for everything you need to know about strata...

strataman says
"I'm constantly being asked, "What is Strata?"  Well, putting it simply, Strata, or also known as Strata Title, is a system first introduced into Australia in 1961 for handling the legal ownership of a 'portion' of a building or structure.  These 'portions' are known as 'lots' and can be applied to many different property 'styles' including units, townhouses, villas, commercial offices, factories, warehouses, retail shops and so on.  Read on if you want or need to know more...."
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Strata types and styles

Strata title 'types' can be:

  • residential
  • commercial
  • retail
  • mixed use - ie retail and/or commercial and/or residential
  • industrial
  • serviced apartments
  • retirement villages
  • caravan parks
  • resorts

Strata title complexes can include the following 'styles':

  • 3-storey low-rises
  • High-rises of 4 or more storeys
  • Townhouses, Townhomes, Villas, Duplexes, Triplexes, etc.
  • Factories and Warehouses
  • Storage Units
  • Retail Shops
  • Offices
  • Car Parking lots
  • Garages
  • Laundries
  • Marine Berths

Some of these types and styles are covered under the Community Land Management Act 1989.  To learn more about Community and Neighbourhood Schemes read the Community & Neighbourhood information page.

Want to see some BASIC stats?  Please understand that detailed stats on the numbers of the various types of strata schemes in NSW SEEMS to be difficult to dig up BUT I have found some RAW data that at least gives us an indication as to the number of Schemes there are (in NSW) and how many lots are in each scheme.
So, to see the latest figures I have, follow the link to my Small & Large Strata Schemes information page



How it all happens

Putting quite an involved procedure into extremely simplistic terms.....

Providing the zoning permits the construction of a Strata Scheme, approval needs to be obtained from the local council to proceed with the development and subsequent subdivision of the property into lots and common property.  There's more on Lots and Common Property further down this page.

A registered surveyor draws up a Strata Plan of subdivision showing which parts of the Strata Scheme will be lots, with the remaining parts being common property.  All lots are allocated a unit entitlement and the original schedule of unit entitlements is shown on the Strata Plan and on the Common Property Title.  For more information about unit entitlements and some examples see the section below.

TIP - the Strata Plan shows only the original unit entitlement allocation so, if you want to see the up-to-date unit entitlement allocation for the scheme (in case it's been changed), refer to the Common Property Deed which is held by the Owners Corporation or Strata Manager (if one has been appointed)

This plan is then submitted to the local council for approval.  When approved by the local council the Strata Plan is registered at the NSW Land Registry Services Department (LRS).  Following successful registration, Certificates of Title are issued by the NSW LRS for each lot and one for the common property of the Owners Corporation.

Once a Strata Plan is registered, not only does a Strata Scheme come into existence but an Owners Corporation is formed consisting of every lot owner in the scheme.  This legal entity will then bear the name "The Owners - Strata Plan No.nnnnnn".  The Strata Plan number is allocated by the NSW LRS and is always a unique number - just like your phone number or the number plate on your vehicle.

Also, when a Strata Plan is lodged at the NSW LRS, the surveyor can select the Model By-laws for Residential Strata Schemes contained in the Strata Schemes Management Regulation 2016 - Schedule 3 OR, alternatively, a solicitor can prepare a specific set of by-laws.

Note that, at the moment, there are only model RESIDENTIAL by-laws and none that I can find for commercial, retail, industrial, mixed use, retirement villages, resorts, etc - other than those provided in the previous legislation - Strata Schemes Management Regulation 2010 : Schedules 3 through 7.

By-laws for these types of schemes would need to be prepared by a solicitor.  The model by-laws contained in the PREVIOUS legislation
(see the link just above) COULD be used as a guide and altered to suit the specific development.
HINT: You'll have to scroll down a bit to see the different Schedules in the left side panel - then just click on the one(s) you want to see.

All this is yet to be cleared up so, for now, we will stick with the old legislation for these other types.

If scheme-specific by-laws are not lodged with the strata plan at registration then, more often than not, the model by-laws are used until the holding of First Annual General Meeting (also known as the FAGM) where it's decided whether or not the chosen by-laws will be added to, changed or left as is.  Anyway, just imagine the situation if owners could effectively 'do what they liked' in a scheme? (i.e. there were NO by-laws)  I shudder every time I think about that.   By-laws can be a pain sometimes but thank goodness for them.

TIP - the latest by-laws for your Strata scheme, can be found on the Common Property Deed PLUS
your Strata Committee should have a copy as well.
The NSW Land Registry Services actually allocates a 'dealing number' when the by-laws are lodged for registration and the deed can be found using this number

A Strata Committee, which is the representative entity of the Owners Corporation, is also elected at the FAGM and the levies the owners will pay are determined via a budget of expected expenses.

For all intents and purposes, the Strata Scheme is now fully operational - and the real fun can begin!!

All levies subsequently received are paid into both the Administrative Fund and the Capital Works Fund used in the running and maintaining of the scheme.



Obligations of lot owners

The principal obligations of all lot owners are:

  • to pay all the rates due (council, water, electricity, etc), land tax (if applicable) and strata levies for their own lot
  • to notify the Owners Corporation of any change in ownership, occupancy or use
  • to comply with the scheme's by-laws
  • to behave in a manner which won't offend other residents or interfere with their peaceful enjoyment of the scheme
  • to not carry out alterations to their lot without consent from the Owners Corporation and local authority (if required)

Obligations of lot owners intending to lease their lot

The principal obligations of all lot owners intending to lease their lot are:

  • to ensure compliance with the scheme's by-laws is a condition of the tenancy agreement
  • to supply the tenant with a copy of the registered scheme's by-laws
  • to notify the Owners Corporation of any change in ownership, occupancy or use
  • to notify the Owners Corporation of:
    • the name of the tenant
    • the date the tenancy commenced
    • the name of any property agent or manager involved
NOTE - The obligations regarding the tenancy requirements are usually handled by the property manager on behalf of the owner.



Lots and Common Property

Strata title has enabled the subdivision of land and buildings into lots and common property.


Lots are the units (or apartments or townhouses or villas, etc) or any other areas which form part of the scheme like laundries, car spaces, garages, marinas, storerooms, etc. and are shown on the title as being owned by a lot owner.  In some instances, lots can be owned by an individual who is NOT an owner of a property in a strata scheme.  Lots designated 'not for human occupation' are known as either Utility lots or Parking lots.

Common Property

Common Property is defined as everything on the parcel of land that is NOT contained in any current strata lot(s), such as common stairwells, driveways, visitor parking, roofs, paths, gardens, main gates, garbage areas, exterior walls and windows, balconies, lifts, etc, as well as recreational facilities such as gym, sauna, spa, swimming pool, tennis court, meeting room, golf course, etc.  The common property is owned by the Owners Corporation which comprises all the lot owners as a collective and all owners must contribute to the maintenance of these 'common' areas and facilities through a levy payment system.

NOTE - while it's possible for a scheme to consist of only lots and NO common property it's very rare to actually come across one.

Also, if the strata plan was registered BEFORE 1 July 1974, extra care needs to be taken when determining the lot boundaries as there was a relocation of some boundaries in the new legislation [Strata Schemes (Freehold Development) Act 1973] which came into effect on that date.


Who owns what

NSW Fair Trading's Buying into a Strata Scheme information page explains a lot this way:

"In most strata schemes, the lot owner owns the inside of the unit but not the main structure of the building.  The internal walls within the lot (e.g. the wall between the kitchen and lounge room), floor coverings such as carpet and fixtures such as baths, toilet bowls and bench tops are all the property of the lot owner.^nbsp; Effectively, a lot owner generally 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."

For even more explanations about lots and air space and other such stuff make sure you have a read of the web pages found using the links in the Extra Information resources Section a couple of paragraphs below this one.

Remember too that By-laws can contain information about specific 'items' in and around a strata scheme regarding who owns what and who is responsible for what.  Make sure you check them out before making any decisions.

Common Property or Not?

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 as well as check any by-laws that might shed some light on particular items or areas.  The boundaries are clearly shown (usually by thick black lines - but sometimes by other 'obscure' notations) on the registered Strata Plan for every scheme and, if you don't have the Strata Plan, a copy may be obtained from the NSW LRS (formerly the NSW Land & Property Information).
You can call them on 1300 052 637.

Alternatively, if you don't have a copy of your Strata Plan or you can't easily get hold of a copy, you can access the information from an approved LRS Information broker.  A link to the approved brokers can be found in the Find Records section on this page : NSW Land Registry Services - Find RecordsHave your credit card ready because obtaining a copy of the Strata Plan is NOT a free service.

TIP - Before going to all the hassle and time of sourcing and purchasing your own copy of the Strata Plan, ask your strata committee and/or your strata manager first.  They might just have one.

Common Property Rights

Common Property Rights is the granting of special privileges in respect to the use (exclusive or otherwise) of specific common property in the form of a by-law known as the Common Property Rights By-law.  Section 142 of the NSW SSMA 2015 effectively states that this by-law is a RIGHT-TO-USE the whole of or any specified part of the common property either exclusively or as designated in any particular manner or for any particular purpose.  And Section 144 determines who will be responsible for maintaining that specific piece of common property (including the payment of any money) while Section 145 goes into what happens if the ownership changes hands - very interesting.


Extra information resources (links are in the box below this section)

Here are a couple of extra resources to help you understand a bit more about lots and common property.  The NSW Fair Trading document "Common Property and the Lot" goes into great detail and is definitely worth spending a little time on if you need to know more about this topic.  Also, don't forget to have a look at the NSW Land Registry Services article on "What is Common Property?" - it goes into some good detail on common property issues.

NSW Fair Trading also provides a "Common Property Memorandum" (in PDF format) which is a list that Owners Corporations can use to help them work out what is what.  It specifies whether an owner of a lot or the Owners Corporation is responsible for the repair, maintenance or replacement of any part of the common property.

Everything helps with this tricky area so make sure you at least have a look at these.  The links for all these are in the box just below...

WARNING:  Whether or not there is a registered Common Property Memorandum, you ALWAYS need to take into account several things (due to this being such a complicated area) -

  • any boundary lines drawn on the strata plan
  • any notations made on the strata plan
  • any registered Common Property Rights by-laws
  • any alterations/improvements made to a lot and where responsibility to repair, maintain and replace has been passed to the lot owner
  • if a Common Property Memorandum has been registered (noting any exclusions)

Not to be Missed!

Especially take note of the extensive PDF called "Who's Responsible - A Guide to Common Property" from the Strata Community Australia (NSW) - formally known as the ISTM.  Don't miss this one - it's DYNAMITE!! - even if it's getting a little old now.  The link is just below under Strata Community Australia (NSW).

NSW Fair Trading (NSW FT)

NSW Land Registry Services (NSW LRS)

Strata Community Australia (NSW SCA)

TIP - It's highly recommended that for any specific situation that expert advice be obtained to determine common property and lot boundaries



Unit Entitlements

Levy Contributions using Unit Entitlements

All costs for managing, maintaining, repairing and insuring the common property are shared by all the owners in direct proportion to their lot's respective unit entitlements.  The most up-to-date schedule of unit entitlements for each lot is disclosed in the Common Property Certificate of Title (held by the Owners Corporation) and regulates what proportion of the total levy contribution each owner will be required to pay.  The larger the unit entitlement for a lot, the larger the proportion of the total levy contribution to be paid.

NOTE - The registered Strata Plan document also lists the unit entitlements for the scheme but this list may not be totally up-to-date and should not be relied upon for accuracy.

Here's a simple unit entitlement example:

Example of Levies using Unit Entitlements

Total levy contributions for a Strata Scheme of 9 lots is $20,000 per annum or $5,000 per quarter
Total Unit Entitlements for the scheme is 1,000 and is divided amongst the total lots

Lots 1-8 each have a unit entitlement of 100 or 10% of the total of 1,000
Lot 9, being much larger, has a unit entitlement of 200 or 20% of the total of 1,000

As Lot 9 is allocated 20% of the unit entitlements its owner must pay 20% of the levy contribution equating to $4,000 per annum or $1,000 per quarter

All other lot owners each pay 10% of the levy contribution equating to $2,000 per annum or $500 per quarter

Voting Rights using Unit Entitlements

It should be noted that the voting rights of owners are also regulated by the unit entitlement of each respective lot.  This means that the owner of a lot with a higher unit entitlement has proportionally more voting power than the owner of a lot with a lower unit entitlement.

Example of Voting using Unit Entitlements

Using the same unit entitlements as above:

The owner of lot 9 has effectively TWO votes compared to the other 8 lot owners because lot 9's unit entitlement is DOUBLE the other lots — 200 compared to 100.

In other words, the owner of lot 9 has TWICE the voting power of every other owner.

It should also be noted that the use of the Unit Entitlement voting is ony applicable for special resolutions or votes that are decided by a poll vote.


Communities and Neighbourhoods

In 1989 a further step forward was made when new legislation introduced a tiered management system.  This new legislation was called Community Title and brought even more adventurous ways of subdividing land and buildings.  Community schemes have been established that include vineyards, horse stables, caravans and mobile homes, retirement units, etc.  The more widely known Neighbourhood schemes also fall under the Community Title banner.

As the Community schemes area is quite a large topic please read the Community & Neighbourhood information page

Before Strata

Prior to the introduction of the strata title legislation, it wasn't possible in Australia for an owner to hold a title deed for a 'part' of a building.  The Conveyancing (Strata) Act 1961 was introduced to enable the subdivision of a building into strata lots each of which received its own certificate of title.  It also enabled the transfer of these titles to the purchasers.  This was welcomed as owners would finally receive a title deed for their part of the building and, at the same time, obtain a certain degree of freedom and protection that simply wasn't available to them before.

Luckily, Strata Title has progressed considerably since its inception in the 60's and many changes have taken place, thanks to a number of other pieces of legislation brought in since then.  The main pieces of legislation today which directly affect Strata Title are the NSW Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 and the NSW Strata Schemes Management Regulation 2016.

The latest round of changes came into effect on November 30th, 2016 and brought the most significant number of reforms in strata legislation in over 50 years. Exactly how things will change and what will change are still being discussed, formulated and 'interpreted' by everyone involved in the industry.  I will make sure I keep a really close eye on all this so I can bring you the latest when it surfaces - and it will. For now, no one is really sure how everything will really be affected - but time will tell. So stay tuned...

NOTE - while there's other legislation which deals with the other types of strata like Community Schemes and Neighbourhood Schemes, this page deals primarily with Strata Schemes.



Company Title

Pre-Strata, the only way to purchase part of a building was through the Company Title system where a purchaser could buy shares in a company that owned the building.  Under this system a purchaser would 'own shares in a company whose only asset was the block of units' giving the shareholder the "right to occupy" a part of the building - i.e. their unit - instead of ownership of the actual real estate through the property certificate of title we have today.  Under the terms of the company title ownership, the shareholder could move into or lease their portion of the building or, in other words, their "unit".

While there are Company Title complexes still in operation today they're far less common and not all that popular with either the general public or the major lenders.  This is because a Company Title complex falls under company law (and not Strata Title law) making a lot of issues somewhat more difficult to manoeuvre and more complex to resolve.  At the same time Company Title offers far less protection for the investor.  It's also a widely known fact that Company Title properties command a much lower price than their strata-titled counterparts.

Company Title power brokers

Within the Company Title structure, shareholders must essentially comply with the 'wishes' of the company's chairman and other members of the board of directors who hold quite far-reaching powers which are pretty much 'absolute and uncontrolled'.  For example, any owner wanting to sell or transfer their shares or even lease their unit is subject to the approval of the board of directors.  In considering such approval, the company's constitution may direct the board to exercise their powers in a particular way which will ultimately be 'in the best interests of the company' and not necessarily in the interests of the shareholder (or owner).

Company Title disputes

Dispute resolution is another very grey area when dealing with Company Title properties as there's really no formal procedure for the handling of any disputes.  The only true course of action for the warring parties is through the Federal or Supreme Courts which both come with a hefty price tag.  Many residents in Company Title properties are often quite disempowered, without any effective means of holding the board of directors accountable for their decisions or actions and, often, disputes are not satisfactorily resolved with the conflict between shareholder and boards of directors going on for many years.

Company Title dangers

Forfeiture of shares can be another big danger for the participants in the Company Title system.  Forfeiture, which means the shareholder loses their shares and therefore their property, can happen by the shareholder simply not making the contracted levy payments.  If the company's procedures are for 'the shareholder to forfeit their shares if the levies aren't paid' then the shareholder can lose their property as simple (and as quick) as that.

Another way is if the company is wound up for whatever reason.  In this case all shareholders can lose their properties because the company owns the land and the building - not the shareholders who only own the right to live in the building.

You can now see why the introduction of Strata Title was a 'breath of fresh air' for just about everyone.



Strata Title Terms and Jargon

If you need to know the meaning of one or more of the common terms mentioned above then have a look at the Strata Terms and Jargon Information page.

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DISCLAIMER:  All information on this website is of a general nature and is intended as a guide only.  Readers should check all information obtained from this website for accuracy from other sources and seek professional legal advice before taking any action based on any information obtained from this website.  Information on this website should not be substituted for proper legal advice.  The owners of this website will not be held responsible for any action taken as a consequence of same.

EXTERNAL SOURCES:  The owners of this website do not make any warranty or representations regarding the information, products, services provided by or qualifications of any external sources listed on this website.  Readers should make their own appropriate enquiries regarding accuracy, qualifications, licences, etc.  The owners of this website will not be responsible or liable in any way for any representations made by any external sources listed on this website.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  This website deals with strata matters in NSW, Australia only.  Legislation varies in different states and territories and in other countries.  For information pertaining to places outside of NSW, Australia please refer to the appropriate legislation for your region.

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