GRACE PERIOD FOR PROPERTY SECTOR REFORMS EXTENDED

The grace period for penalties under the new Property and Stock Agents Act regulations have been extended until 1 April 2021. 

This is a six-month extension. 

We want to ensure that all our members are across the extension and highlight what it means for those in the industry, and what penalties still apply. 

The extension is in response to the economic impacts of COVID-19 on the property sector and was issued in good faith to vary NSW Fair Trading’s enforcement intentions for new regulatory obligations under the Property and Stock Agents Act 2002, which started on 23 March 2020.

Fair Trading will move to more active enforcement of compliance with the new regulatory obligations from 2 April 2021 onwards and revise its advice to the industry accordingly.

The new regulatory obligations on real estate and property agents that this statement addresses are found in the following laws and policies, which all commenced on 23 March 2020:

  • Property, Stock and Business Agents Amendment (Property Industry Reform) Act 2018
  • Property, Stock and Business Agents Amendment Regulation 2019
  • Property and Stock Agents (Qualifications) Order 2019
  • Schedule 2.12 of the Fair Trading Legislation Amendment (Reform) Act 2018
  • Schedules 1.6, 1.8 and 1.9 of the Better Regulation Legislation Amendment Act 2019
  • Secretary’s Supervision Guidelines issued under section 32 of the Act
  • Secretary’s Continuing Professional Development requirements issued under section 20 of the Act

Some of the key changes for agents introduced by these laws and policies include:

  • restrictions on the functions that can be performed by assistant agents, class 2
  • licensees and class 1 licensees who are not nominated as a licensee in charge
  • separate trust accounts to be maintained to hold rental and sales money
  • new Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements
  • comprehensive operational procedures to be maintained by the principal licensee.

During this time, Fair Trading’s compliance response will be not to penalise agents who have been identified as non-compliant with new regulatory obligations.

However, Fair Trading will expect non-compliant agents to be able to demonstrate that they have taken active steps towards full compliance within a reasonable time and to be compliant after the grace period expires (1 April 2021).

Possible Enforcement Actions: 

For the duration of the grace period, Fair Trading retains the option to take active enforcement action against existing regulatory obligations that did not change on 23 March 2020. 

This is especially important where non-compliance poses a higher risk of consumer detriment, including but not limited to:

  • unlicensed trading (sections 8, 9 and 10 of the Act)
  • fraud and false accounts of money received (sections 211 and 212 of the Act)
  • misrepresentations generally (section 52 of the Act)
  • underquoting (Part 5, Division 3 of the Act)
  • failure to arrange for annual audit of the agency’s trust accounts (section 111 of Act)
  • failure to hold professional indemnity insurance (section 22 of Act).

If you’d like more information, details of the real estate and property services industry reforms are available on the Fair Trading website at www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au 

R u ok?

Today is R U Okay?Day.

R U OK?Day is a national day for all Australians to ask someone in their life how they are doing and what to say if someone says they are not okay.

SCA (NSW), recognises that 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone and we want to convey that these circumstances have made it even more important for us to stay connected and, for those who are able, be willing to support those around us. 

We highly recommend that our members take the time to ask someone in their life how they’re doing and prepare themselves for the possibility of a somber response. 

R U OK? Reminds us that it is OK to have deeper conversations about mental health and reflects the importance of being pensive, being attentive and being supportive to those around us. 

The message for R U OK?Day 2020 is ‘There’s more to say after R U OK?’ 

You don’t have to be an expert to keep the conversation going when someone says they’re not OK!

Read more in our blog story. 

You can learn what to say at www.ruok.org.au/how-to-ask 

By knowing what to say you can help someone feel supported and access appropriate help long before they’re in crisis, which can make a really positive difference to their life.

However, asking R U OK? Is only the first step, and when someone is not ok, the subsequent conversation about mental health can be difficult, but necessary in supporting those in need. 

By taking the time to listen to others, and validate their feelings, people experiencing mental illness can feel more empowered. While COVID-19 will have an impact, for some of the people, naming defined reasons for their feelings can be difficult. 

Sometimes people struggle over everyday things or feel on top of the world one day, and desperately sad the next – those feelings are perfectly normal, but if they become overwhelming, professional help should be sought. 

The team at R U OK? offer the following suggestions for managing emotional conversations about mental health: 

How can I prepare myself for a strong emotional reaction?

  • Recognise their reaction might be in response to a range of circumstances, some of which you might not know about.
  • Allow the person to fully express their emotions (i.e. let off steam) and show them you’re interested by actively listening to all they say. 
  • Deal with the emotions first, you can discuss the issues more rationally once emotions have been addressed. 
  • Being an active listener is one of the best things you can do for someone when they are distressed. 
  • Manage your own emotions by staying calm and not taking things personally.

How do I deal with sadness? 

  • Sad or tragic incidents are often difficult to deal with because we empathise with the person and feel helpless as we cannot take away their sadness or pain. 
  • Use lots of empathetic phrases, such as “It sounds like you’re juggling a few things at the moment” or “I understand this must be challenging for you right now”. 
  • Make sure you’re comfortable with any silence in the conversation. 
  • Know that silence gives them permission to keep talking and tell you more. 
  • Encourage them to access support. 
  • If someone begins to cry, sit quietly and allow them to cry. Lowering your eyes can minimise their discomfort. You could add, “I’m going to sit here with you and when you’re ready we can keep talking”. 
  • If you anticipate this response, it can help to have tissues handy.

How do I deal with anger? 

  • If someone is visibly hostile you can respond with: “I can see that this has upset you. Why don’t you start at the beginning and tell me what I need to know…” 
  • Allow them to identify all the factors they feel are contributing to their anger. 
  • You might encourage them by adding “Right, I understand that (….) is a problem. What else is causing you concern?” 
  • Be patient and prepared to listen to them talk about everything that’s adding to their frustration. 
  • To keep the conversation on track and to reassure them you’re interested in all they have to say, try reflecting back what they have said. You could say, “So the thing that’s really upsetting you is (….) Is that right?” 
  • If they feel they have been wronged or treated unfairly you are unlikely to persuade them otherwise in this conversation. It’s more constructive to listen to all they have to say and provide resources or connect them with formal channels where their specific complaints can be heard.

How do I deal with anxiety? 

  • Speak in short, clear sentences while still showing concern and care. 
  • If you anticipate an anxious response, use your preparation time to think about how you will say what you need to in a clear way. 
  • Stay calm. This is best displayed through deep, slow breathing, a lower tone of voice and evenly paced speech.

By using these tips, you can help someone feel supported when confronted with challenges in life. 

R U OK? Also lists some great ideas for supporting R U OK?Day while physical distancing here

The OBC’s new powers launch today

Today marks a historic step forward in a decade long battle for advocates vying for stricter and more enforceable building/construction legislation across New South Wales.
 
David Chandler’s new powers are in full swing as of this morning, and we’re excited as the industry is set to shift, bettering consumers statewide. The NSW building regulator now has powers to withhold occupation certificates for apartment and other buildings that are not up to standard, denying developers the ability to settle their projects.
 
David Chandler OAM and the Office of the Building Commissioner, along with the investigative and enforcement squad of officers and staff will send a clear message to builders in NSW thinking about taking a single shortcut.
 
Commissioner Chandler has enough experience and common sense to make sure that his new team will not allow itself to be another arm of bureaucracy and just another layer of red tape – instead, enacting real change in the industry.
 
The ability of the regulator to prevent settlement (the point of profit for developers), is unprecedented and beckons a major change in Australia’s commercial development industry.
 
These powers will also work towards ensuring there’s a crackdown on sub-standard building materials, such as flammable cladding, asbestos products and cheap imported electrical wiring, all of which remained problematic in the building sector.
 
Today, Commissioner Chandler OAM serves notice to dodgy builders and certifiers that have no place in the building, construction, and strata sectors in NSW.
 
SCA (NSW) are incredibly pleased that we will have a leading system of design and building regulations that will deliver well-constructed buildings into the future.
 
As we head towards the end of 2020, we look forward to the fruition of game changing initiatives that we’ve been proud to be a part of with David Chandler and the OBC.

New Legislation, New Powers and Renewed Confidence, David Chandler and the OBC

We head into the end of the year continuing our advocacy for better construction standards across the state. We have been reframing our work on government and industry initiatives to better influence the strata agenda in NSW and assist in the delivery of improved consumer confidence across the state.

Part of this transformation has been the strong relationship and mutual collaboration with the Office of the Building Commissioner and David Chandler.

Strata Community Association (NSW) and the Office of the Building Commissioner have been working closely on government projects to help foster and re-establish consumer confidence for the building/construction industry in New South Wales.

David Chandler was recently interviewed by 60 Minutes in a segment called ‘Buyer Beware’ which addresses the systemic failings of the building/construction industry and shines a very positive light on the OBC, heralded as bringing NSW into the future of construction standards.

The piece can be found here.

The construction reforms that the NSW Government have introduced this year and David Chandler’s regulatory muscle push NSW ahead of other states in beefing up regulation of an industry notorious for past failings.

This is a huge step forward and redefining crossroad for strata and the construction industry.

As you know, we intend to champion the significant achievements to our industry and forge a new era for Strata building upon our desire to assist in the delivery of defined and measurable improvement in consumer confidence to support Strata Owners in NSW.

We have high expectations of success for the OBC and we’re confident we will soon start to see positive and measurable differences in consumer confidence and purchasing experience.

As such, we have sought a defined and measurable improvement in consumer confidence and have called on the Office of the Building Commissioner to deliver a 50% increase in consumer confidence by 2025!

 

Your Obligations with Hazardous Waste

Home isolation and lockdown laws over the last few months have sparked a home renovation boom!

But while the dangers of DIY home maintenance have been well publicised, very little has been written about how to store the leftover paints, thinners, batteries, cleaners, aerosols oils and other flammable household waste left after we finish our to-do list.

Under most strata titles, the owners corporation usually has a set of by-laws that prohibit the storage of any hazardous material – which includes things like:

  • Asbestos
  • Computer materials
  • Gas cylinders
  • Certain garden chemicals –

in apartments, storage cages or garages.

However, hazardous substances such as:

  • Solvent-based paints
  • Pesticides
  • Car batteries
  • Motor oils
  • Ammonia-based cleaners
  • Petrol or kerosene
  • Mobile phone batteries and
  • Inkjet printer cartridges 

are stored more often than you might think and can be just as deadly.

Although common and seemingly innocuous, many of these products contain harmful elements which can be dangerous to dispose of, including hazardous or flammable liquids or components, making them unsuitable for normal rubbish disposal.  It is also illegal to tip them down the sink, toilet, or gutters, or to bury them in the ground.

Unfortunately, what seems like a harmless product being stored, can be potentially life-threatening meaning the disposal of hazardous goods is vital!

When seeking to dispose of these type of items it pays to check first with your local council to see if the materials are actually accepted at their listed depot or if not, when they are due to stage their next chemical clean-up day.

Remember:

Many local companies and councils may accept recycled materials, and it is worth the time discussing:

  • Swap programs
  • Recycling options
  • Drop-offs
  • Collections.

Further:

Effective risk management is also not just the responsibility of individual lots owners and tenants.

Each owners corporation also has a collective responsibility for the safe storage of all hazardous material used in common areas such as gas for communal barbecues or chemicals for the swimming pool.

 

.

Hygiene Reminder – Your Role in a Healthier Strata Community

 

As more states are experiencing increased COVID-19 cases, and as we watch, read and listen to news reports about Victoria and the myriad of cases internationally, we’re reminded that proper hygiene and common courtesy is a proven and effective tool in mitigating the spread of coronaviruses.

Cleaning is an essential part of disinfection because dirt and grime can inactivate many disinfectants. Cleaning reduces the amount of dirt and so allows the disinfectant to work. Removal of germs such as the virus that causes COVID-19 requires thorough cleaning followed by disinfection.

The length of time the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on inanimate surfaces varies depending on factors such as the amount of contaminated body fluid (e.g. respiratory droplets) or soiling present, and environmental temperature and humidity.

Coronaviruses can survive on surfaces for many hours or more but are readily inactivated by cleaning and disinfection.

It is good practice to routinely clean surfaces as follows:

  • clean frequently touched surfaces with detergent solution
  • clean general surfaces and fittings when visibly soiled and immediately after any spillage.

All strata owners have a duty of care to ensure their property is a safe environment that doesn’t pose a potential risk to the health and safety of neighbours and anyone who visits.

This duty of care extends to contractors or employees to ensure safe workplaces for people carrying out essential maintenance.

With many people still working from home, the need for essential services at properties such as sanitising and disinfectant cleaning, garbage disposal services and plumbing has never been more important.

Now is definitely the time to keep up with frequent high-grade cleaning services in common areas and high-touch surfaces.

Cleaning and policy changes in your building may include:

Delivery of parcels to your unit

You may be required to instruct the courier to leave the parcel at the front of your apartment door, not in the lobby area. You will need to arrange how they get access to your floor, etc.

Visitors and visitors parking

To manage the risk of exposure to other residents, the Committee may recommend restriction on the number of social visitors in line with government protocols, but certainly the visitor’s carparks will be restricted for use by essential services like Doctors and Medical Services as a priority, etc.

Rubbish/waste

You may be asked not to use the chute or rubbish room and to double bag the rubbish from your bin. Alternate collection methods may need to be

implemented while you are house bound.

Mail

The Committee may require you to make alternate arrangements for the delivery of mail.

Shared facilities

The Committee may determine new access times (hours of operation and closure) of shared community facilities, such as pools and gyms, or shut them completely.

Shared laundry facilities

Restricted use and/or closure of facilities may extend to communal laundries if residents do not adhere to the Government guidelines. Residents should be encouraged to take protective measures, such as wearing gloves, washing their hands, not touching their face and disinfecting all surfaces of the machines they use. Maintain social distancing. Recommend use of the hot water setting and use of laundry detergents that contain a bleach compound. To ensure delicate items aren’t damaged, use delicate bags, etc.

Meetings & communication

The Committee may implement new meeting and communication protocols to minimise the potential spread of the virus and enable decisions of the Committee to continue to be made by an alternate means, such as via teleconference, online meetings, ballots, etc.

Building maintenance & services

The Committee may determine to increase or reduce services to the building to minimise risks to residents, such as changes to cleaning regimes and waste collection; for example, if all residents are staying home and the rubbish generated increases. Committees may also consider employing security guards if there is a power failure and the entry/exit security systems stops working or garage doors, etc.

The above is not exhaustive, however. Everyone needs to exercise vigilance and maintain good hygiene practices – not just the strata community. 

Hand hygiene is the single most important way to prevent the spread of infection:

  • soap and water can be used for hand hygiene at any time and should be used when hands are visibly soiled
  • alcohol-based hand rub (sanitiser) can be used if soap and water are not readily accessible, except when hands are visibly soiled.
  • cleaning hands regularly also helps to reduce environmental contamination.
  • Wash your hands before and after eating, and after going to the toilet

Sneeze/cough etiquette and respiratory hygiene is the best defence against respiratory viruses:

  • cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and dispose of tissue immediately.
  • or cough/sneeze into the bend of your elbow.
  • wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

Speak with the strata managing agent or strata committee if you are concerned about hygiene.

 

Balcony Gardens – What you need to know

 

We recently received the following question about whether it was safe to have hanging plants on a balcony in a strata-titled property. As a subset to this, we also considered balcony gardens and what’s necessary to ensure they’re safe, legal and appealing.

Over the past decade the number of families living in strata titled property has more than doubled, an analysis of census data shows.

And experts say this trend will accelerate, meaning more and more families will be living their lives in strata titled properties.

Balconies have fast become the new Aussie backyard!

With a little imagination, a concrete jungle can be easily transformed into a lush and versatile green space.

Let’s look at what to consider when contemplating a balcony garden of your own.

Are there restrictions on balcony gardens, are they allowed?

In some cases, there are restrictions, but generally balcony gardens are allowed.

Firstly, you will need to refer to you scheme to determine if there are any by-laws (rules) regarding plants on balconies.

  • Do plants need to be under a certain height?
  • Are there restrictions on types of plants I can keep?
  • Can they hang over the edge?
  • Are you allowed planter boxes – and if so are there colour and design restrictions?
  • What about requirements for watering?
  • Or, are they banned all together?

Secondly, you need to consider you neighbours. Particularly if what you’re planning on growing gives off a distinct odor, disrupts the peace or incites allergies. Be conscious of your neighbours.

Once you’ve determined the allowances for your balcony, it’s time to start planning.

Making the most of small spaces:

Firstly, think about where to put your plants.

Will your plants like moist and shady or sunny and dry conditions?

In Sydney, north-facing windows and balconies will get the most sun in winter. East-facing areas enjoy gentle morning sun, and west-facing positions get the harsher afternoon sun.

Balconies are typically hotter, drier and windier than the conditions found on the ground level. Balconies and rooftop gardens have their own unique microclimates and plants that thrive on the ground level may do the opposite once elevated.

You’ll need to take into account your apartment’s aspect, sunlight levels and the volume of wind it receives.

Most balcony gardens fail because the gardener doesn’t anticipate the high-rise challenges of wind, light and access. Recognising them and meeting them head-on are what make a great balcony garden achievable.

Make your choices matter:

  • Choose pots that won’t blow over but are not too heavy for your balcony structure.
  • Consider where the water will go. Are the pots self-watering, or will they need to sit on saucers, so the water won’t destroy the balcony floor?
  • Are they the right sized pots for the plants you choose? The roots of plants are usually the width of the plant, so choose pots big enough for the roots to grow, but not too big. Too big is known as ‘over-potting’ – and can cause a loose and unstable root ball.
  • Terracotta pots and hanging baskets may need sealing or lining with black plastic to help prevent water loss. Ceramic and plastic, including self-watering pots, are good choices. Do not use hanging baskets on a windy balcony!
  • Consider a vertical garden too if you’re allowed to. These are ideal for growing herbs in sunny spot, or lush ferns and “indoor” plants on a shady wall.

Do you know your balcony’s structural load capacity?

It’s important to ensure your building can withstand the weight of the materials you plan to use. If you like the look of oversized planters, try lightweight alternatives such as polyresin fiberglass, which will give you the look and feel of concrete at half the weight.

What to plant?

These wind-resistant plants grow on exposed sunny or partly shaded balconies. Where available, select variegated or coloured leaf forms to add variety. For added interest include foliage contrasts from succulents, ornamental grasses or liriope.

  • Agave (Agave attenuata)
  • Coastal rosemary (Westringia fruticosa)
  • Coral plant (Russelia equisetiformis)
  • Cumquat (Citrus japonica)
  • Indian hawthorn (Raphiolepis indica)
  • Japanese pittosporum (Pittosporum tobira)
  • Looking-glass plant (Coprosma repens)
  • Dwarf oleander (Nerium oleander)

Tall or feature plants:

If you want a tree or a tall shrub for shade, privacy or to make a bold statement, make sure you’ve got room both to house a tall plant and the large pot it will require, and to get it there in the first place.

Most trees need pots that hold at least 75 litres of potting mix and need an area that’s three metres high and wide to accommodate their height and spread.

  • Agonis (Agonis flexuosa ‘After Dark’)
  • Aralia (Schefflera elegantissima)
  • Camellia (Camellia sasanqua)
  • China doll (Radermachera sinica)
  • Frangipani (Plumeria rubrum)
  • Screw pine (Pandanus tectorius)
  • Weeping maple (Acer palmatum) (sheltered only)

Plant Care:

Growing plants in pots is a little different to growing in garden beds.

Potting mix

Always choose a good quality potting mix. Unfortunately, cheap potting mixes are generally not worth it.  You’ll need to mix in fertilisers, soil conditioners, minerals, water crystals and perlite to bring the mix up to the right standard that the potted plants will need to survive, so you may as well pay the extra and buy a high-quality mix right from the start.  Also consider filling the bottom of the pots with polystyrene chips to keep the weight down.

Mulch

As pots can dry out quickly, it’s always worthwhile topping the soil with mulch to keep the roots cooler and the soil moisture.

Watering

Succulents don’t need a lot of water, but most other plants will need watering at least once or twice a week in cooler months, and maybe daily on hot or windy days.

Don’t let them sit in saucers of deep water either, as this can cause the roots to rot, as well as attract mosquitoes.

Feeding

When planting, ensure you mix a handful of controlled release plant food granules into the soil.  There are different mixes available for different types of plants, or you can buy an all-purpose one.

It’s also a good idea to water with a soluble fertiliser a couple of times a year, as they do need nutrition to keep growing and flowering.  Flowering and fruiting plants need a fertiliser high in potassium, whereas leafy plants need a fertiliser higher in nitrogen.

Trimming

Always trim off dead and diseased leaves and remove spent flowers.  It’s also a good idea to prune back straggly branches of shrubs to encourage bushier growth.

Quick Tips For Balcony Plants:

  • Have pots elevated on bricks or pot feet. This allows potting mix to drain and also lets you keep an eye out for unwanted roots.
  • Make sure all include drainage holes in their bases. If run-off and drips are a problem, catch water in a tray under the pot but empty it frequently. If a pot doesn’t have adequate drainage, use it as a cover pot for one that does.
  • Use top-quality potting mix that meets the Australian Standard. Cover the soil surface with a mulch of pebbles (particularly in windy situations).
  • When you buy a plant, make sure it has a well-developed root system but isn’t pot bound.
  • Water plants well to get them established and check them daily for dryness, particularly after a bout of windy weather.
  • Select plants that can be pruned and shaped to allow you to control their size and shape. Best choices usually have small leaves and twiggy growth.
  • Apply fertiliser in the growing and flowering season but reduce its use when plant growth slows. Either use a slow-release fertiliser pellet to give nutrients over three or four months, or regularly liquid feed.
  • Just because you’re off the ground, it doesn’t mean your garden will be pest free. Pests find their way to plants and can also be introduced with new plant material. Control pest outbreaks by hand or use low-toxicity sprays.
  • Cut your losses. If a plant isn’t performing, remove it and try something else.

Audio Visual Links for Witnessing Documents

 

The Electronic Transactions Amendment (COVID-19 Witnessing of Documents) Regulation 2020 (NSW) (The Regulation) is another government initiative in response to COVID-19. The Regulation officially came into force on 22 April 2020 and aims to provide clarity on how some documents can be witnessed by an eligible witness via audio visual link.

One of the most critical aspects of the Regulation is that it does away with the requirement for a witness to be physically present to witness the execution of documents.

What does audio visual link mean?

Audio visual link means any technology that enables audio and visual communication between two persons who are not physically present in the same room. This usually consists of the classic video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype and FaceTime.

What documents can be witnessed by audio visual link?

The Electronic Transactions Amendment (COVID-19 Witnessing of Documents) Regulation 2020 makes the following changes:

  • Documents that require a witness may be witnessed by audio visual link (AVL)
  • Tasks in relation to witnessing a document may be performed by AVL

The below documents can now be witnessed through an audio-visual platform:

  • a will;
  • a Power of Attorney or Enduring Power of Attorney;
  • an Appointment of Enduring Guardian;
  • a deed or agreement;
  • an affidavit (including any annexure or exhibit to an affidavit) except for the purposes of divorce; and
  • a statutory declaration.

So, what is actually meant by witnessing documents being signed by AVL?

Under the new regulation, a witness must see a person signing the document in real time to confirm the signature is legitimate, which they can now do by viewing the act of signing by one of the many face to face video conferencing methods.

The witness can then sign the document, or a copy of the document, to confirm they witnessed the signature.

This could be done on a hard copy that is scanned and sent to the witness or on an identical counterpart of the document that the signatory signs. The witness must be reasonably satisfied that the document they sign is the same document, or a copy of the document signed by the signatory. Also, the witness must endorse the document with a statement that specifies the method used to witness the signature and that it was witnessed in accordance with the new regulation.

Written oaths, declarations or affidavits required for a purpose specified in section 26 of the Oaths Act 1900 may be taken or made before an Australian legal practitioner.

What is meant by this amendment is that a New South Wales Legal Practitioner will not be the only legal practitioner that can witness an Oath, Declaration or Affidavit in New South Wales, any licensed Australian Legal Practitioner will be accepted.

Statutory declarations may be made before the Commonwealth’s expanded definition of whom a statutory declaration under the Statutory Declarations Act 1959 (Cth) may be made. This list includes:

  • architect
  • chiropractor
  • dentist
  • financial advisor or planner
  • legal practitioner, with or without a practicing certificate
  • medical practitioner
  • midwife
  • psychologist
  • veterinary surgeon
  • Justice of the Peace
  • optometrist
  • occupational therapist
  • nurse
  • migration agent registered under the Migration Act 1958
  • pharmacist
  • physiotherapist
  • trademark attorney
  • patent attorney

Agents need to be sure that documents that they are collecting or preparing for property transactions have been witnessed by an appropriate person, to ensure the validity of the process.

How do I witness a document by audio visual link?

In order to have a validly witnessed document it is imperative that the Regulation is followed correctly and carefully.

In accordance with the Regulations, a person witnessing the signing of a document using an audio-visual link must:

  1. Observe the person signing the document in real time (i.e. not via a pre-recorded video) to confirm the signature is legitimate.
  2. Next, the person witnessing the document must sign the document (or a copy) as soon as possible after the witnessing via audio visual link to confirm they witnessed the signature. This could be done on a hard copy of the original document that the signatory signed which is either sent in the post or electronically to the witness.
    • It is important to note that the person witnessing the document must be reasonably satisfied that the document signed by the witness is the same document signed by the signatory.
  3. The person witnessing must then state on the document the method of witnessing (either countersigned or counterpart) that was used and that it was witnessed in accordance with the Regulation.
      • For example: “I, attest that this document was signed in counterpart and witnessed by me by audio-visual link via Skype in accordance with clause 2 of Schedule 1 to the Electronic Transactions Regulation 2017”.

These temporary regulation changes will expire on 26 September 2020, unless changed by further regulation or resolution of Parliament.

Leasing Your Garage Space

 

With car spaces at such a premium in the city and inner city, it’s no wonder growing numbers of owners with space to spare are leasing car spaces out to nearby workers or nearby residents short on space of their own.

Especially in commercial districts and properties near train stations where street parking is limited and parking stations are expensive, there is a demand for workers and commuters to have a secure and reliable place to leave their car.

There may also be other people in your complex that would appreciate a little extra storage space beyond their own garage.

What are the implications of leasing out your garage?

Unless your strata scheme has a specific by-law restricting the ability to rent a parking space or garage to a third-party then there’s nothing to prevent you from doing so.

This space is considered part of your lot allocation.

If you’re interested in purchasing a property in a strata scheme with the intention of renting out the garage, always check the by-laws prior to buying the apartment.

However, before embarking on a lease arrangement, it’s important to enlist the aid of a lawyer in drawing up a lease agreement that clarifies both parties’ expectations (in detail).

Houses for rent are governed by the Residential Tenancies Act, which lays down the law for landlords and tenants on everything from who is responsible for repairs and maintenance to grounds for ending a tenancy.

As non-residential spaces, car parks and garages are not covered by the RTA.

What’s the Arrangement?

Private parties effectively enter a commercial leasing arrangement and experts warn that contracts that are light on detail can lead to trouble! So be mindful in the agreement drafting stages.

A part of the process, we’d strongly recommend having the renter sign a detailed Parking Space Lease. This way you’ll have a legally binding document that outlines the terms of the agreement.

If you want to limit access, you could use the lease to specify that the space can only be used during certain times such as business hours or on the weekend. You can also set the time period so that in six months for example, depending on market conditions, you could increase the rent.

It’s important to be mindful that while the renter is on the scheme’s property, you are liable for any damage they may cause to your lot – in the same way that you’re liable for any guests that visits your apartment.

You may consider taking out landlord insurance for peace of mind. Insurance should be addressed up front.

Key issues to address in a lease include defining the exact space for rent, its current condition and the condition in which the property is to be left at the end of the agreement, the duration of the agreement, the mechanism for ending it, the process for resolving problems (such as rent arrears) and the nature of the possession.

Will the tenant have exclusive access, for example, or will the owner be walking through it regularly or using one corner for storage?

It’s also critical to clarify who is responsible for cleaning, maintaining and repairing the space. Unlike a residential tenancy agreement, unless the parties agree on a regime for responsibility, neither party actually has an obligation to do it.

Like the apartment itself, if you are using the garage for storage, you’re welcome to construct free-standing shelving without permission from the Strata Committee. But any structural changes would require prior approval.

Can I lease a Garage out as a Bedroom?

While using the garage for storage or a vehicle is legal, this space cannot be used as a bedroom because it is not deemed to be a “habitable” area. There are serious safety issues with living in a garage and there are Council regulations also.

Furthermore, standard insurance policies held by the Owners Corporation would not include human occupation of the garage.

If you believe that a garage in your scheme is being inhabited, call your Strata Manager who will then contact the owner for further investigation. If needed, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) has the power to intervene and issue an order to the owner.

Winter’s Chill Creates Ideal Mould Environment

 

The strata sector is at risk of increased mould growth as Winter continues to create an environment with heat, condensation (moisture), and reduced ventilation.

What is Mould?

Mould is part of a group of quite common organisms called fungi that also include mushrooms and yeast. It is present virtually everywhere, both indoors and outdoors.

Mould may grow indoors in wet or moist areas lacking adequate ventilation, including walls/ wallpaper, ceilings, bathroom tiles, carpets (especially those with jute backing), insulation material and wood.

If moisture accumulates in a building mould growth will often occur.

Many different types of mould exist and all have the potential to cause health problems.

Who is at Risk?

People with asthma, allergies, or other breathing conditions may be more sensitive to mould. People with weakened immune systems (such as people with HIV infection, cancer patients taking chemotherapy or people who have received an organ transplant) and with chronic lung diseases (such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and emphysema) are more at risk of mould infection particularly in their lungs.

How can I prevent mould from growing in my home?

Although mould can be found almost anywhere, it needs moisture and nutrients to grow. The key to preventing mould growth is reducing dampness in the home.

This can be done by:

Maintaining proper ventilation

  • Turn on exhaust fans, particularly when bathing, showering, cooking, doing laundry and drying clothes.
  • Open windows when weather permits, to improve cross ventilation.

Reduce humidity

  • Limit the use of humidifiers.
  • Limit the number of fish tanks and indoor plants.
  • Limit use of unflued gas heaters

Controlling moisture/dampness

If water enters your home, completely clean and dry water-damaged carpets and building materials. Discard material that cannot be cleaned and dried completely.

What can I to do if I have mould in my home?

It is good to remove mould as soon as it appears. This may take some effort. Remember that mould is likely to return unless you also take steps to treat the cause of the problem

How can I remove mould from my home?

For routine cleanup of mouldy surfaces, Health NSW suggests the use of mild detergent or vinegar diluted in water solution (4 parts vinegar to 1 part water).

  • If the mould is not readily removed and the item cannot be discarded, use diluted bleach solution (250mls of bleach in 4 litres of water) to clean the surface. When using bleach, protective equipment is recommended: PVC or nitrate rubber gloves; safety glasses; and safety shoes. Make sure the area is well-ventilated while you are cleaning with bleach.
  • Ensure the surface is dried completely once cleaned.
  • Absorbent materials, such as carpet may need to be professionally cleaned or replaced if they are contaminated with mould.

Landlords and Tenants:

Mould can cause a state of disrepair at rented premises. This can be the result of a breach of the residential tenancy agreement by the landlord or the tenant (e.g. the landlord fails to attend to dampness or the tenant fails to ventilate the premises).

Tenants must:

  • keep the premises ‘reasonably’ clean
  • tell the landlord about any damage to the premises as soon as possible
  • take reasonable steps to mitigate (limit or avoid) loss

Landlords must:

  • provide the premises reasonably clean and comply with minimum standards to be “fit for habitation”, including having adequate ventilation, plumbing and drainage
  • ensure that the premises are structurally sound, such that floors, ceilings, walls and supporting structures are not subject to significant dampness; and that roof, ceilings and windows do not allow water penetration into the premises keep the premises in ‘reasonable’ repair (except where the disrepair is caused by the tenant breaching the tenancy agreement) mitigate loss.

 

Winter’s Chill Brings Increased Fire Risk

 

Fire and Rescue NSW indicate that cooler months see a 10% increase in the number of home fires, with more fires in bedrooms and living rooms due to heaters and electric blankets.

We are urging all to remain vigilant as the allure of using internal heaters to warm up an apartment remains ever enticing across the state. Due to the colder Winter months and the increased need for internal heating; fires remain a very real threat.

Fire and Rescue NSW  provide a heater and winter months safety fact sheet:

  • Check your electric and gas heaters before you use them. If you suspect a fault have the item checked by a qualified repairer or replace it. Check all cords for fraying and damage. Plug heaters directly into wall sockets only.
  • Do not overload powerboards.
  • Ensure everything is kept a metre from the heater.
  • Install any new heaters and use as per manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Check your portable outdoor heaters before use and have them serviced or replaced if required. Ensure that the area where you plan to use them is level, well ventilated and away from awnings and other combustible materials.
  • Always supervise young children in rooms with open fires or working heaters.
  • Never use wheat bags in bed.

Further, never use any outdoor heating or cooking equipment inside your home including those that use ‘heat beads’ or LPG as a fuel source. This type of equipment is not suitable for indoor use and can lead to a build-up of lethal gases which could be deadly. Always check the manufacturer’s recommendations before use.

We are urging all members to heed these safety recommendations and to take utmost care when heating their apartments, units or townhouses. Particularly in buildings identified as ‘at risk’ of flammable cladding.

ACP cladding remains a real cause for concern with internal heater usage skyrocketing in the Winter months. This is a risk which has the potential to impact the lives of tens of thousands of people in NSW.

There are still hundreds of buildings in NSW that have been identified as being at risk because of flammable cladding. The last thing we want to see is an injury or death, or major damage to a building caused by a catastrophic fire.

Please practise vigilance while heating your homes!

DISPOSING OF GOODS ABANDONED ON COMMON PROPERTY – NEW LAWS

INDUSTRY UPDATE

Disposing of Goods Abandoned on Common Property – New Laws

prepared by Bannermans Lawyers

As from 1 July 2020, new laws apply to disposal of goods abandoned on strata common property. New legislation came into force on that date, amending various acts and effectively transferring regulation of goods abandoned on strata common property from the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 (“SSMA”) to the Uncollected Goods Act 1995 (“Act”).

Key points:

  • The procedures previously available under the SSMA are no longer available.
  • For the purposes of the Act, uncollected goods include goods which an owners corporation reasonably believes have been abandoned or left behind on common property of the strata scheme.
  • A person disposing of goods will have no liability if they have done so in accordance with the Act or an order of the Tribunal.
  • The Act divides goods into various categories and applies different rules for each:
    • Perishable goods and rubbish may be disposed of without restriction.
    • Low value uncollected goods are uncollected goods having a value of less than $1,000. The party in possession of such goods may dispose of them in “an appropriate manner” if they have given the owner written notice of their intention to do so and the owner has been given at least 14 days to collect the goods. They may move or store low value uncollected goods in an appropriate manner.
    • Medium value uncollected goods are uncollected goods having a value of at least $1,000 but less than $20,000. A party in possession of medium value uncollected goods may dispose of them by public auction or private sale for a fair value, if the party in possession of the goods has given the owner written notice of their intention to do so and the owner has been given at least 28 days to collect the goods. They may move or store uncollected goods in an appropriate manner.
    • High value uncollected goods are uncollected goods having a value of at least $20,000. A party in possession of high-value uncollected goods may only dispose of them in accordance with an order of the Tribunal, but may move or store high value uncollected goods in an appropriate manner.
    • Personal documents are defined in the Act and include identity documents, records, photos and memorabilia. A party in possession of personal documents may dispose of them after giving written notice to the owner of their intention to do so and giving the owner at least 28 days to collect them. The party in possession of personal documents must dispose of them by secure destruction or returning them to the owner.
    • Motor vehicles are subject to an additional requirement, being that the party disposing of them must obtain a personal property securities register certificate confirming that they are not encumbered and a police certificate confirming that they are not stolen.
  • A party disposing of uncollected goods must keep appropriate records for at least 12 months in the case of low value uncollected goods and otherwise for six
  • The Tribunal is given power to make an order for disposal of the goods and various ancillary orders.

For more information on the rules to move and dispose of uncollected goods, see the NSW Fair Trading Website