Commissioners Corner: Improvements to Common Property

July 11, 2018

In a community titles scheme it is almost inevitable that owners would want to make an “improvement” – after all, if someone is a home owner, it stands to reason they would want to do things to their home which “improves” its value.

When it comes to making improvements in a community titles scheme, things are not quite as simple as an owner just making the improvement when and how they want to, particularly if the proposed improvement is to common property.

Before I take a look at that approval process and the things an owner will need to consider, a word firstly about “improvements” versus “maintenance”.

The difference between improvements and maintenance in a legislative sense is not straightforward and is largely dependent upon the particular circumstances.

That said, one way of thinking of the difference between the two is that “maintenance” can be viewed as day-to-day in nature, while “improvement” can be viewed as perhaps adding to or building upon. A good illustration of an improvement might be the installation of an air-conditioning unit.

When it comes to common property, an owner can make an improvement if approved by the committee or the body corporate at a general meeting.

The committee can approve an improvement by an owner if:

total cost is less than $3,000;
improvement does not detract from the appearance of a lot; and
the body corporate is satisfied that the use and enjoyment of the improvement is not likely to be a breach of the owner’s duties as an occupier (e.g. by causing a nuisance to others in the scheme). Otherwise the work must be authorised by ordinary resolution at a general meeting. For the owner, they must comply with any conditions of approval and maintain the improvement.When an improvement is made to the common property by a lot owner they must give the body corporate details of the type of work and value of the improvement.If the improvement increases the body corporate’s insurance premium, the owner may have to pay the extra amount.When it comes to an owner making alterations to their lot, legislation does not restrict the changes or improvements an owner can make. That said, it is essential that the owner consider:
whether the change will affect common property and if so, the information above about improvement to common property would come into play; and
whether there are any by-laws that affect what change or improvements they can make.

A common example of the latter is hard flooring. Installation of hard flooring such as timber or tiles can lead to noise transference in surrounding lots, which in turn can – and does – lead to disputes. Consequently, some bodies corporate have introduced by-laws requiring owners to obtain approval for any changes to flooring.

Even if there are no by-laws along these lines, a lot owner might still need to consider other factors. For example, if hard floors make extra noise for a lot below, this may create a “nuisance” as per the provisions of the legislation.

Quite apart from anything else, owners seeking to make an improvement should bear in mind they are part of a “community” and as such, try to be conscious of what impacts their proposed improvement will have on the other occupiers in the scheme.

Living in a community titles scheme is all about being part of an environment in which actions can have consequences beyond simply the individual, their lot and how they wish to improve it.

For further information about the body corporate legislation please contact our Information Service on Freecall 1800 060 119, or visit our website

This article was contributed by Chris Irons – Commissioner for Body Corporate and Community Management.