Don’t get confused by the hype of the block buster TV shows that purport to transform a house or unit within a short time frame from a “renovators delight” to a state of the art modern master piece complete with fancy artwork.
What you don’t see is the planning that goes into these projects. For both single dwelling houses and strata properties some renovations require council approval before a hammer is picked up. A handy reference site designed as a starting place for home renovators is http://hub.planning.nsw.gov.au. If you are planning any structural work then you need to check your council’s requirements before you go ahead. Ignorance is no excuse, if development consent is required, and you don’t obtain it, then you will left open to council enforcement action.
If you live in a strata community you also need to obtain permission to conduct the work from your owners corporation if your work involves changing the common property in any way. When you consider that in most strata schemes you generally only own the air space within your lot most reno work will require owners corporation approval. This means for instance any plans to strip and re-fit a bathroom will generally affect the schemes common property and require permission. Approval is generally given in NSW by an exclusive use and special privilege by-law being passed.
Check your strata plan and obtain legal advice if you aren’t sure what is and what isn’t common property and if your work does affect the common property do not start work without the protection of obtaining permission. Again, if you don’t then your owners corporation can take legal action in the NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal and require you to reinstate the common property at your own cost.
While we all want to live in peace in a beautiful home we need to comply with all relevant legislation. This means that you need to check to see if permission is required from either council or your owners corporation before lifting a tool. You should also be aware, if you are undertaking the work as a home builder, that you need to obtain your home building permit (see www.fairtrading.com.au) and that if you do, you will be responsible for any building defects under the statutory warranties contained in the Home Building Act 1989 (NSW). The statutory warranties cannot be contracted out of, are for a period of either two or six years and one warranty is that work is done with due skill and care.
A slap dash reno to quickly flip a property can cost you more than it is worth if the work breaches the statutory warranties. This is the reality behind residential building work and renovations and is something that all those looking to make a quick profit by doing a reno need to understand. What you don’t necessarily see in the home building shows are any inspections by council or private certifiers where council consent is required and any required follow up work to obtain an occupation certificate.
A REAL LIFE RENO HORROR STORY
Recently, a lot owner in one of my owners corporation clients heard drilling from another unit. A quick look revealed plumber’s and builder’s utes out the front of the scheme. A knock on the door of the unit in question revealed that the lot owner had completely stripped the unit and demolished several walls. No permission had been granted. Fearing that the structural integrity of the building had been affected we successfully ought urgent interim orders at NCAT to stop the building work and provide access rights to the lot to enable a structural engineer to review the work.
The lot owner was very upset. They had been told by their builder that they did not need permission of either the owners corporation or the council. The builder was wrong on both counts. After four months we settled the matter with a comprehensive by-law being passed requiring the lot owner obtain council consent, the opinion of a structural engineer, take responsibility for the works already done and further work to make the unit habitable and to pay all the owners corporations fees (engineers fees, strata managers fees and legal fees). On top of this the lot owner lost at least four months rent, was open to delay costs from his builders and had to pay their own legal fees.
UPDATE: For more information you can also buy the December 2015 edition of the Australian Property Investor magazine to see my interview on how to legally renovate a unit