What is a strata scheme?
A strata scheme is a building or collection of buildings, where individuals each own a small portion (a lot) but where there is also common property (eg. external walls, windows, roof, driveways etc) which every owner shares ownership over.
Strata schemes are, in effect, small communities where the activities and attitudes of residents can have a significant impact on the satisfaction and enjoyment of others. It is important for people to be aware of the responsibilities and obligations when owning a property in a strata scheme.
What would I actually own in a strata scheme?
One of the major differences between owning a house and owning a unit (known as a ‘lot’) in a strata scheme, is that the external walls, the floor and roof do not usually belong to the lot owner. These areas are usually common property and the maintenance and repair of these parts of the building is usually the responsibility of the owners corporation. As it is common property, the lot owner is not able, without permission of the owners corporation, to alter or renovate these areas, or install services such as cable television. As a further example, a lot owner is not allowed to put an additional window in a common property wall without obtaining owners corporation approval.
Before purchasing a strata lot, it is essential that the prospective buyer is clear on where the common property boundaries are. This information is available from the strata plan, which shows the layout of the strata scheme and the common property details. Close attention should be paid to items such as sliding doors leading to balconies, garage doors and balcony railings, as strata plans may differ on whether these items are part of the common property or not.
It is recommended that expert advice be obtained if there is any uncertainty over common property boundaries. For a definitive answer on what forms common property in your strata scheme, you should refer to the strata plan for your individual strata scheme. A copy of the strata plan may be obtained from Land and Property Information NSW (formerly the Land Titles Office) at the corner of Macquarie Street and Prince Alfred Road Sydney NSW, or on 9228 6798.
In most strata schemes, the lot owner owns the inside of the unit but not the main structure of the building. Usually the four main walls, the ceiling, roof and the floor are common property. The internal walls within the lot (eg. the wall between the kitchen and loungeroom), floor coverings such as carpet and fixtures such as baths, toilet bowls and benchtops are all the property of the lot owner. While it is sometimes a hard concept to envisage, a lot owner effectively owns the airspace (and anything included in the airspace) inside the boundary walls, floor and ceiling of the lot.
Airspace can also extend to balconies and courtyards. You should get proper advice about ownership of such things as a tree in the courtyard or responsibility to maintain a pergola covering a balcony or courtyard. They could be in your airspace and therefore, would be maintained at your cost.