If the constant changes to NSW strata management throughout the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis is leaving you confused, then you’re not alone. Strata managers, Building Managers Owners Corporations and strata owners across the state are struggling to keep up with the latest updates within the strata industry and understand what this means for their strata building.
To help make your life easier, we have put together our latest frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the top COVID-19 strata specific questions you need to know.
1. How much cleaning of common property areas should an Owners Corporation conduct during COVID-19?
The amount of cleaning and frequency of cleaning within a strata property depends on the types of surfaces and how often they are touched day to day. We recommend referring to the Australian Government Department of Health’s cleaning guide called ‘the Environmental cleaning and disinfection principles for COVID-19’. https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/assets/2020/03/environmental-cleaning-and-disinfection-principles-for-covid-19.pdf
Common Areas and Shared Facilities Management
1. Is the Owners Corporation required to close off the swimming pool or gym in my strata building?
Shared facilities within strata living such as swimming pools or gyms can remain open as long as social distancing and good hygiene is maintained, including the one person allowed in every four-square metre of space rule. If the Owners Corporation choose to temporarily close shared facilities, a notice must be posted to notify all residents.
2. What is the best way to limit the number of people in a lift?
The Owners Corporation can place notices inside the lift and at the lift entrance to notify the number of people allowed within the lift at any given time under social distancing rules. Alternatively, a by-law can be resolved to restrict the use of the common property lift.
1. What happens if I can’t pay my levies on time?
Firstly, talk to your strata committee and let them know about your current situation. You may be able to negotiate a payment plan or the Owners Corporation may allow to waive interest charges on arrears for owners who can’t meet levy contributions. Payment plans are limited to a maximum of 12 months. If you can’t find a mutual agreement, you can apply for mediation with Fair Trading. If Fair Trading are unable to assist, you can then apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for a decision.
2. My Owners Corporation has limited money in its Administrative Fund. Are we able to access money from the Capital Works Funds to meet administrative fund expenses?
Yes, this is allowed under section 76 of the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 which expressly anticipates an Owners Corporation doing so on a short-term basis. However, as of 5 June 2020, temporary amendments to the Strata Schemes Management Regulations 2016 will extend the time an Owners Corporation has to raise a levy to replenish the relevant fund from three months to six months.
3. Under the Community Land Management Act 1989, can an association resolve to repeal levies given COVID-19 and the financial difficulties some members are facing?
Unfortunately, levies cannot be completely repealed. The provisions under the Community Land Management Act 1989 are to the same practical effect as the Strata Legislation:
Clause 13(1) and (2) of Schedule 1 of the Community Land Management Act 1989 require an association to estimate how much it will need to credit its administrative and sinking funds.
Clause 13(4) then states:
“(4) The association must impose a levy on each member for a contribution to provide the amount estimated under subclauses (1) and (2).”
As the levies are required to be struck based on the estimates, the only way to reduce a levy is to remove any non-essential costs during a general meeting to lower the estimate.
Health and Safety
1. Do I have to inform the Owners Corporation if I have COVID-19?
Although not mandatory, the Owners Corporation recommends residents to inform them if they have COVID-19 so necessary precautions can be made such as providing extra hygiene measures and to allow other residents and contractors to protect themselves. If a resident discloses their condition, an Owners Corporation must respect the person’s privacy and not disclose the individual’s identity.
2. What should the Owners Corporation do if they suspect a self-isolating resident is seriously ill?
Firstly, you should try to make direct contact with the resident who is self-isolating. If there is no response, and you suspect they are seriously ill, phone Emergency Services immediately on 000.
3. Can an Owners Corporation enforce residents to download and use the COVIDSafe App?
No. Under clause 9(1) of the Biosecurity (Human Biosecurity Emergency) (Human Coronavirus with Pandemic Potential) (Emergency Requirements—Public Health Contact Information) Determination 2020 states:
(1) A person must not require that another person:
(a) download COVIDSafe to a mobile telecommunications device; or
(b) have COVIDSafe in operation on a mobile telecommunications device; or
(c) consent to uploading COVID app data from a mobile telecommunications device to the National COVIDSafe Data Store.
4. If I am a resident self-isolating and I don’t want the annual fire inspection to proceed, can I say no?
If the lot owner is self-isolating due to being diagnosed with COVID-19, the Public Health Order prevents anyone entering a residence, except in case of an emergency. However, lot owners who are elderly or vulnerable to COVID-19 should notify their strata committee or strata manager so that the necessary precautions can be made for fire safety checks.
5. There’s increased noise or smoke drift in my strata apartment building. Who do I speak to?
With more people staying at home, there may be an increase in noise levels or smoke drift is becoming a nuisance. You should speak to your strata committee or strata manager, as these matters are covered by existing by-laws. A reminder can also be sent to all residents about the level of noise and the nuisance of smoke drift.
6. Can a landlord or property agent still conduct property inspections?
Yes, in-person property inspections can still be conducted for the purposes of sale, lease and display homes. However, these should only be conducted if absolutely necessary. Instead, digital inspections should be offered wherever possible. Routine property management inspections should be deferred if possible.
1. How should we deal with contractors entering units to carry out essential work?
Essential services are still required to be met and completed; however adequate protection measures should be incorporated into the process such as social distancing.
2. We are in the process of upgrading our building and pool area, can this work continue?
Yes, this work can still continue as you have a contractual arrangement with the builder. Seeking to stop works may constitute a breach of the agreement. We recommend discussing the necessary protection measures with the builder to ensure ongoing safety for everyone involved.
1. How can we avoid holding a meeting in person?
As of 5 June 2020, strata and community land laws have been adjusted, allowing Owners Corporations (body corporates) and community associations to meet and vote at annual general meetings and committee meetings electronically, such as online video conferencing and electronic ballot papers or voting website.
2. Are electronic meetings mandatory for all schemes?
No – the new law provides strata schemes with the option to meet and vote validly using electronic means. Some schemes may still be able to hold in person meetings and paper ballots for voting, only if members follow the public health advice about physical distancing and hygiene.
3. How can an Owners Corporation execute documents with the current restrictions on the ability of people to interact?
From 5 June 2020 amendments to the Strata Schemes Management Regulations 2016 provide Owners Corporations with an alternative to executing in accordance with section 273 by affixing the seal.
Authorised representatives of strata schemes can now sign and witness documents electronically to give formal approval instead of affixing the seal. These representatives need to do this in each other’s presence via an audio-visual link.
You should make note of:
- the date or dates on which it is signed,
- the name of each signatory
- the relationship of each signatory to the Owners Corporation (e.g. secretary, managing agent, committee member or lot owner)
- if the managing agent – their licence number under the Property Stock and Business Agents Act 2002.
Where the managing agent is a corporation, the signature may be placed by:
- the president, chairperson or other principal officer of the corporation; or
- any member of staff of the corporation authorised by the president, chairperson or other principal officer.
4. If my Owners Corporation holds a meeting wholly by pre-meeting electronic voting, how are the votes counted?
Under Clause 14(1) of Schedule 1 of the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 (SSMA), it states that a simple majority (1 lot - 1 vote) is to apply generally for a motion put to a meeting. This would apply equally to a meeting by pre-meeting electronic vote.
- Where a motion requires a special resolution – section 5(2) of the SSMA requires this to be determined based on unit entitlement.
- Where a poll is demanded on a motion by a person present and entitled to vote.
5. Are pre vote meetings allowed which include a vote for selection of a strata manager when votes are emailed to the current manager and they are also up for selection?
Yes, this is allowed. If the managing agent is the proxy-holder, there is a restriction in relation to them casting a vote.
Contact your expert NSW strata management team today
For the latest information and updates about COVID-19 restrictions which may impact strata schemes and strata companies Sydney, we recommend visiting the NSW Government’s COVID-19 website. Alternatively, contact your strata manager or strata managing agent at The Strata Collective to find out more.