The necessity of following set rules is an essential and unique part of living in a strata property (also known as a body corporate or owners corporation property). Known as by-laws or building rules, these set rules help ensure all residents can enjoy their home and live safely and harmoniously together.
This guide explains by-laws, including why they are needed and how they work.
What are by-laws and building rules?
By-laws are the registered rules and regulations adopted by the owners corporation (also known as the body corporate) that all owners and tenants living within a strata property must follow.
The rules cover a range of aspects of strata living – including parking, noise, use of common property, smoking, owning pets and more.
Why does your property need by-laws?
By-laws help to promote harmony within the property, and to ensure health and safety, fairness, privacy and enjoyable living for residents.
They also enable the owners corporation to administer and manage common property such as driveways, foyers, stairwells, lifts, garden areas, swimming pools and gyms.
The types of issues by-laws and building rules may cover include:
- Where to park or store vehicles – including cars, caravans, and boats.
- Damage or changes to common property.
- The keeping and supervision of pets.
- Behaviour of owners, tenants and guests.
- Displaying of signs.
- Use of communal swimming pools.
- Control of noise and nuisance (e.g. dust, vibration or pollution).
- Prevention of overcrowding.
- Smoking and the effect of tobacco smoke on neighbours.
- Fire safety matters.
- Storage of flammable liquids.
- Individual lot repairs, maintenance, renovations and external appearance.
- Waste and garbage disposal.
- Dispute resolution.
As a resident of a strata property, it’s important to become familiar with your property’s by-laws and understand how they might affect you.
Who decides the by-laws for your building?
The owners corporation sets the by-laws for the property. It is a common misconception that the by-laws are decided by the committee or the strata manager.
In fact, each by-law is put to a vote and approved by the owners corporation before being put in place. The owners corporation can also vote to make changes to existing by-laws, to align with changes within the property or as state legislation is updated.
How are by-laws created?
All by-laws are governed by state legislation. State and territory governments also provide minimum ‘model by-laws’ that act as a guide when making by-laws for a property.
When creating by-laws, the owners corporation can simply use government model by-laws, or it can create its own set of rules, drawing on the model for guidance where required. Where there is no rule for a particular issue, but a model by-law exists, the model by-law generally applies.
The most effective by-laws are tailored to your property, ensuring that they align with existing by-laws already in place, and the way of living at the property.
All by-laws must be registered with the state or territory governing body.
There are certain principles that underpin the creation of by-laws. For example, the by-laws cannot:
- Be ‘harsh, unconscionable or oppressive’ – or in other words, unreasonable and overly burdensome to follow.
- Prevent a resident owning an assistance animal, such as a guide dog.
- Conflict with existing laws.
- Discriminate between types of occupiers (e.g. owners and tenants).
- Prevent someone from selling or leasing their lot (with certain possible exceptions, such as short-term rental).
- Ban children from common areas or from living in the community.
Where to access your by-laws?
When you move into a strata property, you should be provided with a copy of the by-laws and building rules by the owners corporation or by the landlord if you are a tenant. You should also be given updated copies when there is a change of by-law. Many leading strata management companies can provide access to the by-laws via an online property portal. This allows you to access your property documents 24/7.
If you are buying or considering buying into a strata property, the real estate agent should provide you with a copy.
You should also be able to obtain a copy (generally for a fee) from the governing body in your state where the by-laws were registered – e.g. the Land Registries Office in NSW.
What happens if a by-law is breached?
If you see a resident breaching a by-law, it is often best to politely approach them in person if you feel safe to do so, rather than automatically reporting them to the strata manager.
It could be the case that they were not given a copy of the by-laws to start with, and may be unaware of the rules. However, if they continue to breach the rules after becoming aware of them, you may need to report it to your strata manager or strata committee.
Owners corporations generally follow a series of steps regarding breaches. This may include:
- A verbal warning to the person to stop what they are doing and comply with the by-law.
- Issuing a written notice to comply – this may require approval by the committee or owners corporation in line with your state’s specific legislation.
- Mediation to resolve the dispute – e.g. through the state department of Fair Trading.
- Taking the case to a state administrative tribunal (or magistrates court) for a determination. This may result in a fine for the breach.
However, if the breach continues to happen, the owners corporation may need to return to the tribunal or court – which could result in higher fines for the person in breach of the rules.
As each owners corporation can decide and enforce its own by-laws to suit the way property owners want to live, it is important that each owner and tenant understands their responsibilities and obligations.
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