We often receive questions from owners, occupiers and committees about who is responsible for the maintenance of utility infrastructure within community titles schemes. Working out this responsibility is not always simple as the circumstances of a specific scheme may change the answer.
This article highlights some common scenarios that bodies corporate experience in relation to the maintenance responsibilities of utility infrastructure. It provides general information only. Lot owners or bodies corporate should seek their own advice from appropriately qualified people, as each situation is different.
What is utility infrastructure?
It is important to understand what utility infrastructure is when making decisions about responsibility for maintenance. Utility infrastructure can include the pipes, cables, wires, sewers, drains, plant and equipment which supply a utility service to the lots or the common property in a community titles scheme. Utility infrastructure can also mean a device for measuring the reticulation or supply of a utility service.
Adjudicators have stated that lifts are types of utility infrastructure.
How do you know if the utility infrastructure is common property or an owner’s responsibility?
Section 20 of the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997 (BCCM Act), provides that all utility infrastructure in a community titles scheme is common property except for utility infrastructure that:
- supplies a utility service to only one lot; and
- is within the boundaries of the lot; and
- is not within a boundary structure for the lot.
Note that all three of these points must be met for the utility infrastructure to be an owner’s responsibility, not just one of them.
There are exceptions to this general rule. If a utility infrastructure device has been installed on the common property by a lot owner for their benefit, and it services only their lot, that owner is usually responsible for the ongoing maintenance and/or replacement. These exceptions can be found in section 180(4) of the Body Corporate and Community Management (Standard Module) Regulation 2020 (the Standard Module) and would be considered the owner’s responsibility to maintain.
Another exception involves water meters installed in bodies corporate established after 1 January 2008, which are not part of common property. Meters that measure water supplied to a community titles scheme will usually remain the property of the provider supplying the water. You can read more on our website about utility infrastructure maintenance.
Some scenarios are set out below to help you understand what actions owners and committees can take to determine responsibility for, and resolve, maintenance issues.
Water damage inside a lot
Water damage can come from various sources such as leaking roofs, leaking pipes, failure of a waterproofing membrane, drummy or old tiles. The source of the water leak needs to be determined before responsibility for the leak, and any resultant damage, can be ascertained.
An owner or occupier of a lot has noticed water stains appearing on the ceiling of their bathroom. They suspect that there is a leaking pipe creating the damage. Not knowing where the leaking pipe is located creates some uncertainty about the responsibility of the repair.
Determining responsibility for the water leak
In the first instance, an owner may wish to get their own plumber’s report to check that there is nothing inside their lot causing the water damage. For example, there may be some form of utility infrastructure above a false ceiling that belongs to that owner and may influence where the responsibility falls.
If an owner reasonably believes that the leak is coming from the lot above theirs, they can:
- Access the body corporate records to get a copy of the body corporate roll to determine the contact details of the lot owner above them; and
- Directly contact the lot owner above and ask them to fix the leak. The owner may wish to explain the damage occurring to their lot and provide a reasonable timeframe for the other owner to fix the leak and any resultant damage.
If the lot owner above does not cooperate, the owner may consider submitting a motion to the committee to authorise an inspection of the lot above. The body corporate has the power to enter a lot to investigate a maintenance issue such as a water leak, to ascertain if the leak could be a body corporate responsibility to fix (section 163, BCCM Act).
Alternatively, if the owner reasonably believes the leak is the responsibility of the body corporate, they may submit a committee motion requesting that the body corporate repair the leak. This committee must act reasonably in considering any such request (sections 94 & 100, BCCM Act).
It is important that all parties act swiftly in relation to water leaks. A water leak that doesn’t get repaired could cause higher water bills for all owners, damage to common property or another owner’s lot, or issues with insurance cover.
Once responsibility for the water leak is ascertained, the relevant parties can consider whether the resultant damage from the leak is covered by the body corporate or owner’s insurance policy.
While the body corporate’s building insurance will not cover the maintenance of utility infrastructure the policy may cover the water damage and repair. If it is found that the leak is from another owner’s utility infrastructure, the body corporate can vote to make that owner liable for the insurance excess, even if the damage is to another lot or common property. Alternatively, if the leak is from a body corporate pipe, the committee can vote for the body corporate to take on the liability for the excess (section 203, Standard Module).
If water damage also occurs to an owner’s contents, such as carpet or furniture, the owner may have to make a claim on their own contents insurance policy.
Liability for damage
If the water damage repair is not covered by an insurance policy, or costs less than the excess to repair, then it becomes a question of maintenance. An owner or occupier must maintain their lot in good condition, including utility infrastructure that is not common property or fixtures and fittings installed for the owner’s benefit. Likewise, the body corporate must maintain common property utility infrastructure in good condition.
If there has been a contravention of the Act or the by-laws causing damage to property, the affected party with the damaged property can seek that the party responsible for the leaking utility infrastructure carry out the repairs or reimburse them for the repairs if they have already been completed (section 281, BCCM Act).
Gutter maintenance in a standard format plan
The responsibility for gutter maintenance in community titles schemes that are registered under a standard format plan of subdivision is not always straightforward.
An owner who lives in a group of two-storey townhouses joined with a common wall wants all the scheme’s gutters painted and maintained. The lower roofs have a shared gutter running across the front and back of the two townhouses. The upper roof has gutters front and back of the pitched roof. These upper-level gutters are not shared and are located within the boundaries of the lot.
Responsibility for the gutters
The shared guttering on the lower roofs is the responsibility of the body corporate because it services more than one lot.
Owners are responsible for the maintenance of utility infrastructure that is within the boundaries of their lots, services just them and is not located within a boundary structure. This means that the gutter on the upper levels in the scenario is the responsibility of each individual lot owner.
The owner might ask the contractor providing them with a quote to separate it for the shared gutter and the gutter on their side of the boundary that is not shared. They can then submit a motion to the committee or annual general meeting (AGM) for the body corporate to maintain the shared gutters on their lot.
Body corporate actions
The body corporate committee can also obtain a quote for the shared gutters of all lots that are common property and need maintaining. Getting all the work done at once may be more cost effective for all the owners. If the cost is above the committee spending limit a motion would need to be considered at a general meeting.
The body corporate may consider obtaining further quotes for all the guttering that is the owners’ responsibility and offer the maintenance to each owner as a supply of services. If an owner agrees to use the service to have the gutters maintained, individual owners who agree to use the service can pay the body corporate the costs to carry out the work on their behalf (section 210, Standard Module).
The body corporate can only supply a service to an owner or occupier if it has an agreement with the owner or occupier. It is not enough for the body corporate to have passed a general meeting resolution agreeing to provide the service.
Maintenance of a tap located in an exclusive use yard
The maintenance of utility infrastructure located in an exclusive use area is relatively straightforward in comparison to other scenarios.
An owner with a courtyard, subject to an exclusive use by-law, reports to the body corporate that the tap in the courtyard is dripping and needs a new washer. The owner believes the body corporate is most likely responsible for replacing it.
Section 177 of the BCCM Act states that an exclusive use by-law cannot give exclusive use rights over utility infrastructure that is common property. Therefore, the tap and washer are common property and remain the body corporate’s responsibility to maintain unless the current or previous owner has installed the tap as an improvement.
In this instance, the owner can obtain a quote and submit a motion for the committee to approve the maintenance and expenditure. They can attach an explanation about section 177 and how it applies to their situation.
Body corporate actions
If an owner requests that the body corporate maintain the tap within the exclusive use area, the body corporate may wish to check the improvements register to make sure the owner is not responsible. If the owner did install the tap, they will be responsible for its maintenance unless the body corporate agreed to be responsible for it when the approval was given.
Installing extra storm water drains inside the boundaries of a lot
With the high level of storms that occur in Queensland there are many questions about inadequate drainage.
An owner wants to install extra storm water drains inside the boundaries of their lot. The storm water mains, in this scenario, run through each of the owners’ lots and service all the lots – it is part of common property.
An owner can get a quote to add extra drainage within the boundaries of their lot that attaches to the stormwater mains. Even though it is inside their lot, they are making an improvement to common property by attaching the new pipe to the common property pipe. Therefore, they must submit their drainage request to the body corporate committee or all owners at a general meeting, depending on the cost.
Body corporate actions
If the cost is under the minor improvement limit of $3000 installed value, the committee can authorise the improvement. If the cost is more than $3000, the body corporate must authorise the improvement by ordinary resolution at a general meeting (section 187, Standard Module). The scheme’s by-laws may also regulate what changes an owner can make within their lot. The body corporate cannot unreasonably refuse the request.
Installing extra storm water drains inside an exclusive use area
An owner has a lot in a building format plan scheme with an exclusive use yard. The owner would like to install extra drainage in their exclusive use area. The owner is aware that the current drainage in their exclusive use area is the body corporate’s responsibility to maintain.
Any additional drainage would be an improvement to an exclusive use area by the owner. Before undertaking any of the work, the owner should first check the wording of their exclusive use by-law. The by-laws may give the owner authority to make stated improvements in the exclusive use area.
If the by-law is silent, and the cost of the improvement is less than $3000, the committee can authorise the improvement. However, if the by-law is silent, and the cost of the improvement is more than $3000, it must be authorised by an ordinary resolution of the body corporate (section 193, Standard Module).
In most cases, owners are responsible for future maintenance of their improvements to either the common property, their own lots or to an exclusive use area.
Cleaning ventilation ducts within a building format plan
There is sometimes confusion within community titles schemes about responsibility for the maintenance of exhaust ventilation systems within buildings. If the vents are not maintained regularly, they may cause a fire or health risk, so it is important that regular inspections are conducted. Ducting often weaves throughout a building and up to the roof and usually the only evidence of the ducting for owners is the presence of ventilation outlets within their unit in places such as toilets, bathrooms and laundry areas.
An owner of a lot has noticed an accumulation of dust dropping from a vent located inside the ceiling. The vent is attached to a ventilation system that interconnects throughout the whole building. When they remove the cover, they can barely see through the vent because the build-up of dust is so thick.
An owner may want to notify the body corporate to advise that the ventilation system needs maintenance due to the high risk of a fire. Generally, ventilation systems are located outside the boundaries of a lot and accordingly are the body corporate’s responsibility to maintain. The owner should not alter the location of the exhaust ventilation systems outlets without professional advice or body corporate approval.
Body corporate actions
The body corporate may want to obtain quotes to have the ventilation system cleaned. If the costs of the quotes are more than the committee spending limit, the motion would need to be considered at a general meeting of the body corporate. The body corporate might consider checking with other owners to ascertain if they are experiencing the same issues and have the whole system cleaned at the same time.
The body corporate needs to consider any fire risks associated with blocked ventilation systems as any damage to the lot caused by the body corporate not fulfilling its maintenance obligations under the Act may result in further liability to the body corporate and possible fines under other legislation due to not having adequate safety measures in place.
This article provides information about some of the common issues that can arise in relation to utility infrastructure. Having enough information to understand responsibilities for maintenance and ownership of the utility infrastructure means that the owners and committees will be able to make decisions, rectify damage without too much delay and ensure that the repair of utility infrastructure occurs as required.