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A new era in Strata and new requirements for Rental Bonds Online

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In this issue of The Letterbox we focus on changes to NSW strata laws which have now started.

More than a million people live in strata in NSW in accommodation such as townhouses, apartment blocks and villas.

The modernised laws:

  • mean that strata schemes can choose to communicate online with tenants and owners
  • make it easier to address parking issues or get renovations approved
  • provide new options for tenants to find out about decisions in their strata scheme and attend meetings (in certain circumstances).

Find out how else the strata laws affect you if you live in, own or manage a strata property. Read on to learn more or visit our dedicated strata website at stratalaws.nsw.gov.au

Also in this edition of The Letterbox, we look at the new laws requiring property agents and private landlords to offer the Rental Bonds Online service to new tenants.
 

Answers to your questions on strata

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Q: In my building we have a number of parking spots allocated for visitors only. I've noticed other residents regularly parking their own cars here, leaving no space for my visitors to park. Is there something I can do to stop this from happening?

A: You can Inform the secretary of the owners corporation or the strata managing agent of the issue in writing, and provide details and evidence (e.g. photos of the resident’s car parked in the allocated visitors parking spot). If you do not know the contact details for the secretary of the owners corporation or the strata managing agent, check your building’s notice board or ask your landlord/real estate agent for this information.

Parking is usually covered by a strata scheme’s by-laws (rules). When a by-law is breached, the owners corporation can serve a notice to the resident, requiring them to comply with a by-law. 

If there is a tenant representative on the strata committee (see our next article), you could also ask them to raise the issue.

If the issue is not dealt with by the strata committee or strata managing agent directly, it may be put to an owners corporation meeting. Tenants may attend if they are on the strata roll. The strata roll lists the owners (or property manager) and tenants for each of the lots (units) in the strata block. For the parking issue to be discussed at the meeting, it must be listed as an agenda item. You will need to ask the secretary of the owners corporation (or the strata managing agent) to list it as an agenda item. Find out more about tenant participation in strata on our website.  

You can also find out more about managing parking issues in strata on our website. 
 
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Q: I own a unit in a strata complex that I rent out. My tenants have asked me if they can be more involved and attend strata meetings. Are they allowed to?

A: Under the new strata laws that started on 30 November 2016, tenants can attend owners corporation meetings if they are on the strata roll. Tenants can be excluded when certain matters are being discussed (e.g. financial statements).

Landlords need to provide the owners corporation with a tenancy notice that contains the tenants’ details within 14 days of the lease commencing. It is an offence not to, so act now if you have not yet provided notice of a current tenancy.

The new strata laws recognise the important part that tenants can play in a strata scheme. If tenants occupy at least half the lots in a strata scheme, they can nominate a tenant representative on the strata committee. The tenant representative is able to raise issues that concern tenants at the strata committee meetings. However, a tenant representative is not able to vote, and also cannot make up a quorum for the meeting.

The tenant representative is selected by eligible tenants (tenants on the strata roll) at a meeting of those tenants.

Find out more about tenant participation in strata on our website.
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Q: I have heard the new strata rules will allow me to keep a pet in my unit. Is this true?

A: Even if a strata scheme allows pets, tenants must seek the permission of their landlord or agent.

A strata scheme that does not currently allow pets may continue to not allow them. However, a strata scheme may choose to adopt one of the new ‘pet-friendly’ model by-law options.

One of the new model by-law options on pets for strata schemes recognises an owner’s right to seek permission to keep a pet, and that this cannot be refused on unreasonable grounds. If refused, the owner could appeal the decision at the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT).

A strata scheme cannot have a rule banning a resident from keeping an assistance animal, such as a guide dog or hearing dog. The owners corporation can require proof that the animal is a certified or trained assistance animal.
 

 

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Q: I have just started renting a unit for the first time and have noticed a few minor repairs that need to be done around the building, such as broken lights in the stairwell. Who can I raise these issues with?

A: You should contact your property manager or landlord about these repairs. They can then raise the issues with the strata manager who represents the owners corporation.  

If the issue affects common property and you have a tenant representative, this is something that you could raise with them to take to the strata committee.

For strata owners, the new laws make getting renovations approved simpler. The clearer process for renovations should make it easier for landlords to organise alterations that could add value to their strata lot.   

You can read more about renovations in strata on our website.
 

Tenancy Tales from the tenancy complaint service

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A tenant complained to Fair Trading about cigarette smoke drifting into their unit from a neighbouring tenant. The tenant was frustrated as she had complained to the managing agent about the situation and no action was taken. The tenant was worried about the health effects of second-hand smoke.

Fair Trading contacted the property manager to discuss the issue. The property manager advised he had investigated the complaint, including speaking with the agent responsible for other neighbouring units, but he could not find any evidence to support the other tenant’s claim.

Fair Trading provided the tenant with their options including strata mediation through Fair Trading or a Community Justice Centre.

The Residential Tenancies Act 2010 requires landlords to provide premises that are fit for habitation. A tenant is encouraged to approach their landlord or agent to address any issues arising from second-hand smoke. If no action is taken by a landlord, a tenant may apply to the NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) for an order to address the problem.

Tenants should check if their strata block has an existing by-law restricting smoke drift. If no rules are in place, a tenant can approach (or ask their landlord to approach) the owners corporation, asking that they consider a by-law be passed to address nuisance smoking.

After adopting the model by-law (or if a smoking by-law is already in place), an owners corporation can issue the resident who is causing the smoke drift with a 'notice to comply'. The owners corporation can then seek a penalty through NCAT of up to $1,100 to be paid to the owners corporation if the resident continues to be in breach of the by-law.

Tenants in strata schemes without a smoking by-law may also be able to take action under the new laws, which require owners, occupiers and others to not create a nuisance or hazard for other residents. If smoke is unreasonably interfering with a tenant’s use or enjoyment of the common property or their lot, this may be considered a nuisance or hazard. A tenant can apply for free strata mediation to try and resolve the issue.
 

Agents & private landlords must offer Rental Bonds Online to tenants

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If you're a tenant starting a new tenancy from 30 January 2017, your agent or landlord must offer you the option of using Rental Bonds Online (RBO), Fair Trading's easy and secure service to manage bonds online. Tenants can find out more about this service on our RBO for tenants webpage, or watch our 3-minute video introduction to the service.

Property agents and landlords, if you aren't already registered for RBO, make sure you do this before 30 January 2017. From then, by law you must offer the service to all new tenants as the first option for lodgement of their bond. More information about these changes is available on our Rental Bonds Online (RBO) changes to residential tenancy laws webpage.

Find out more by visiting the Rental Bonds Online section of our website, including information on the benefits of this service and how to register.
 

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Need help?

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If you can't find an answer to your question, you're welcome to call us on 13 32 20.

If you have a problem with a tenant, landlord or agent that you can't resolve, remember you can lodge a complaint online to use our free tenancy complaint service.

If your complaint is about a matter that is not dealt with by Fair Trading, or you can't come to a solution on your issue, you may decide to lodge an application with the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The Tribunal is an independent body which hears and decides on applications for orders from tenants and landlords.

For more information, visit the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal website. You can also watch one of their new videos on the common types of matters brought to the Tribunal for resolution, including one on tenancy.
 

Insurance fee (levy) reform: Monitor to protect policyholders

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If you have insurance for your property, contents or car in NSW you are probably paying a fee or levy in your insurance premium. The insurance levy helps fund the emergency and fire services in NSW. This funding arrangement to emergency and fire services will be replaced by a property-based levy on 1 July 2017.

The property levy, to be charged alongside council rates will fund the emergency services in the 2017-2018 financial year.

When you renew or take out insurance make sure you:

  • check your policy for details of the levy
  • contact your insurance company for clarification
  • contact the Emergency Services Levy Insurance Monitor if you are not satisfied with the response.

The Emergency Services Levy Insurance Monitor (ESLIM) is an independent agency who oversees the insurance levy removal and protects policyholders.

For more information about the insurance levy reform visit the Insurance Monitor's website at www.eslinsurancemonitor.nsw.gov.au or call the Monitor’s hotline on 1300 607 723.
 
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