While this may not be a very interesting topic for some, for others I’ll have just hit on a sore point. Why? Gardens can be very personal, for instance I love my slightly untidy but very liveable low maintenance native garden but for some all they would see is wasted space.
The importance in strata and community schemes if that in these schemes the common property / association gardens are just that, common. Common property /and association gardens exist for the amenity of all in the scheme not just for one person. They may have no other purpose than to be add some beauty had greenery to the built environment (and just by being to reduce heat within the scheme) but they may also be designed to aid privacy, assist in water retention or drainage, direct traffic flow or in some cases they may be important to aid the natural environment such as bee friendly gardens. Whatever purpose they have most of us enjoy them even if we don’t consciously think of them.
Gardens can however raise a number of issues. The first, is that of maintenance. Who is to maintain the common garden? Is there a paid gardener, facilities manager or is it a group of volunteers either conducting working bees or chipping away at it. Volunteers are generally covered under your scheme’s insurance if an accident happens however if your scheme contracts with a gardener it’s important to know if they are adequately insured and if they are covered under your scheme’s insurance in case an accident occurs and someone is hurt or property is damaged.
The second issue that seems to arise is personal taste. One of the most heated disputes I have been involved with was between two groups in a scheme. One wanted the common property area to have a tropical resort style garden and the other wanted an English cottage garden. There were stealth gardeners who under the cover of night would plant their preferred garden version (no, I do not know what they did with the plants they replaced). Much time, effort and money was expended and the dispute created a lot of ill will and both sides breached the scheme’s by-laws not to damage the common property and common property plans and the obligation under section 153 of Strata Schemes Management Act 2015.
How did it get resolved? Well strata and community title schemes are ultimately governed by majority with strata committees and association committees obliged to act in the best interests of all. In this case, a landscape gardener was engaged to proposed three garden styles with costings for each and owners corporation held a general meeting for a vote on each proposal.
Another issue is that a garden may not just be a garden in that it may be a requirement under the development consent to have certain plants or a certain number of plants or it may be a condition to have a specific drainage system which may be integrated into the gardening design. In changing the gardens, a well intentioned owners corporation may be in breach of the development consent conditions for the property.
Not least is a concern that is becoming more common. If a garden is also a food source, how is that food (be it fruit, vegetables, honey etc.) to be distributed?
The key takeaways here are that:
- Check your scheme’s by-laws, there will generally always be a by-law prohibiting a lot owner or occupier from damaging the common property and there may also be a by-law prohibiting damage to common area gardens. This means a lot owner or occupier cannot just dig up a common property garden and either replace it or change it.
- Check your authority to make changes to the common property or association property gardens. There may be a need to have the approval at a general meeting to change the property or there may be a need to obtain approval of a consent authority to make structural changes to a garden.
- Gardens are not just a beautiful addition to the community. They can cause conflicts and it is important to think about how they are used and maintained.
This is general information and should not be considered to be legal advice. If you are affected you should obtain legal advice specific to your individual situation.