New Disclosure Requirements for NSW Sales and Qld BC Records that may be accessed

NEW DISCLOSURE REQUIREMENTS FOR NSW SALES

and

WHAT QLD BODY CORPORATE RECORDS CAN BE ACCESSED

 

  1. New Disclosure Requirements for NSW Sales

 

Real Estate agents in NSW should be aware of a recent change to the Property and Stock Agents Regulation 2014 in relation to agents’ material facts disclosure obligations.

 

From 1 September 2021, agents must disclose any order that is in force under the Residential Apartment Buildings (Compliance and Enforcement Powers) Act 2020 (the RAB) to prospective purchasers.

 

These orders can include a:

  • Building work rectification order – requiring the developer or builder to carry out or refrain from carrying out building work to eliminate, minimise or remediate serious defects or potential serious defects, or
  • Prohibition order – prohibiting the issuing of an occupation certificate for the apartment building, or its registration as a strata plan. The Building Commissioner may make such an order when:
  1. an expected completion notice was not given or was given less than 6 months before the application for the occupation certificate was made;
  2. an expected completion amendment notice was not given or was given less than 6 months before the application for the occupation certificate was made;
  3. a serious defect in the building exists;
  4. a building bond has not been given.
  • Stop work order – to ensure building work stops due to the likelihood of significant harm or loss to the public or occupiers, or significant damage to property.

Agents who are aware of a material fact set by the regulations, or ought to reasonably know, and fail to inform prospective purchasers (whether intended or not), face a maximum penalty of $22,000.

 

NSW Fair Trading is introducing these changes to restore confidence in the residential construction industry and to make sure that apartments being built are trustworthy. The Department will continue its compliance and enforcement role to ensure real estate agents are meeting their disclosure obligations to buyers. This will include targeted audits of agents who are selling properties where RAB orders have been issued.

 

  1. Qld Body Corporate Records that may be Accessed

 

What constitutes a “record of a body corporate” is much broader than the compulsory list of documents set out in the Queensland regulation modules, and has ramifications for the duties of a body corporate and the breadth of access allowed to an owner or prospective purchaser.

 

The Three categories

 

Consistent with the approach of department adjudicators, the Queensland body corporate legislation in effect creates three categories of records:

  1. records that must be kept;
  2. records that should be kept;
  3. records that are

 

‘Records’ are defined to include the rolls, registers and other documents kept by the body corporate under the Body Corporate and Community Management Act (Qld) 1997 and applicable regulation module. They include paper and electronic documents.

 

What records must be kept?

 

The body corporate regulation modules set out a long list of documents that a body corporate must keep, with varying requirements about the length of time each document must be kept.

 

Examples of these documents are:

  • accounting records for each financial year;
  • insurance policies;
  • orders made against or in relation to the scheme or body corporate;
  • correspondence received and sent by the body corporate;
  • minutes of committee and general meetings.

 

These are however, not the only documents that form part of the records of a body corporate.

 

What records should be kept?

 

A body corporate has a statutory duty to act reasonably in anything it does in carrying out its function given to it under the body corporate legislation and community management statement.

 

Acting reasonably, a body corporate would be required to keep:

  • additional maintenance records;
  • records relating to its obligations under workplace health and safety and fire safety legislation;
  • any other document retained by the body corporate for the purpose of discharging its functions.

 

If records are not kept that are records that a body corporate, acting reasonably, should have kept, then a department adjudicator may find that the body corporate has not acted reasonably in responding to an owner or prospective purchaser’s request to access records.

 

Records that are kept

 

There are often records that are kept by a body corporate that are beyond the scope of records required to be kept under the body corporate legislation.

 

These records also form part of the records of a body corporate and an owner or prospective purchaser may be allowed to access these records.

 

However, there are ways that a body corporate may withhold access to records under certain circumstances, and if a body corporate is unsure as to what documents constitute body corporate records or how to withhold access its records, it should seek assistance before or during the seven day turnaround time for record requests.

 

Article Written by Col Myers of Small Myers Hughes Lawyers

 

 

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation

Disclaimer – This article is provided for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice.

Who Pays the Costs to Defend a Defamation Claim Involving a Committee Member?

Who Pays the Costs to Defend a Defamation Claim Involving Committee Members?

 

Committee members naturally think that any claim made by or against them while performing their duties should be defended, at the cost of the body corporate (or its insurer). 

However, this is not necessarily the case.

Insurance

Insurance policies for community titles scheme will generally include cover for office bearer’s liability. This policy is designed to provide protection to committee members against losses arising from their conduct performed (or not performed, as the case may be) during the course of carrying out their committee duties. 

However, this policy will generally contain an exclusion from protection for defamation. This means that if a defamation claim is made against a committee member, the insurer will generally not provide cover for any costs incurred in defending that claim. 

Body Corporate 

There are statutory restraints regarding how a body corporate may apply its funds. 

The primary functions of a body corporate include administering the common property, enforcing the community management statement and carrying out other functions – as required by the body corporate legislation. 

Body corporate funds may only be used to undertake these statutory purposes, and cannot be used for other purposes, no matter how worthwhile those other purposes may be. 

Adjudicators have previously determined that paying for costs incurred by a committee member defending (or initiating) a defamation claim, are not usually considered costs that fall within the functions of a body corporate. 

A body corporate’s duty to act reasonably also applies to the way that the body corporate chooses to spend its money and the circumstances where it might be reasonable for a body corporate to pay the legal costs of a committee member arising from a defamation claim are limited.

In the event that a body corporate was to pay the costs of a committee member arising from a defamation claim, it is likely that an adjudicator would order a body corporate to recover those costs, should an adjudication application be made. 

What to do? 

Before a body corporate makes any payment for costs incurred by a committee member in a defamation claim, it should obtain legal advice, otherwise the body corporate may be embroiled in a dispute in the Commissioner’s Office, despite any good intentions. 

If you are a committee member (including a non-voting building manager) and you are not protected from liability for a defamation claim by the body corporate legislation, it is unlikely that a body corporate will be allowed to pay for costs incurred by you to defend that claim. 

However, if a committee member is required to defend a defamation claim, the circumstances surrounding the claim may make it appropriate for the body corporate to pay for any costs incurred, and legal advice should be obtained about the committee member’s position about the recoverability of costs.

Article Written by Col Myers (August 2021)

 

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation
Disclaimer – This article is provided for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice.

 

 

GET IN TOUCH

Tel:          +61 7 5552 6666

Fax:         +61 7 5528 0955

Office:      Level 2, 17 Welch Street, Southport Qld 4215

Postal:      PO Box 1876, Southport QLD 4215

 

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Fixing the Lottery this is Building Defects in NSW Strata Buildings

FIXING THE LOTTERY THAT IS BUILDING DEFECTS IN NSW STRATA BUILDINGS

 

We have all heard about the appalling building defects that have occurred in a number of new strata buildings in Sydney in recent years. Complexes such as “Opal Tower” and “Mascot Towers” are shocking examples of innocent mums and dads buying their dream residence, only to find that their unit and their complex were shoddily built and their dream has turned into a financial nightmare. Karen Stiles, from the Owners Corporation Network (which represents apartment owners) has said it “beggars belief that buildings so badly built received occupation certificates which allowed developers to settle on apartments.” How was this allowed to happen?

Design and Construct Contracts

Contractual arrangements for multi-storey projects differ, but commonly developers engage a builder to undertake a design-and-construct project. This means the builder is responsible both for the development of the design and the construction of the building. Whilst the developer might initially engage architects and engineers to prepare early designs to obtain planning approvals, these consultants then become subcontractors. Once contracted, the builder will work to find efficiencies and cost savings in the development of the design and construction of the building.

Although building approvals are required, the nature of a design-and-construct project means that many aspects of the design change after the initial approval is obtained. Many certifiers approve, allow, or are not aware of, variations that have been made. The result is that changes to approved design occur frequently, at the discretion of the builder, project manager and/or contractors and without independent certification.

The Shergold Weir Report commissioned by the NSW Government found that inaccurate designs mean that certifiers can never fully ensure compliance because they then must rely on inspections and some of the most important safety elements are hidden from view and a point-in-time inspection cannot properly assess essential construction processes.

Changes Implemented

The NSW Government has supported the vast majority of the Report’s recommendations and has (or is) implementing the following major reforms across the construction industry:

  1. Appointment of an expert Building Commissioner to act as the consolidated building regulator in NSW;
  2. Putting in place new laws that require building practitioners involved in designing buildings to submit building plans to the Commissioner (so that they may be audited), declare that the plans are BCA compliant and meet other relevant requirements and provide reports explaining why that is the case for performance solutions. Builders will also have to declare that their buildings are constructed in accordance with these plans. It will be an offence to knowingly or recklessly declare non-compliant plans or fail to lodge the documents on time. Disciplinary action will be able to be taken against practitioners who improperly make these declarations. The Building Commissioner will not need to sign off on building plans;
  3. The Building Commissioner will register the building practitioners who can lawfully make a declaration that plans are compliant or make a declaration that plans accurately reflect a building’s as-constructed design. These practitioners will have to maintain the necessary skills and insurance to meet the registration requirements and will be subject to disciplinary action for professional misconduct;
  4. Ensuring that building practitioners owe a duty of care to Owners Corporations and subsequent titleholders of residential developments, as well as unsophisticated construction clients who are small businesses. This means that homeowners will have a right to pursue compensation when they suffer damage because of a building practitioner’s negligence.

From 1 July 2021, most of these changes took effect for Class 2 buildings. These are typically multi-unit, multi-storey residential buildings where people live above and below each other.

The NSW Government see Class 2 as the highest priority right now, but the NSW Government will expand the reforms to other classes of construction in the future.

Also, previous changes to the Strata Schemes Management Act relating to residential strata properties that are four or more storeys now require that:

  • Developers must lodge a building bond equal to 2% of the building contract price, before an application is made for an occupation certificate;
  • Developers must give documents to the building inspector that help with their inspection;
  • There is a means for the developer and owners to agree on the amount of the building bond to be released for repairs, if they can’t agree;
  • A debt recovery mechanism has been put in place that enables the recovery of unpaid or insufficient bonds from a developer

Conclusion

Strata building defects have resulted in enormous extra workloads for Strata Committees and Building Managers – not to mention the emotional and financial hardship caused to unit owners. David Chandler was appointed the NSW Building Commissioner in 2019 after an impressive forty year career in the Australian construction industry.

Hopefully, he is the right man to clean up all of this shoddy construction, workmanship and design in strata buildings.

Article Written by Col Myers (July 2021)

 

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation
Disclaimer – This article is provided for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice.

 

 

GET IN TOUCH

Tel:          +61 7 5552 6666

Fax:         +61 7 5528 0955

Office:      Level 2, 17 Welch Street, Southport Qld 4215

Postal:      PO Box 1876, Southport QLD 4215

 

OFFICE HOURS

Open:        8:30am – 5:00pm Monday to Friday

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Pros and Cons of Pooled Letting

PROS AND CONS OF POOLED LETTING

 

When an owner lets out their unit through an on-site letting agent, there are two ways that the owner’s letting income is typically calculated. These can be described as the “direct income” method or the “pooled income” method.

The method to be used is set out in the letting appointment (i.e. the agreement between the letting agent and the owner of the investment unit).

The majority of letting appointments pay an income to owners using the direct income method, where the income collected from the unit bookings is paid directly to the owner, after deductions of all expenses.

The pooled income method is used predominantly for short term lettings in a hotel style business. When using pooled income, the combined income and expenses for all units in the letting pool are aggregated and then a share of the profit is paid to all the owners in the letting pool.

In a perfect world, the pooling of income would seem the fairest way for Managers to operate their letting businesses. By pooling the income, owners can’t accuse the Manager of favouring certain owners over others when allocating bookings, and all owners rise and fall together with the success of the letting business. However, as we all know, we don’t live in a perfect world!

There are a number of common issues that can arise when operating a pooled letting business. The types of questions you will encounter include:

  • How to fairly determine the income ratio? Do you allocate based on the number of beds, unit entitlements (which are designed to reflect value), quality of the unit, sea views or some other unique quality? Or do you divide everything equally regardless?
  • How to share expenses? Do you share any or all expenses across the letting pool? Do you share expenses only up to a certain cost? Do you use the same ratio for sharing income to also sharing expenses?
  • How to determine who authorises significant expenditure? Do you ask a committee or one or two owner representatives, or should you be asking all owners – as all owners are sharing the costs?
  • How to operate a maintenance fund? Do you deduct a maintenance levy each month or just withdraw expenses as and when incurred?
  • What happens when an owner leaves the pool or has only just joined the pool? Should part of the retained maintenance funds be returned to the leaving owner? What if an owner leaves the pool after the general maintenance fund has just paid out for a new hot water system or installed new carpet in their unit?
  • How to adjust income when the owner uses their unit? Do you make no adjustment, or do you pro rata adjust for the days used?
  • How to change the terms of the letting appointment? What do you do if not all owners agree to your proposed change?

If you elect to go the pooled income route with your letting business, all of the above questions need to be thoroughly considered and appropriately addressed in your letting appointments with your owners. Unfortunately, we see a lot of letting appointments providing for pooled income where the issues raised above are not sufficiently answered.

When these issues are not suitably addressed we see unfair scenarios arise where owners are not receiving an income that truly reflects their unit’s contribution to the letting pool income. For example, if two bedroom units are in demand far more often than three bedroom units, the owners of the two bedroom units are effectively supplementing the income of the owners of three bedroom units. To add insult to injury, if the distribution of the pooled income is based on unit entitlements (i.e. the value of the units), the three bedroom units will also receive a higher return from the pool than the two bedroom units.

When you look at the questions and examples above, you can see there are many situations where a disgruntled owner could easily start asking some difficult questions. Questions that will be uncomfortable to answer if the terms of your letting appointment are either vague or silent on the issue.

If you operate a letting business that pools the income given to owners and your letting appointment doesn’t have the answers to these questions, it’s definitely recommended that you prioritise a revision of your letting appointments, as it only takes an issue with one owner to be an issue with all owners.

Article Written by Col Myers (June 2021)

 

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation
Disclaimer – This article is provided for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice.

 

 

GET IN TOUCH

Tel:          +61 7 5552 6666

Fax:         +61 7 5528 0955

Office:      Level 2, 17 Welch Street, Southport Qld 4215

Postal:      PO Box 1876, Southport QLD 4215

 

OFFICE HOURS

Open:        8:30am – 5:00pm Monday to Friday

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What is Gallery Vie

WHAT IS GALLERY VIE?

 

What is Gallery Vie, and why is the caretaker wanting to vary the caretaking agreement?

 

Gallery Vie is the name of a strata building which was involved in a 2015 Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) decision that significantly changed how Body Corporate legislation was interpreted going forward. In particular it changed how termination clauses in caretaking and letting agreements are applied when the caretaker has taken out a loan and used the caretaking and letting business as security for that loan.

In the Body Corporate legislation, when a bank has provided a loan to a caretaker, the bank is granted a special ability to step in and take control of the caretaking and letting business in the event the Body Corporate intends to terminate the caretaking and letting agreements. This special right is intended to prevent disruption to the services being provided to the Body Corporate and provide comfort to banks to encourage them to invest in the caretaking industry. Without bank investment, the vast majority of caretakers would not be able to operate.

Prior to the Gallery Vie QCAT decision it was widely understood that a Body Corporate could not terminate a caretaking or letting agreement that was secured by a bank for any reason without first allowing the bank the opportunity to rectify the breach or step in and take control of the business. The Gallery Vie decision however came to the conclusion that if the caretaking or letting agreement included additional termination rights over and above the rights granted in the Body Corporate legislation, it was possible for a Body Corporate to terminate an agreement without allowing the bank the option to step in first. This outcome severely undermined the protections the banks thought they held under the legislation and immediately led to banks cancelling or limiting lending to caretakers who were affected by the precedent set by the Gallery Vie decision.

To address the banks’ concerns raised by the Gallery Vie decision and ensure that loans could continue to be offered to caretakers, most caretaking and letting agreements need to be amended to remove termination triggers that deny the banks the option to step in. These are triggers that allow the Body Corporate to terminate the agreements, such as:

  • the caretaker becoming bankrupt,
  • the caretaker having receivers appointed,
  • the caretaker being convicted of a crime, or
  • the caretaker becoming physically or mentally incapacitated.

By varying caretaking and letting agreements to remove the ability of these triggers to prevent banks stepping in, it returns the caretaking industry to the position it was in prior to the Gallery Vie decision (as originally intended in the legislation) and gives the banks the comfort they need to continue offering finance to caretakers. If the caretaking and letting agreements are not varied as required by the banks, the caretaker faces the prospect of losing their finance altogether or having to agree to finance on significantly less viable terms.

    Article Written by Ben Ashworth (7 May 2021)

     

    Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation
    Disclaimer – This article is provided for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice.

     

     

    GET IN TOUCH

    Tel:          +61 7 5552 6666

    Fax:         +61 7 5528 0955

    Office:      Level 2, 17 Welch Street, Southport Qld 4215

    Postal:      PO Box 1876, Southport QLD 4215

     

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    Open:        8:30am – 5:00pm Monday to Friday

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    Termination of Residential Tenancies in NSW after the COVID-19 Moratorium

    TERMINATION OF RESIDENTIAL TENANCIES IN NSW AFTER THE COVID-19 MORATORIUM

     

    The temporary tenancy moratorium introduced by the NSW Government to restrict when landlords could evict residential tenants due to rental arrears as a result of COVID-19 ended on 26 March 2021.

    From 27 March 2021, a six-month transitional period has begun.

    NSW Fair Trading has introduced a flowchart to assist landlords and tenants to understand how the transitional measures may affect a tenancy agreement.

    Step 1 – Establish if the tenant was COVID-Impacted during the moratorium period?

    During the moratorium period, between April 2020-26 March 2021,

    1. Did one or more rent-paying members of the household:
      • lose their employment, income or work hours due to COVID-19, OR
      • have to stop working or substantially reduce work hours due to illness with COVID-19, another member of the household’s illness with COVID-19 or to care for a household or family member with COVID-19? AND
      • did this result in a reduction in the weekly household income (including government assistance) of at least 25%?

    If so, the tenant was an ‘impacted tenant’.

    1. Did the ‘impacted tenant’ fail to pay rent or charges under their lease during the moratorium period that:
      • were payable, and
      • were not paid (either with or without the agreement of the landlord), and
      • are still owing?

    If so, these are ‘arrears’.

    If the above applies, the transitional measures apply.

    Step 2 – Have the parties negotiated a repayment plan between themselves?

    Step 2B – Use NSW Fair Trading Dispute Resolution (formal arrears repayment negotiation process)

    1. A landlord or a tenant can apply to NSW Fair Trading for assistance.
    2. NSW Fair Trading will request evidence to help parties negotiate the repayment plan.

    Step 2C – Have the parties been able to agree to a repayment plan?

    1. If yes, the repayment plan documented should include:
      • total amount payable;
      • payment frequency and amount.
    2. If no, the landlord may issue a termination notice or apply to Tribunal for a termination order to end the tenancy.

    A landlord cannot issue a termination notice unless:

    1. if no repayment plan is in place, they have participated in the formal arrears repayment negotiation process in good faith; OR
    2. if a repayment plan is in place, the tenant has missed more than two consecutive repayments; AND
    3. it is fair and reasonable to do so.

    In deciding whether it would be fair and reasonable, the Tribunal will consider:

      • the steps taken by the landlord and tenant to negotiate a repayment plan;
      • any payments made by the tenant towards the arrears;
      • the general financial position of, and any financial hardship experienced by, the landlord or tenant;
      • the availability and affordability of reasonable alternative accommodation for the tenant; and
      • any special vulnerability of the impacted tenant.

    Decision and orders are then made by NCAT and, if appropriate, the tenancy will end.

     

    Article Written by Col Myers (May 2021)
    Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation
    Disclaimer – This article is provided for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice.

    GET IN TOUCH

    Tel:          +61 7 5552 6666

    Fax:         +61 7 5528 0955

    Office:      Level 2, 17 Welch Street, Southport Qld 4215

    Postal:      PO Box 1876, Southport QLD 4215

     

    OFFICE HOURS

    Open:        8:30am – 5:00pm Monday to Friday

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