitia says:

    Lisa,
    Thanks for this post on strata formats and committee spending. Also, thanks for the ongoing opportunity you give to us strata dwellers to share our (sometimes painful) experiences.

    Elected committees, loaded with like-minded people usually do not appreciate a diversity of views. This is demonstrated (in a small way) when they refuse to engage with alternative views that are put to them. “There is always strength in numbers” (Mark Shields).

    The philosopher Joseph Schumpeter had an interesting theory of democracy. He believed that due to ignorance and superficiality, people are manipulated by the representatives they elect. In his view, while voting by the people may appear to legitimise representatives, and keep them accountable, the policy program is very much generated by the committee and not the people. In his view, the participatory role for individuals is severely limited.

    With regards to spending money, Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman, suggested that there are four ways of spending money:
    1) Spend your own money on yourself. (economise and seek highest value)
    2) Spend your own money on somebody else. (economise and don’t seek highest value)
    3) Spend somebody else’s money on yourself. (don’t economise but seek highest value)
    4) Spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. (don’t economise and don’t seek highest value)

  4. Barbara Glatz says:

    Lisa,
    I am a lot owner in a Community Title Scheme in Palm Cove Qld where there is 129 BC Residential Lots.
    The Body Corporate Committee approved a motion at a Committee meeting to spend almost $50,000 on a few of the private lots of owner’s new replacement blinds
    (Only 15 of the 129 Lots have roller blind sun shades.) As our Body Corporate funds were being used by the Committee for private Lot repairs and replacements, an Adjudicators Order was applied for by me, a concerned lot owner, through the Commissioner’s office of the BCCM.
    The ruling by the Adjudicator passed on the 17th November 2016 was that none of the blinds are installed on common property . Four of the recipients of the blinds that were only installed after the adjudicators order, are current committee members including the Chairperson. Since the Order was made, the Committee have only recently approved on the 23 February 2017 to finalise a payment of almost $50,000 to the installer for these private Lot Owner Blinds . Completely ignoring the Order and proceeding to use our BC funds for property that is not installed on common property.
    Please, can anyone tell me and our other concerned Lot owners where do we go from here?

    Is it that Orders made by the Adjudicator carry no weight at all and can be ignored?

    • Hi Barbara

      Adjudicators Orders are enforceable through the magistrates court.

      What is ordered? If the order simply says that the blinds are not common property then they have not breached the order. They’ve breached legislation using joint funds on private property, but not the order. If there was no order made about the money then seek an order the money be repaid by the lots with blinds installed.

      If the order says the body corporate must not pay for the blinds, and the committee has since paid for the blinds, then an order from the magistrates court might help. They may also issue a fine.

      Its all going to come back to what order was made and how it was worded.

      • Barbara Glatz says:

        Hi Lisa, Thank you for your response. The Adjudicators Order clearly states that the Blinds are not installed on the common property, and are an owner responsibility to maintain.
        Well after the order was passed down late January 2017 and the committee approved a motion to pay for the blinds 23 February 2017 of around $50,000 out of our BC funds for now installed within the boundaries of each of the private Lots.

        The Adjudicators Orders made: 17 November 2016 as follow:
        I hereby order and declare that the blinds installed on the balconies of Lots 1207,1208,1209,1307,1308,1309,1407,1408,1409,5201,5202,5301,5302,5401,5402 are installed inside the boundaries of the respective Lots and it is the responsibility of the owners of the respective Lots to maintain the blinds on their lots in good condition
        I further order that the application otherwise is dismissed
        Signed , I. Rosemann, Adjudicator

        Can I ask you where do we go from here?

    • Hi Barbara

      What was the order about? If the order was simply that the installation is not on common property then they are not ignoring the order.

      If the order was that the committee must not proceed then they are ignoring the order.

      The difference suggests your next step. If the order was simply not on common property then you can seek an order to have the funds repaid by lot owners concerned.

      Otherwise to enforce an order you need to make an application in the Magistrates Court.

      • Barbara Glatz says:

        Can’t thank you enough Lisa! I am clear in my mind and am proceeding with an order to have the funds repaid by the owners of the blinds.
        The BC committee was proceeding with the payment of the blinds from joint funds because; in the descriptive notes that follow the actual signed order he stated that the BC committee possibly acted in good faith. They use this note to justify the spending to owners in the minutes claimed that it was a warning:” it’s okay this time but not in the future.” This was also the advice given to lot owns by BC Manager in emails. Thank you so much again.

  5. Lisa – I’d appreciate your advice. A small complex of four units on a BUP in 1978. Three units are upstairs, and one is on ground level. Also on ground level are exclusive use car spaces. Three are open; one is enclosed. Over the years, all the units have either completely or partially enclosed balcony space to increase the living space inside the each unit. The ground floor unit balcony is enclosed with a sliding door as well as the side of the connecting exclusive use enclosed car space. It is managed under the small scheme. An area of common property adjacent to the ground level unit has constantly caused unreasonable disruption to the peaceful enjoyment of life within the units above. So years back a garden was planted within this area. This garden is also to provide screening from a public walkway beside this common area. However, with this garden being repeatedly trampled, a fence was installed that still allowed access to the ground floor unit via the two sliding doors. These are additional to another two doors. Due to a series of incidents within this common area with the fence constantly being removed the BC voted at an AGM to totally landscape this common property area with gates at either end for maintenance and no direct access to / from the ground floor unit. The motion was passed. But ground floor has objected.

    • Hi Willy

      Its sounds like the area is common property and as such the body corporate is responsible for taking care of it.

      I understand that you have been using the area as exclusive use however, if I understand correctly, its not actually been officially allocated as exclusive use. You could submit a motion that makes the area exclusive use for your lot. It would need to be passed by resolution without dissent at a general meeting and then a new Community Management Statement recorded. The area would then be for your use but also your responsibility to maintain.

      Otherwise the area is common property and the scheme and they simply need to care for it, not make sure you have access.

  6. Barbara Glatz says:

    Can you assist once again please? On an internal entry door (fire rates) to a Lot from the common property on a multi level building, who owns the door locks whether key of card swipe?

    • Hi Barbara

      Interesting question and unfortunately not easily answered. There are lots of mitigating factors here including the makeup of the system, legislation and by-laws.

      If the key system is a master key system then it is common property and up the body corporate to maintain.

      Owners are not required to be part of the master key system, depending on their by-laws and even then maybe not. From this adjudicators order

      the body corporate’s right of entry to a lot does not overrule, eliminate or extinguish owners’ rights of reasonable privacy and security of their property.

      In that order the lot owner had changed the key and the body corporate ordered them to be changed back. The Adjudicator found the owner had the right to take care of their property and the rights of the body corporate to access the lot as stated in the act and / or the scheme by-laws (act will override the by-laws) is secondary to the owners right to secure their property.

      If the locks are changed and they’re not part of a master key system then they are lot owner responsibility. If the body corporate has to access the property they can do so by engaging a locksmith and charging that cost to the owner. But, fair warning, if you do enter, make sure your right of entry is within the bounds of legislation or the body corporate will be responsible for paying for entry charges.

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