Shining a Light on the Complexity of Property Maintenance: What Building & Strata Managers Should Know

18 May 2023
By Jeff Anderson


In our line of work, we deal with a range of different people and roles in the repair of buildings. Our expertise and focus is on the structural repair and maintenance of multi-tenanted apartment buildings, commercial and industrial buildings, and tertiary campuses. Without a doubt, we have seen first-hand how the role of building and/or strata managers is essential in the upkeep, maintenance, and smooth running of multi-tenanted properties around Australia. In fact, we would go so far as to say that the level of customer service, attention to detail and expertise that Managers (and to an extent landlords) are ultimately responsible for, goes a long way toward creating a positive user experience, ensuring a building’s value increases and making life easy for the occupants of their buildings.

In our 55 years of remediation and building services, we have worked with hundreds, if not thousands of strata managers and have come to understand the unique, but critical role that Strata Managers play in understanding the needs of building tenants, and in delivering efficient, trustworthy services for those occupants.

From a purely functional point of view, Strata managers and landlords have an important role in creating a safe and hospitable living environment for tenants in apartments. Providing a safe and secure home for tenants is not only a priority but a requirement under NSW and Australian Law.

Based on this, strata managers and the Body Corporate need to take proactive steps to ensure that the property is maintained and that any and all problems are documented, investigated, and addressed in a timely and efficient manner. In fact, we cannot emphasise enough the importance of documenting any issues. What may start off as a small issue can change significantly over a short period of time. Having written and pictorial evidence of the issue can help you understand the severity of the issue and also help a consulting engineer or building rectification company such as Remedial to better see how quickly the issue is advancing.

 

What you need to be aware of

As we have addressed in previous blogs, identifying and addressing building defects is a critical element in building management. Work needs to be undertaken as quickly as possible, but it is critical that any repairs are carried out in accordance with relevant laws and regulations. In fact, recent changes to NSW law have meant that some works cannot be undertaken without a documented scope of works and that designs prepared for a ‘building element’ of ‘building work’ on Class 2 buildings need to be declared BCA compliant.

Whilst there are some allowances made for emergency works, the general implication is that all rectification works — waterproofing or changing a balcony handrail for example — need to be compliant, lodged for approval, and inspected by a consultant before being approved.

This means that strata managers and landlords need to be well-versed with clear information about their rights and responsibilities and ensure that any complaints from tenants are dealt with fairly and promptly.

In many cases, required structural works are the result of age, wear and tear or mechanical failure of protective systems. However, in some cases, the tenants themselves may be responsible for damage to a property and therefore responsible for repair. If you manage a property where you believe this may be the case, here is what you need to know.

 

Rights and Responsibilities in Strata Buildings

Creating a safe and hospitable living environment for tenants in apartments is a shared responsibility between strata managers, landlords, and tenants. In New South Wales (NSW) particularly, the responsibility is outlined in the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 and enforced by NSW Fair Trading. If the tenant causes damage to the property, they are responsible for repairing it or paying for its repair. If the damage is caused by the landlord’s negligence or issues outside the tenants’ control, the tenant is not responsible. Similarly, if the landlord fails to repair the property, the tenant can seek compensation.

In our experience, it is often tenants (or owner-occupiers) who first notice issues. Whether it is water coming in where it shouldn’t, cracks in walls or balcony handrails coming loose, their proximity to the issue makes them the first one to see it. At this point in time, they have an important duty to disclose it to the building or strata manager so that the issue can be investigated and dealt with promptly.

Under NSW law, tenants must not cause or allow damage either intentionally or through lack of care or attention. Thus, prompt action is required. If the tenant is somehow responsible for damage to the property, the landlord can ask for repairs to be made at their cost. Where agreement cannot be reached, the Department of Fair Trading may issue rectification orders to the parties to undertake repairs or fix the damage.

In New South Wales, Fair Trading has specific powers to resolve disputes between tenants and landlords over repairs and maintenance and property damage. The first step is for landlords and tenants to submit a written request to the other party to try and fix the issue before applying to Fair Trading.

Fair Trading has a variety of dispute resolution methods such as mediation, conciliation, adjudication and arbitration, to help landlords and tenants resolve their disputes. Tenants can apply to Fair Trading to have their dispute heard and to seek a resolution. Fair Trading also provides free or low-cost tenancy advice and information to help tenants understand their rights and responsibilities.

On the other hand, where the landlord, body corporate or other entity that is not the tenant is required to rectify a structural issue and an agreement cannot be reached, Fair Trading may issue orders requiring the landlord to rectify the situation, repay rent or rental bond money and in some circumstances, can order the landlord to pay a penalty. Whilst it is less common for the department to be involved, it is important to note that all orders issued by Fair Trading are legally binding and must be complied with.

 

A final thought

Ultimately, we cannot stress enough, it is important that you do not delay maintenance, as doing so can have an impact on the building, and in turn, this can lead to higher costs to repair the issue. All parties within a building have rights and responsibilities to the others to ensure that the building is a safe and secure home for tenants and a secure investment as well for owners.

We encourage all parties where works are required to understand their rights and obligations when it comes to repairs, maintenance, and property damage. Once agreement has been reached, obtaining the services of a qualified, experienced and insured repairer is essential. If you need assistance in this, contact the team at Remedial and let us help you.

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