Just as different states have different strata laws, they have very different approaches to revising and updating them.
NSW, Victoria and Queensland are all at various stages of reviews while WA introduced their reforms earlier this year.
Generally speaking, state governments prefer evolution over revolution, and are unlikely to dump one set of laws in favour of another (although NSW did exactly that in 2016).
NSW and Victoria
In Victoria they are revamping the 2006 Owners Corporation Act while in WA this year they amended the 1985 Strata Titles Act, building on the foundations of law that is 35 years old.
Meanwhile NSW strata owners and stakeholders are awaiting the draft proposals from the five-yearly review of the 2016 Act.
That may address the highly vexed issue of pet by-laws as well as privacy issues, such as owners being able to demand to see other owners email addresses.
In Victoria a detailed set of proposed and long-overdue changes sailed through several stages in Parliament then seemed to hit the Covid-19 iceberg, round about March this year. There will need to be be further debate before it’s even close to becoming law.
In Queensland, where there are five different strata “modules”, there has been tinkering to allow for online voting during the pandemic.
But for several years now the Law Research Centre at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has been surveying body corporate law there and in 2017 issued an 80-page discussion document, ranging from issues around parking and pets, to the sale of entire apartment blocks if agreed by a majority of owners.
However, much of that was wishful thinking. The next set of reforms, due to come in on March next year, are mostly restricted to procedural regulations, such as when and how meetings should be held.
They certainly don’t address the two elephants in the Queensland strata room. The legalised corruption – my term, probably not theirs – of the presale of management rights by developers to the highest bidders and the spread of Airbnb-style short-term lets into non-holiday let residential-only strata buildings.
That said, in a letter to the Unit Owners Association of Queensland before the recent election, Deputy Premier Steven Miles promised that the government will establish a new Strata Legislation working group, to be chaired by the Commissioner for Liquor, Gaming and Regulation.
It will “explore whether regulation of strata managers is in the best interest of Queenslanders” and “consider other strata issues, including … dispute resolution, enforcement of caretaking duties, management rights, bullying and harassment of committee members, by-laws and other matters arising out of the QUT property law review.”
Over in WA, although the original strata act is ancient, recent reforms pretty much bring it into line with other states, such as by insisting that strata managers are registered and have a proper contract.
Also, the state’s administrative tribunal can overturn by-laws that are harsh, unconscionable and discriminatory and issue maximum fines of $2000 for breaches, double the penalties in NSW, for instance.
SA, ACT, NT and Tasmania
In South Australia, strata law doesn’t appear to have been significantly updated since 2013, in the ACT it was revised in 2018, in Tasmania there have been minor tweaks as recently as last year and in the NT it was last year.
As we have said so often in these pages, it’s time there was a country-wide template for strata law in Australia, where laws that match other jurisdictions are the rule rather than the exception.
Links and portals
Here’s a fairly comprehensive (but by no means exhaustive) list of links to online guides and portals where you can at least start digging out more information about the laws and proposed changes for your state or territory.
A version of this column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.