The Queensland government will consult on changes to body corporate laws later this year, including by making it easier to redevelop old unit blocks and banning smoking in outdoor and communal areas. Attwood Marshall Lawyers Property and Commercial Lawyer Aimee Turner takes a closer look at the proposals announced so far.
The Queensland government has announced several reforms to the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997, aimed at encouraging development of unit blocks and clarifying the rights of apartment owners in relation to second-hand smoke and keeping pets. Body corporate governance and management have also been targeted as areas for improvement.
Acting on industry calls for reform that were voiced at last year’s housing summit, consultation on the draft legislation is expected to take place later this year. The Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman has also promised a second package of reforms that we will be keeping an eye out for.
One of the biggest changes introduced in the first package of reforms is the government’s decision to do away with the ability of single owners to block development of a whole city complex.
Under current rules, there needs to be unanimous agreement from unit owners for a complex to be sold (usually to be pulled down and redeveloped), or when a District Court rules it is just and equitable.
Once the new reforms are introduced, a body corporate would only need 75 per cent of lot owners to be in support of terminating the scheme and selling it on to a developer. The lower threshold only applies to situations where a body corporate has agreed it would be too costly and therefore not financially viable to maintain or repair an ageing or rundown unit complex.
Even so, the rule change is expected to dramatically change the playing field. The government said that it will build safeguards into the legislation to protect owners who are in the minority and do not want to sell their unit, so that termination arrangements “balance the rights and interests of all lot owners in a scheme.”
However, those safeguards have not been detailed yet, besides one mention of a dissenting owner being able to make an application to the District Court to weigh their case.
Under the new plans, bodies corporate will be empowered to make by-laws that ban smoking in outdoor and communal areas of a community titles scheme. The aim is to better protect residents from second-hand smoke.
The proposed changes related to smoking are not particularly surprising. They come after the body corporate watchdog – the Office of the Commissioner for Body Corporate and Community Management – banned a unit owner in Surfers Paradise from smoking on their balcony in December 2021. The complainant had argued that the second-hand smoke wafting on to her own balcony in the unit above was a hazard and was in breach of the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997 (QLD).
The Queensland regulator’s decision was thought to have set a precedent for others who live in units, and put the pressure on the government to clarify how such disputes should be treated. Some advocacy groups argued that the government also needed to better educate strata title occupiers that they have fewer rights than land title occupiers, because of their duty of care to the “collective.”
Body corporates won’t be able to ban pets in community title schemes unless in specific circumstances. What those specific circumstances will be, however, remain unclear. Some commentators have speculated that they could relate to the physical location of the building, such as if it was close to a national park.
- Bodies corporate will be allowed to tow vehicles that are preventing access or causing a hazard,
- Rules will be introduced that will make it easier for residents to lodge disputes,
- Adjudicators’ powers will be expanded,
- The QLD government will continue working with the Community Titles Legislation Working Group to consider further reforms related to harassment, bullying and management rights.
So far, the government has only released a media statement setting out these areas of reform in broad terms. No proposed Bill has been published yet, nor the additional legal detail you would expect for such drastic changes.
Consultation on the draft legislation will take place “this year,” so presumably more detail will be forthcoming before then. A second package of reforms is also expected to be introduced before the end of the year.
Why is it changing?
The reforms were drawn up following the feedback the government received during its housing summit, which took place in October 2022. The summit brought together politicians, industry experts, non-government bodies and the private sector to brainstorm solutions for addressing the housing needs of Queenslanders.
Attendees made a particularly loud plea for reforming the scheme termination rules, Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Shannon Fentiman said in her February announcement of the proposed changes. After deciding to ease the rules so that bodies corporate will only need 75 per cent in favour of termination, Attorney-General Fentiman said she had “heard many stories of rundown units, townhouses or complexes with unsustainable ongoing maintenance costs where owners want to terminate, but a single owner blocks this from occurring.”
On the decision to block bodies corporate from banning pets, she said that because more people are choosing to live in community title schemes, keeping animals in units has become an “increasingly pertinent issue.”
Until the new Bills are passed, the status quo will remain, and the same adjudication and resolution process will apply to disputes raised by residents over body corporate decisions.
Certainly, anyone who lives or owns a unit with body corporate should engage themselves in the consultation process that will take place on the draft legislation later this year. Two amendment Bills are expected to be introduced to Parliament.
Prospective buyers of strata title should be made aware of the proposed changes – and how they will affect their rights – as they weigh up whether to buy a property in a collective scheme.
The February announcement follows other reforms in November 2022, with the passage of a Bill aimed at ensuring unit owners in bodies corporate regulated by the Building Units and Group Titles Act 1980 Act or Mixed-Use Development Act 1993 Act benefit from the same protections that already apply to other Queensland unit owners that operate under the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997.
Those reforms were aimed at providing more transparent and fairer arrangements for resorts and mixed-use developments.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers – helping property owners protect their real estate assets
Body corporate and strata have complex issues to navigate. Therefore, it is critical that real estate agents, buyers and sellers seek legal advice to help them understand what legislative processes and by-laws can affect their best interests.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers have been assisting clients for over 75 years to ensure they achieve their real estate goals. Our team take great pride in explaining and advising on changes in the law that may affect the rights of unit owners living in a community scheme, ensuring minimal stress, and helping to mitigate the risk of any dispute arising in the future.
To get professional and prompt advice, please contact our Property and Commercial Department Manager Jess Kimpton on direct line 07 5506 8214, email email@example.com or call our 24/7 phone line on 1800 621 071.
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