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What you need to know about the body corporate before buying a unit

Buying a unit is an exciting time in anyone’s life. However, don’t just get caught up with the logistics, appearance and location of the unit itself. There’s more you need to consider – as ownership of a unit comes complete with membership of a body corporate. Before you buy a unit in Queensland, there are a few things you need to know.

Do all unit complexes need to have a body corporate?

Yes, they do. A body corporate is a legal entity created when land is subdivided to establish a community titles scheme. All owners in the scheme automatically become members of the body corporate when they buy their lot.

In some very small schemes, the body corporate may not exist in actuality, although it does exist legally. It may not be operational, however, in that no levies are payable, no meetings are held, and no action is taken. But the body corporate always exists in unit complexes, and is still valid even if it’s inactive. This means that the legislation relevant to bodies corporate will always apply.

Body corporate approvals in units

Before you make changes to your unit, you may have to seek (and be granted) approval from your body corporate committee. You can’t do anything in your lot that will impact on other owners or the common property. For example, you can’t just install an air conditioning unit, solar panels, a satellite dish, shutters or a new type of hard floor. While you MAY be allowed to do these things, you’ll need the approval to be granted first. This is usually done by applying in writing to the body corporate committee, who will discuss and either approve or dis-approve the request.

You’ll need to live within the by-laws

Life in a unit is regulated and controlled by by-laws. These laws cover all aspects of unit living, including:

  • Safety and security
  • Use of the common property
  • The appearance of the building
  • Car parking
  • Pets
  • Noise
  • Behaviour
  • Rubbish disposal
  • Damage

You’ll need to decide whether you can abide by these by-laws before you buy into a strata scheme. By-laws can sometimes seem strange and pointless. You may not be able to hang curtains in your choice of colour, or dry your washing on your balcony, or smoke where you want to. There’s no point falling in love with a unit that doesn’t allow pets if you just can’t be parted from your beloved Mr Whiskers or Fido. Make sure you’re satisfied with the by-laws before committing to buy.

What levies will you need to pay?

All strata schemes come with levies – payments made by each owner to contribute towards the upkeep and maintenance of the building and the running expenses of the body corporate. Levies mean that rather than taking care of the property maintenance yourself, you pay someone else to do it for you. This means you’ll have a lot more free time to spend enjoying your unit, rather than working to maintain it. However, you’ll need to know how much you’ll be expected to pay, and when – and whether you can afford this on top of your mortgage payments. Levies will vary depending on a number of factors, including the age and location of the building, the facilities included in the building, and the condition of common areas.

While levies are due regularly, there’s also the chance you’ll need to contribute to a special one-off levy every now and then. These special levies are usually raised to cover a large and irregular maintenance job, such as replacing the driveway. While you can’t predict when these will occur, you can check if such a levy has been raised before you buy into the building. If so, you will be required to contribute once you become an owner.

What are your duties and obligations?

Lot owners have a number of obligations to fulfil when they buy into a strata scheme. These include:

· Obeying the schemes’ by-laws

· Keeping their lot in good condition

· Not interfering unreasonably with the use or enjoyment of another lot or the common property

· Not creating a nuisance or hazard

Search the records

Before you commit to buying a unit, it’s wise to do a thorough search of the records. A read through the minutes of recent body corporate meetings can be very enlightening. You may discover issues with your unit, with the previous owner or with the building as a whole that may end up being very costly for you – even as a new owner. While it can be a time-consuming task, it’s the best way to identify potential red flags to your new purchase. You should check:

  • Financial records
  • By-laws
  • Insurance records
  • Reports of property inspections
  • Correspondence
  • Meeting minutes

A little research and preparation goes a long way towards helping you make the right choice of unit.

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