Who Is Responsible for Repairs?
Understanding who is responsible for maintenance and repairs within a Strata can be a source of confusion for owners. Our CEO Carrie McInerney explores some of the more common issues that leave owners scratching their heads.
Property owners within Strata, Body Corporate and Community groups sometimes misunderstand what is covered under the group's responsibilities. Whilst owners need to pay for any repairs and maintenance to their own apartment, townhouse or lot, working out what is deemed private and common areas when it comes to repairs and upkeep can become a bone of contention.
It's good to have a basic understanding of who has what responsibility, but in our role as Strata Managers, we can assist in providing clarity on which items are the unit owner's responsibility to maintain and which are at the Corporation's expense.
Three Common Maintenance Items in Strata
One of the most commonly reported maintenance items in a strata community is the repair of water leaks and other plumbing-related items such as blocked pipes, leaking taps, and stormwater drainage issues. Often there is confusion as to whether the cost of the repair is a unit owner expense or a cost to the Corporation.
When determining if the plumbing issue is a Corporation responsibility, it is perhaps easiest to first review the definition of common property. Common property is any land or space that is not within a unit and includes any pipe, cable, wire, duct or drain that is not for the exclusive use of a unit.
Put simply, if the pipe, drain, tap or toilet is only for the use of one unit and is considered part of that unit, it is not common property. Therefore the unit owner is responsible for maintaining and repairing any faults.
If the drain or pipe is a main drain that services the entire complex, then it is the Strata's responsibility to maintain it.
But here's where things get complicated...
Many blockages that are not affected by tree roots may be reported as being blocked due to oil, hair, soap or other foreign objects in the drain, and if these blockages are in a branch drain and not the main drain, then the unit owner is responsible for the cost of clearing the blockage.
A branch drain is a section of drain that leaves a unit and has not yet joined the main drain where other units' drains connect, so we often tell unit owners that if the branch drain were cut off or capped and they are the only unit affected then they will need to cover the costs.
A plumber can also identify the cause of a blockage and will note the cause of the clogged toilet or blocked unit branch drain.
If a blockage is found to be due to tree roots, then the Strata will cover the cost of the repair because it is likely that the roots have come from common property, a neighbouring property, or it is impossible to ascertain which tree is the culprit.
Another common misconception from owners is that leaking taps or hot water systems outside the unit automatically fall under the Strata's responsibility to repair and maintain. However, if the Hot Water System only services an individual unit, then the owner is responsible for the maintenance and repair of the system, regardless of where it is located.
If taps are outside but in a private yard, then the tap is considered an owner's responsibility.
Ultimately, a strata manager can assist an owner in determining who is responsible for repair.
Salt (rising) damp
As the foundation and structure of the strata building are common property, issues arising from these structures are generally the Strata's responsibility to repair.
Salt damp or rising damp is a common maintenance item, particularly in South Australia, due to our hotter, drier climate and the salinity in our soil. Essentially, salt damp is moisture rising from the earth. Salts in the water also move upwards through the masonry walls causing damage.
Dampness and water damage on a wall at the back of a wet area could also indicate a plumbing
issue. Your Strata Manager can arrange an inspection by a qualified contractor to determine the cause of the dampness; however, if the wall that is experiencing salt dampness is on the back of a wet area, it is recommended that the unit owner seek the opinion of a plumber to see if a pipe in the wall is leaking, or as we see commonly, a failed shower alcove.
The Corporation has an obligation to make good any damage caused by rising damp. Even if there is only a singular unit or a small number of units in the Corporation experiencing salt damp, it is still the responsibility of the entire Corporation to contribute to the cost of repairs, not just the unit owner with the damage.
Treating a group of units for termites is a Strata Corporation's responsibility because it is responsible for maintaining the common property and white ants come from outside the unit boundaries. Any white ant damage to a unit will need to be made good by the Corporation.
A strata manager can facilitate routine pest inspections and white ant treatment to avoid white ant damage. The cost of the inspections and treatment is a Corporation expense and can be budgeted yearly with funds coming from the Administration account. Often, the inspection reports will highlight areas of concern in individual units, such as timber garden edging and air-conditioner units discharging water too close to the foundation and garden beds built up against the unit. These items would be the unit owner's responsibility to address, but doing so would be for the benefit of the Corporation as it would likely avoid more costly white ant repairs.
When carrying out regular inspections, owners and Property Managers must check for any signs of white ants, such as mud tracks on walls. If you believe that you have white ants, you should report it immediately; if left untreated, it can result in thousands of dollars of repairs required to the timbers in the unit.
These three examples are not just the most common maintenance and repair problems we see but are helpful examples in learning the difference between an individual unit's responsibilities and those of the Corporation. By learning the difference, you can quickly determine if you need to call your Strata Manager or if you need to organise repairs yourself.
Still not sure? Call your Horner Management Strata Manager and get their advice.