Strata and community schemes COVID-19 guidance

The Government’s COVID-19 Public Health Orders impact what we can do in strata environments. This page provides information for people living and working in strata and community schemes.

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COVID-19 changes to strata and community laws

In response to the impact of COVID-19 on strata and community schemes, the NSW Government has made temporary changes to the law to give schemes the flexibility they need to function.

From Friday, 5 June 2020, strata and community land laws have been changed so owners corporations and community associations can:

  • meet and vote at general and committee meetings electronically
  • provide an alternative to affixing the common seal so documents can be validly executed with electronic signatures
  • have more time to hold the first annual general meeting for new schemes and to determine how to reimburse money transferred from one fund to another.

These laws will be in place for six months to help strata and community associations manage their responsibilities during COVID-19.

Meetings and voting

As of 5 June 2020, new strata schemes now have 6 months in which to hold their first annual general meeting.

Electronic voting and meetings

All strata schemes and community associations can now meet and vote electronically at general and committee meetings.

Previously, strata schemes could only meet and vote electronically if the owners corporation or strata committee had adopted a resolution to allow it. Community schemes laws didn’t provide for electronic voting.

For some owners, using technology to participate in meetings and voting will be unfamiliar.

To ensure these owners aren’t excluded or disadvantaged, the scheme’s secretary must take reasonable steps to ensure all owners can participate in and vote at meetings.

This requirement applies to strata schemes that haven’t previously authorised electronic voting and to all community schemes. It doesn’t apply to strata schemes that have previously resolved to allow electronic voting. They are unaffected by these changes.

Electronic voting and meetings are new for all community schemes and required new laws ensuring:

  • community associations can vote by teleconference, videoconference, email or other electronic means
  • certain motions can be voted on before the meeting using pre-meeting electronic voting
  • schemes can hold elections electronically for committees.

Technology and the secretary’s responsibilities

At a minimum, the secretary should ensure the technology chosen:

  • is accessible to all lot owners
  • doesn’t incur unreasonable expenses for individual lot owners to use
  • has easy to follow instructions readily available.

Committee secretaries should consider the size of the scheme and the type of owners when deciding how to ensure participation.

For example, in a smaller scheme a simple teleconferencing (phone) meeting may be suitable. Larger schemes will most likely need video conferencing platforms, voting websites, and other options.

Are electronic meetings mandatory for all schemes?

No. The new laws simply provide schemes with the option to meet and vote validly by electronic means.

Some schemes may be able to continue holding meetings in person and paper ballots for voting, as long as they follow public health advice about physical distancing and hygiene.

The new laws also allow for meeting notices and other documents to be served by email, rather than hard copy, reducing points of contact.

Matters that can be dealt with in electronic meetings

Under the new laws, all strata and community schemes can adopt any resolution by electronic means.

Schemes may also decide to adopt a resolution to continue to meet and vote electronically after the temporary regulations expire.

Execution and lodgement of documents

Affixing the common seal

Strata and community schemes give formal approval to documents by physically affixing the scheme’s common seal. Due to meeting in person restrictions, and many strata management offices being closed, this hasn’t been practical for many schemes.

Representatives of schemes can now sign and witness documents electronically to give formal approval instead of affixing the seal.

The scheme’s representatives who sign and witness documents will need to provide additional details to confirm their identity and relationship to the scheme. This includes the name of each signatory and witness and their relationship to the scheme.

If the person signing is the managing agent for the owners corporation or association, they will need to provide their name and licence number.

If the managing agent is a corporation, the law enables an officer of that corporation to sign on behalf of the owners corporation or association. Officers who can sign include:

  • the president,
  • chairperson or other principal officer of the corporation, and
  • any member of staff authorised by the president, chairperson or other principal officer.

Officers signing on behalf of a managing agent that is a corporation will need to provide their name and the licence number of the corporation.

Authorised representatives who sign documents instead of affixing the common seal  need to do so in each other’s presence. Witnessing can be done by an audio visual link.

Easing of restrictions

The NSW Government is gradually easing COVID-19 restrictions, which may impact strata schemes.

Visit the NSW Government’s COVID-19 website for the most up-to-date information about what is currently permitted for gatherings that apply to NSW individuals and businesses.

Owners corporation responsibilities

Owners corporations must take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of owners and residents.

Owners corporations and community associations should make their own risk assessment to determine if facilities should remain open.

If the measures above can't be implemented, public health advice would be to close the facilities for the safety of residents and staff.

Failure to do so puts owners corporations at risk of legal liability claims.

Owners corporations and community associations must develop communication strategies to meet the needs of diverse communities.

Particular attention should be given to more vulnerable residents such as the elderly, disabled, and anyone who may not use the internet.

Socialising in the complex

Social gatherings outside and inside the home are limited under the Public Health Orders.

Visit the NSW Government COVID-19 website to read the most up-to-date rules on gatherings and physical distancing, including in areas such as lifts, communal laundries, stairwells, and car parks.

You can download a printable poster for elevators to assist with physical distancing.

Self-isolation

People who arrive in Australia by aircraft from overseas or by vessel from a port outside of NSW must enter into a quarantine arrangement for 14 days as directed by NSW Police.

You must still self-isolate according to the NSW Health guidelines if you:

  • have or are suspected to have COVID-19
  • are living with someone suspected to have COVID-19
  • have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19

Affected residents and anyone living with them must stay within their lot except in the event of an emergency or need for medical care.

In those limited circumstances, if you must leave, you should wear a surgical mask, and stay at least 1.5 metres away from others.

More information on self-isolation is available at nsw.gov.au.

Frequently asked questions about self-isolation

Do I have to inform the owners corporation if I have COVID-19?

There are mandatory reporting requirements to health authorities but there is no requirement for a resident to disclose their condition to the owners corporation.

Residents and owners corporations must consider the welfare of other residents, visitors and contractors visiting the scheme.

Many owners corporations encourage residents to disclose this information so precautions can be taken including providing additional hygiene measures, issuing advice to other residents to comply with precautionary measures and to manage and protect contractors.

If a person discloses their condition, an owners corporation must respect the person’s privacy and not disclose the individual’s identity.

What should the owners corporation do if they suspect a self-isolating resident is seriously ill?  

If you’ve attempted to make direct contact with a resident who is self-isolating, they haven’t responded and you suspect they may be seriously ill, call Emergency Services on 000.

Visitors

Social gatherings are limited under the Public Health Orders. Visit the NSW Government COVID-19 website to read the most up-to-date rules on gatherings.

Take extra care when visiting vulnerable people and continue to practise physical distancing and good hygiene.

If you're feeling unwell don't visit other people at home, even if your symptoms are mild.

Depending on your scheme, additional or new measures may be taken to help reduce risks to other residents. For example, the owners corporation could set up a central point for receiving deliveries or implement preventative measures for tradespeople.

Residents must be informed of any new or changed procedures and information about them should be displayed on the scheme’s noticeboard.

Personal trainers can visit as long as they follow Public Health Orders and physical distancing rules.

Common areas and shared facilities

Use of common areas should generally be limited to:

  • access to and from your home (including moving in or out)
  • avoiding injury or illness or to escape risk of harm
  • emergencies or emergency assistance

Shared facilities can open as long as restrictions are in place including physical distancing and hygiene. Most importantly, only one person per four square metres is allowed in each space.

These facilities can include:

  • swimming pools, saunas and spas
  • barbeques
  • gyms
  • rooftop gardens
  • indoor recreation rooms (for example, games rooms)
  • outdoor or indoor playgrounds

These facilities can be open for residents (as they aren't a facility open to members of the public). However, facilities need to operate safely and comply with physical distancing and hygiene measures.

If an owners corporation temporarily closes facilities on the common property, a notice of closure must be posted so all residents are aware.

Hygiene

Owners corporations must consider cleaning common areas more frequently.

In particular, frequent points of contact such as door handles, handrails, light switches, lift buttons, and garbage chutes and rooms must be disinfected more regularly.

Strata managers, committees and contract cleaners must have procedures in place to ensure cleaning practices conform with the Department of Health’s environmental cleaning and disinfection-principles for COVID-19.

Speak with the strata managing agent or strata committee if you’re concerned about common area hygiene.

Laundries

Owners corporations must take reasonable steps to ensure hygiene in communal laundry facilities.

Facilities may require more cleaning and guidance provided to residents to encourage improved hygiene and social distancing practices.

More information on environmental cleaning is available at environmental cleaning and disinfection-principles for COVID-19.

Frequently asked questions about common areas and shared facilities

Can residents suspected or confirmed of having COVID-19 be restricted from using a lift?

No. They are however required to follow self-isolation rules. The NSW Police are responsible for enforcing those rules.

Visitors, carers and residents should ensure they enter a lift with only their immediate family or on their own.

Who can I complain to if increased noise or smoke drift becomes a nuisance?

Inform your strata committee or strata manager. These matters are covered by existing by-laws.

Can a community golf course or tennis court be used?

If these are outdoor facilities, they can remain open, provided Public Health Orders are followed.

Levies and contributions

Some owners are experiencing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19 and non-payment of levy contributions impacts the ability of owners corporations to manage and maintain the property.

The financial impact on schemes will vary depending on the proportion of affected owners and the financial position of the scheme.

Individual schemes must decide the most appropriate response to arrears and hardship requests.

Schemes should consider their individual circumstances and the current economic spirit of supporting temporary arrangements without causing long-term financial detriment or insolvency.

Current legislation enables schemes to enter into instalment plans, to apply discounts or to waive interest. The following summarises options currently available to schemes.

Payment of contributions

Owners corporations by resolution at a general meeting can enter into a payment plan for overdue contributions. The payment plan is limited to a 12 month period.

Subject to a resolution at a general meeting, the scheme can also agree to reduce contributions by 10% if they are paid before their due date.

Interest on arrears

Levy contributions in arrears accrue interest at a rate of 10%. The interest is payable if the contribution is not paid within one month of the contribution being due and payable.

Owners corporations can decide, by resolution at a general meeting, that no interest applies to individual lot owners or across all lot owners.

Currently, there is no provision available to reduce the interest rate.

Transfer of money between the Administrative and Capital Works funds

The disruption caused by COVID-19 has made it more difficult for strata and community schemes to respond within the normal deadlines.

To give schemes more time to comply, schemes will now have 6 months, instead of 3, to decide how money spent from the capital works fund will be reimbursed to cover bills of the administrative fund.

Strata schemes with more than two lots can transfer or use the money of one fund for the purposes of the other fund.

Within three months of transferring or using the money, the owners corporation must determine how to reimburse the funds transferred or used.

This does not mean the money transferred must be repaid within three months.

Rather the owners corporation must decide on the levy required to reimburse the fund.

Other financial options

The strata manager or committee treasurer can review potential costs in the budget that might be deferred or lowered that are non-essential and can lower running costs temporarily.

For example:

  • deferring special levies unless they relate directly to health and safety work
  • deferring non-essential works to free up funds for increased cleaning and waste management

Owners corporations can also consider taking out a strata loan to cover shortfalls if needed.

Frequently asked questions about levies and contributions

What can I do if I can’t pay my levies on time?

Contact your strata committee and advise them of your situation. You may be able to negotiate a payment plan.

Owners corporations can decide by resolution at a general meeting to provide a payment plan or waive interest charges on arrears for owners who can’t meet levy contributions.

Payment plans are limited to a maximum of 12 months.

If you’re unable to agree to an arrangement, you can apply for mediation with Fair Trading.

If we can’t help you reach an agreement, you can then apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for a decision.

Short-term rental accommodation

Travel and premises restrictions

The Federal Government has mandated all international arrivals must complete 14 days of quarantine at pre-booked hotels.

Restrictions on travel within NSW have been lifted, including for the purposes of a holiday.

However, the Public Health Order still affects holiday rentals and holiday homes by imposing limitations on the number of persons who can be on the premises, unless they are all members of the same household.

Changes to strata laws

On Friday, 10 April 2020, strata laws changed to help owners corporations manage short-term rental accommodation.

Owners corporations can adopt by-laws banning short-term rentals in lots which are not the host’s principal place of residence.

This means owner-occupiers can still rent out a room while they are there as host, or the whole property while they are away temporarily.

This is the first stage of the NSW Government’s new regulations on short-term rental accommodation.

A Code of Conduct for short-term rental has been deferred until later in 2020.

More information

Repairs, maintenance, fire and rental inspections

Repairs and maintenance

Schemes may approve essential repairs and maintenance but must consider the welfare of residents if they engage tradespeople or other contractors to work within the scheme:

  • residents should be advised of the date, time and timeframe for work being done
  • schemes must ensure contractors follow hygiene practices
  • interact with contractors outside, where possible
  • residents need to maintain social distancing of 1.5 metres between themselves and workers

Renovations and non-essential work

It makes sense for owners corporations and lot owners to delay renovations or non-essential work where it is possible to do so.

Most residents are now at home, and renovations can impact other residents more than usual.

Owners who have already started renovations must consider the welfare of other residents by limiting noise or other disturbances and ensuring contractors follow hygiene practices.

By-laws and new COVID-19 measures introduced by a scheme may restrict when people can access the property for renovation purposes.

If disputes arise and an agreement cannot be reached, you can apply for mediation with Fair Trading.

Noise restrictions

Noise from power tools and equipment that can be heard in rooms of a neighbouring residence must stop during these times:

  • 8pm - 8am, Sundays and public holidays
  • 8pm - 7am, weekdays and Saturday.

Visit the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment for information on What can I do about my neighbours noisy home renovations?

Electronic voting

Temporary changes to strata laws now allow all strata schemes and community associations to meet and vote electronically at general and committee meetings.

This includes considering and voting on issues relating to renovations and noise.

See Meetings and voting for more information.

Mediation

NSW Fair Trading provides a free mediation service, which may help resolve disputes about noise or nuisance.

If the matter can’t be solved by mediation, the parties can lodge an application with the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

For more information visit Resolving disputes and mediation.

Waste disposal

Owners corporations should consider the impact of more residents being at home for longer periods and the impact on waste management.

Where appropriate, arrangements should be made to increase the frequency of waste disposal services.

Fire inspections

Owners corporations still have legal obligations to ensure an annual fire safety inspection is completed.

If a person has COVID-19, a fire safety inspection of their lot must be deferred until the resident has obtained medical clearance.

Owners corporations can only access a lot with the occupier’s consent or under an order from NCAT, unless it is an emergency.

Owners corporations should plan ahead for fire safety inspections to ensure adequate time in case there is a delay in obtaining access.

Increased deliveries and concierge services

With people staying home, there will be more deliveries to many buildings.

Large buildings may require additional concierge services.

All residents, including those who may not have access to the internet, must be advised of any restrictions placed on usual access and delivery times.

Be mindful of the needs of self-isolated, disabled or vulnerable residents who are unable to access deliveries made to communal areas such as foyers.

Frequently asked questions about repairs, maintenance, fire and rental inspections

Can a landlord or managing agent still do inspections?

Yes. Inspections conducted in-person for the purposes of sale, lease and at display homes may now legally be conducted, but landlords and agents should use digital inspections wherever possible and only conduct in-person inspections if absolutely necessary.

Agents and landlords should defer routine property management inspections if possible.

Should maintenance workers be wearing a mask?

Workers at strata schemes don’t need to wear a mask if they are well.

Workers may need to wear a mask if they are near an elderly or unwell resident.

NSW Health provides advice on masks.

If I am a tenant in self-isolation and I don’t want the annual fire inspection to proceed. Can I say no?

The answer will depend on the reasons for self-isolation.

If a resident is in self-isolation because they’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, the Public Health Order prevents anyone entering their residence except in case of an emergency.

If a resident has a medical condition or is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, they should advise their strata committee or manager so appropriate precautions can be implemented.

Legislation

Read the new Strata Schemes Management Amendment COVID-19 Regulation 2020

Read the new Community Land Management Amendment COVID-19 Regulation 2020

More information

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