your lot & common property
If you own a strata property, it is essential that you understand what is common property and what is your private lot. This dictates whether you or the strata company are responsible for the repair, maintenance, renewal and replacement of it. Be aware that this differs from one strata scheme to the next, the same rule does not apply to all.
Before you read on, note that the 'strata company’ is the body corporate/ owners corporation of which all lot owners of the strata scheme are members. Essentially, it refers to you and your fellow owners. It is not to be confused with the strata management company.
Section 10 of the Strata Titles Act 1985 (the Act) which governs strata titled schemes in Western Australia, defines common property. In summary, it states that common property in a strata titles scheme is any part of the strata titles scheme that does not form part of a lot.
Therefore, any areas that are outside of the individual lot boundaries are deemed common property. This generally extends to obvious areas such as communal driveways, swimming pools, lifts and communal gardens, however it may (or may not) also include part or all of the building structures.
Who owns the common property?
When you own a lot in a strata titled scheme, you also own an undivided share of the common property in accordance with your unit entitlement. This means that the common property is owned by all lot owners jointly. The strata company is the entity that exists to manage the common property on behalf of and for the benefit of all lot owners, and each lot owner is a member of the strata company. The Act governs how the strata company must go about managing the common property, including the option to elect a council of owners to fulfil the day to day duties of the strata company. The election of a council is essential in medium to large schemes to ensure effective management is possible. As you can imagine, it would not be practical to require all owners' involvement and vote on every matter that arises in a complex of, say, 100 apartments. The council of owners therefore acts as a management committee consisting of smaller group of the owners, typically between 3 and 7.
How do you know what is common property, and what is part of your lot?
Every strata scheme in Western Australia has a strata plan or scheme plan registered at Landgate. Your certificate of title will reference this plan by stating that the title is for Lot X on strata plan XYZ. This plan is specific to your strata scheme and includes important information, including the lot boundary definitions. You must therefore refer to this plan to understand what is within your lot, noting that everything outside of the lots is common property.
The lot boundaries are not always easy to understand, or practical. We come across some very unusual boundary definitions from time to time that make it very difficult to effectively manage the strata scheme.
The most common types of lot boundaries are as follows, however we reiterate that you must check your plan to understand what boundaries apply to your scheme and we recommend seeking guidance from us rather than attempting to interpret it yourself.
High-rise schemes: Generally the lot boundaries for high-rise strata schemes will be 'from the inner surfaces of the walls, from the upper surface of the floor, to the under surface of the ceiling'. This effectively means that the lot owner owns the airspace within the apartment, and the building structure surrounding it is common property.
Single tier schemes: When there are no lots on top of other lots, the scheme is known as a single tier scheme. It is quite common in these cases that the lot boundaries are 'to the external surfaces of the building'. This means that the lot owner owns the building structure and is responsible for its' maintenance, etc.
There can then be many variations of the above boundaries, for example:
Where the boundary is from the upper surface of the 'slab' rather than the 'floor'. This changes who is responsible for flooring.
Where the boundary is to the external surfaces of the walls, but not the roof. This means the lot owner owns the wall structures, but the roof is common property.
You can start to see how strata titles can become quite complex and this reiterates the importance of appointing a professional Strata Manager to help you navigate through these complexities.