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Know what you’re responsible for: How to tell what is common property and what is individual lot property

Living in a strata community has plenty of upsides, not the least of which is the fact that a significant part of the building is maintained for you. This is known as common property. Anything that belongs to the building as a whole is maintained by the collection of owners as a whole. Each individual owner is responsible for their own individual part of the property. It seems like a straightforward concept on paper; however, in reality it can be somewhat more complex.

Uncertainty often arises about exactly who is responsible for maintenance and repairs of certain items. In some situations, it’s easy to tell the difference between common property and your own individual property. In others, it can be quite complicated. So how do you know the difference between individual property and common property? It’s crucial to know where the common property boundaries are, as your actions on common property are restricted without first getting approval from your strata scheme.

Here’s how you can find out.

Different types of plans

Basically, you’re responsible for your own individual property (everything inside your lot) and the body corporate is responsible for common property. So, you need to know where the boundary falls between the two in each circumstance.

The boundary between common property and individually owned lots will differ depending on what plan your building falls under. There are two types of strata schemes in Queensland: Standard Format Plans and Building Format Plans. Each of these schemes determines where the boundaries lie. The only way to be sure which plan your building falls under is to consult the Community Management Statement for your Community Titles Scheme.

Standard Format Plans

This is a plan commonly used within gated communities and townhouses. Under this plan, boundaries are measured from pegs in the ground. If you imagine a line encircling your entire unit, you’ll get an idea of where the boundary lies. This is exactly the same way that freestanding house boundaries are measured; with the difference being that the unit is located within a common property development.

For example

  • The front door of your unit – the entire door is considered to be your property.
  • The balcony balustrade – the entire balcony is considered the property of the individual unit owner, so you are responsible for its maintenance and upkeep.
  • The ceiling/roof – both the ceiling and the roof of your unit are considered your property, and thus your responsibility to maintain and repair.

In terms of maintenance and modifications etc., everything that falls within the boundary of your lot will be deemed your responsibility. The body corporate will maintain facilities, roads and gardens on common property. They will usually also maintain utility infrastructure which:

  • Is on common property
  • Is in a boundary structure
  • Services more than one lot

Because buildings under standard format plans have less common property, this generally means you’ll be paying lower levies.

Building Format Plans

No matter how many levels they contain, all vertical developments are classified under the Building Format Plan. This means that boundaries are measured from the centre of the walls, floors, ceilings and doors.

For example

  • The front door of your unit – the inside half is considered to be your property, while the outside half is considered common property.
  • The balcony balustrade – the interior portion of the balustrade is your individual property, while the exterior portion is common property.
  • The ceiling/roof – the ceiling is your property, while the roof of the complex above your unit is common property.

This has a number of implications. If, for instance, you want to make some modifications to your door, anything you do on the inside will usually be fine. However, you won’t be able to make any changes to the outside of your door without first getting permission from your body corporate. Similarly, if your balcony balustrade needs cleaning, you would be responsible for cleaning the interior of the balustrade, while the body corporate would be responsible for cleaning the exterior.

No matter where your boundary lines lie, standard rules apply. If it falls within your lot boundary, wherever that may be, you are responsible for it. If it falls outside, the body corporate is responsible. Once you know where the boundaries lie, it’s all pretty clear.

So, this covers all the basics, but keep in mind that while these rules apply in most circumstances, each individual property is different. Sometimes exceptions or highly specialised circumstances will occur, changing the rules that usually apply. The best thing you can do to make absolutely certain is to check both your by-laws and your building plan. Both of these should provide a very clear breakdown of the nature of common property and individual lot property. If things are still not clear, get in contact with your body corporate manager or committee and hopefully they should be able to confirm. Contact Capitol for help and advice here:

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