By-laws in your strata scheme

Each strata scheme has its own by-laws, which are a set of rules that owners, tenants and, in some cases, visitors must follow. By-laws cover the behaviour of residents and the use of common property.

They can cover issues such as the keeping of pets in the building, how smoking is regulated, the operation of short-term rental accommodation, parking,and noise levels. The by-laws can vary significantly from scheme to scheme and it is important to understand which by-laws apply to your scheme.

Owners corporations can determine the by-laws that suit the preferred lifestyle of the strata scheme. A by-law must not be harsh, unconscionable or oppressive. No by-law is capable of restricting a dealing in a lot, except in relation to using a lot for short-term rental where it is not the host’s principal place of residence. By-laws cannot restrict children or assistance animals or impose blanket bans on any and all animals without exception.

The by-laws that apply to your strata scheme depend on the date the strata plan was registered.

A copy of your scheme's by-laws is kept on the strata roll and is available from either the Secretary of the owners corporation or from your managing agent. You can obtain copies of by-laws from inspecting the records or contacting NSW Land Registry Services.

The by-laws that apply to your strata scheme depend on the date the strata plan was registered.

What by-laws are in place at your scheme?

A copy of your scheme's by-laws is kept on the strata roll and is available from either the Secretary of the owners corporation or from your managing agent. You can obtain copies of by-laws from inspecting the records or contacting NSW Land Registry Services.

Strata owners can inspect the owners corporation's records to confirm the by-laws that are in place. Potential owners can get a copy of the by-laws through a section 184 Certificate (PDF, 171.46 KB). Landlords must give their tenants a copy of the current by-laws within seven days of the tenancy agreement being signed.

Changing your strata scheme’s by-laws

If your owners corporation proposes changes to the scheme’s by-laws, the changes can only be adopted if approved by a special resolution at an owners corporation general meeting.

Schemes can use some or all of the model by-laws (see below) as a guide when changing their own.

If your owners corporation proposes changes to the scheme’s by-laws, the changes can only be adopted if approved by a special resolution at an owners corporation general meeting. The new by-laws must also be registered with NSW Land Registry Services within six months after the special resolution has been passed in order for the by-laws to be valid and legally enforceable. A by-law also has no force or effect if it is inconsistent with the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015, or any other laws.

Lodgement of changes to by-laws is done by a Consolidation/Change of By-Laws form. Tenants must also be notified of any change in by-laws.

An owners corporation must register the by-law with NSW Land Registry Services within 6 months of its approval in order for it to be valid and legally enforceable.

Model by-laws

Owners corporations can choose to adopt the sample model by-laws or make changes to them to manage issues in strata like overcrowding, pets, parking, short-term rental accommodation and smoke drift. Schemes are not required to adopt or adapt any of the model by-laws, they are available to assist schemes in reviewing and making by-laws to suit their scheme. Model by-laws need to be approved by the owners corporation and registered with NSW Land Registry Services.

The model by-laws include options for:

  • permitting pets
  • dealing with nuisance or hazardous smoking
  • helping owners corporations address noise and short-term rental accommodation
  • measures to prevent overcrowding.

View or download a copy of the model by-laws in the Strata Schemes Management Regulation 2016 from the NSW Legislation website.

Pets

The model by-laws provide owners corporations with options to control whether pets are allowed, and on what terms. For example, the owners corporation may choose to have a by-law which:

  • allows owners to keep a pet and simply provide 14 days notice from when the pet has started living on the lot owner's property, or
  • allows a pet with the written permission of the owners corporation and the owners corporation cannot unreasonably refuse permission. If they do refuse, they must give the owner written reasons outlining why the pet is not being permitted.

In all cases, the lot owner must still supervise their pet, clean any common property that is soiled, and ensure their pet is not noisy or negatively impacting on other residents. In rented strata properties, a tenant always needs to first obtain their landlord’s permission to keep a pet.

Assistance Animals

No by-law should prevent someone using a trained and certified assistance animal, even if the by-laws prohibit other pets on the scheme. Go to the guide dogs and other assistance animals page for more information.

NSW Court of Appeal decision on pet by-laws

On 12 October 2020, the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of New South Wales handed down its decision in Cooper v The Owners – Strata Plan Strata Plan No 58068 [2020] NSWCA 250. The Court of Appeal ruled that a by-law of the Horizon Building in Darlinghurst, that imposed a blanket prohibition on the keeping of animals, was oppressive and in contravention of section 139(1) of the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 (the Act).

The Court of Appeal decision overturned the particular by-law that was in dispute and provided a general ruling about how the law on “harsh, unconscionable or oppressive” is to be applied. The ruling states that a by-law can be oppressive if it limits the ability of an owner to use their property, without exception or qualification, on a basis that has no connection to the impact on other lot owners.

The ruling sets an important precedent which is binding on lower Courts and Tribunals. Except for blanket pet bans that are similar to the Horizon’s former by-law, it is difficult to know how widely the precedent will apply. Where parties are unsure or disagree about whether a particular by-law is oppressive, they may apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal to decide the matter.

Owners corporations should review their by-laws following the Court of Appeal decision.

What do I do if I live in a strata scheme that has adopted a by-law that imposes a blanket ban on the keeping of pets?

If you live in a strata scheme that has a by-law that bans the keeping of pets, without exception, you should raise this matter with the owners corporation of your strata scheme because this by-law may contravene the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015.

You can place the reconsideration of the by-law on the agenda of the next general meeting of your owners corporation, or call for an extraordinary general meeting to be held. Information on raising a matter for consideration at a general meeting can be found on the Meetings of the owners corporation page.

The owners corporation can change a by-law by passing a special resolution at a general meeting. A special resolution is approved if no more than 25 percent of the votes cast are against the motion.

If the owners corporation has considered the by-law at a general meeting and you are unhappy with the result, you may lodge an application to have the matter mediated by NSW Fair Trading or lodge an application with the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for an order in relation to the by-law,

As a tenant, can I be required to pay a deposit to keep a pet? 

A landlord cannot require a tenant to pay a deposit for the keeping of pets or require a higher amount for the rental bond than is governed by the tenancy laws. The Starting a tenancy page has more information on this under the Rental bonds section.

How will the Government respond to the Court of Appeal decision?

The statutory review of the Strata Schemes Management Act is due to commence in November 2020. The issue of how the Act governs by-laws relating to pets will be closely examined as part of the review. The review will open with publication of a discussion paper on the NSW ‘Have Your Say’ website where submissions from any member of the public interested in strata schemes will be welcome.

The review may then make recommendations in 2021 for changes to the Act to better govern by-laws about pets.

Nuisance smoking

Owners corporations can pass a by-law to ban smoking on the common property and require an owner or occupier to make sure that second-hand smoke does not enter other lots or the common property. Alternatively, the owners corporation can pass a by-law to designate smoking areas within the common property.

Short-term rental accommodation

From 10 April 2020, owners corporations can adopt by-laws that prohibit short-term rental accommodation in strata schemes, but only where the lot is not the host’s principal place of residence. This means if someone lives in a strata property as their principal place of residence, they will still be able to rent out their home, or certain rooms, while they live there or are temporarily away from home.

The model by-laws, if adopted, already include options to help owners corporations manage the impact of short-term rental accommodation in their strata scheme.

The model by-laws require:

  • residents wishing to change the use of their lot to provide short-term rental accommodation to notify the owners corporation at least 21 days before the change takes place
  • owners or residents not to park or stand any vehicle on common property, or permit a motor vehicle to be parked or stood on common property, except with the owners corporation’s prior written approval or as permitted by an authorised sign
  • owners and residents to get rid of garbage using the process set by the owners corporation
  • owners, residents and their visitors to be adequately clothed and not to behave in a way that is likely to cause offence or embarrassment to other residents or to any person lawfully using common property
  • an owner or resident not to obstruct people’s use of common property.

Owners corporations can also introduce an occupancy limit of two adults per bedroom using a by-law. This could help to manage any overcrowding concerns residents may have because of short-term rental accommodation.

Owners corporations can choose to adopt the model by-laws with or without changes. They can also adopt their own unique by-laws, although there are restrictions on the types of by-laws owners corporations can adopt. For example, an owners corporation cannot adopt a by-law that is unjust or otherwise conflicts with the strata laws.

Before adopting a new by-law to limit short-term rental accommodation, owners corporations will need to work with owners and residents to manage the transition for any pre-existing rental bookings or guests staying in the building at the time of making the by-law. If not, it is possible that when the by-law starts a guest could be staying in a lot and the lot owner could be immediately in breach of the by-law.

An option for owners corporations in drafting a by-law could be to allow any existing arrangements in place when the by-law comes into force to be completed. Alternatively, the by-law could state that it comes into force at a future date, to give lot owners and residents time to adjust.

Common property rights by-law

A common property rights by-law can be created if a lot owner requests personal use of common property for renovations or another type of use. An owners corporation can only make a common property rights by-law if it has the written consent of each owner.

The common property by-law must state whether:

  • the owners corporation will continue to be responsible for the proper maintenance of the property or,
  • impose on the owner or owners of the lots the responsibility for that maintenance and upkeep.

Resolving disputes and enforcing by-laws

Many disputes can be resolved quickly in the early stages if they are discussed openly. Owners, residents and owners corporations should attempt to resolve any concerns in their strata building with each other directly.

Owners corporations can also set up their own internal dispute resolution process to deal with minor disputes.

Disputes can be mediated using Fair Trading’s free mediation service to try and reach a resolution.

Dealing with by-law breaches

Notice to occupier about by-law breaches

If an owner or resident breaches a by-law, the owners corporation should first contact them to ask them to stop. If the breach continues, the owners corporation can serve a notice requiring the resident to comply with the by-law, if there is a majority vote at a general meeting agreeing that the by-law is being breached.

A notice can be a letter or email and must include the details of the by-law that has allegedly been breached. A ‘Notice to comply with a by-law’ form is available on our website.

An owners corporation can delegate their responsibility for issuing notices to comply to the strata committee or the strata managing agent.

Tribunal can decide by-law breaches

If an owners corporation issues a by-law breach notice and the resident does not stop the identified behaviour, the owners corporation can apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

If the Tribunal believes there has been a breach of a by-law and the notice was given validly, they can issue a penalty of up to $1,100. If the Tribunal has already fined the owner or resident within the last 12 months for a breach of the same by-law, the penalty imposed by the Tribunal can double to a maximum of $2,200. In this case, the owners corporation does not have to issue another notice to comply before applying to the Tribunal to impose the fine.

The owners corporation can apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal if a notice to comply has been issued and the conduct continues. If the Tribunal believes that there has been a breach of a by-law and the notice was given validly, they can issue a penalty of up to $1,100. If the Tribunal has already fined the owner or occupier within the last 12 months for a breach of the same by-law, the penalty imposed by the Tribunal can double to a maximum of $2,200. In this case, the owners corporation does not have to issue another notice to comply before applying to the Tribunal to impose the fine.

Other important responsibilities of strata residents

There are other obligations for strata residents under the Act. Residents must not:

  • interfere with or impact another person's lot, including services provided to them or the common property. This includes doing anything to affect another lot owner's water, sewage, drainage, gas, electricity, garbage, air conditioning, heating or telecommunications services
  • cause a nuisance or hazard to another resident, such as playing loud music
  • use the common property in a way that interferes unreasonably with others in the scheme using and enjoying it.
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