WA Today

Rendering ugly old exposed brick, adding balconies, building rec rooms and other common spaces, and installing barbecues or pools to make the most of underused space are all now choices within reach for owners of Perth’s oldest blocks of units, thanks to new strata laws.

The laws also mean one grumpy owner will no longer able to prevent the rest of a group from installing solar panels on a common roof.

The most significant changes to strata in over 20 years are now law after receiving Royal Assent on Monday and the time is ripe, with strata subdivisions representing about half of all new lots created in WA.

They generate more than $10 billion of sales annually, and attempts to promote higher-density living in our sprawling city means it’s vital to maximise liveability in apartments, units, villas and townhouses.

In the past strata living has not been highly thought of by freedom-loving Perth types.

Strata companies have had duty only to maintain and repair common property, without any responsibility to consider improvements.

And previously, the law required a unanimous resolution from every single owner to install anything new on common property.

In practice, this has meant nothing has been done to update or beautify 1960s-1970s blocks now dated and ugly, and not helping the public perceptions of high-density living.

And it’s meant conflict and frustration as owners wanting solar panels, or even an ADSL connection crossing common property, have faced lengthy uphill battles without any guarantee of success.

One group of 100 lot owners in Subiaco has tried to put in solar panels for years but one owner, convinced solar panels cause cancer, has blocked the process.

The new laws give strata companies power to “improve or alter” common property, including with sustainability infrastructure, with only an ordinary resolution (majority vote).

Not all owners have to agree and it doesn’t even require a formal meeting. The strata company just has to give owners notice of the intention to give approval for any works or expenditure that are in in line with existing adopted budgets and spending controls. Unless more than a quarter of owners object in writing within 14 days, the strata company can go ahead.

Any temporary levy increase to build up a fund towards buying or building improvements would also need to be passed by ordinary resolution.

Urban Development Institute of Australia WA chief executive Allison Hailes said owners could now do things more easily either in groups or as individuals.

This meant not just solar panels, but possibly water-saving devices, fire sprinkler systems, or a pool, spa or even a barbecue in common areas.

People living in villas or townhouses, where the most common property tends to be driveways, parking areas and gardens, can also consider adapting these spaces for new purposes or improvements.

Strata Community Association state president Scott Bellerby said some 1960s strata schemes had essentially tied the hands of the strata companies.

They couldn’t render the buildings, or use excess land for anything. Maylands was one example, with many exposed brick apartment buildings with nothing to break up their appearance.

“They have the ability to transform them into something more modern and attractive and not have to knock them down. You can value add that way,” he said.

“The hope is some of next few years these eyesores might be transformed into more attractive places to live.”

He said one scheme his company managed along Herdsman Parade contained areas of 300-400 square metres that could now be improved with a pool or recreation room.

The owners of another exposed-brick building in Wembley were in discussions about the possibility of rendering and adding balconies.

“You do need those breakout areas … not just apartments with lobbies on the ground,” he said.

“Everyone likes to have a breakout area if they can … you can create a harmonious community within a strata scheme that can benefit people’s lives, and a space people can meet and gather.

“We’ve already formed a couple of community groups amongst our schemes.”

Owner groups stood ready to install solar panels in areas including North Fremantle, Subiaco, Belmont and Fremantle – “pretty much across Perth,” he said.

Solar panels can be owned by the strata company, or any number of owners.

If only six of 10 owners want to contribute, they can become the owners responsible. The others wouldn’t have to contribute or necessarily benefit.

They could also be owned by a third party such as a renewable energy supplier, so if the strata company wanted to do a deal for the installation, they could manage it through a third party for more flexibility and a faster turnaround.

“This provides more equity amongst the owners so that you can’t have a situation where just one resident is dictating how the balance of the owners can use and enjoy common space,” said UDIA WA’s Allison Hailes.

“As our population grows and we have a greater percentage of the population living in strata arrangements it’s important to get the rules around their operation as clear as possible and future-proof them.

“We want to encourage more people to live in apartments and multi-unit dwellings, and the fewer people have bad experiences, the more people will be attracted to living under strata.”

More information about the laws is available on the Landgate website.