Body corporate reforms aimed at prohibiting smokers and making life easier for pet owners living in units, strike the right balance according to the Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ).
Under the changes, Queensland body corporates will be able to make by-laws to prohibit smoking (including vapes) in outdoor areas and communal areas of strata communities.
They will also be unable to make blanket pet bans, enhance the ability for body corporates to tow vehicles from common property and reduce the consensus for scheme termination from unanimous to 75 per cent of lot owners.
However, changes to sunset clauses for off-the-plan developers continue to be a controversial topic.
REIQ Chief Executive Officer Antonia Mercorella said overall the reforms would help modernise apartment and unit living.
“The REIQ certainly supports the viewpoint that quiet enjoyment of people’s homes is a right that should be upheld and not restricted as much as possible,” Ms Mercorella said.
“However, we recognise that due to the nature of sharing a title and being in close quarters, there needs to be laws that govern communities with clarity and necessary protections to keep everyone within them safe.
“As our population grows, living in apartments and units is becoming more common place, and it’s important to ensure our laws keep pace with changing community standards and expectations, and are balanced so that this lifestyle remains attractive in our state.”
Ms Mercorella said the ability for body corporates to self-regulate and potentially prohibit smoking in outdoor areas such as balconies, courtyards, patios and verandas had attracted a high level of debate.
“When moving into a unit or apartment complex, people generally go in eyes-wide-open and understand that there are certain limits that apply to common use areas,” she said.
“However, many of us agree that ‘my home is my castle’ and that you should be able to live the life you want to live when you’re in the boundaries of your own home.
“Of course, the challenge comes with the fact that when you live in an apartment or a unit, your activity can also have an impact on others who live very close by – which is the case with smoke drift and second-hand smoke risk.”
Ms Mercorella said legislative reform to prevent body corporates from banning pets, except in specific circumstances, had been another controversial topic in body corporate schemes.
“Historically, it’s not uncommon to see body corporate bylaws with a blanket pet prohibition that says ‘no pets allowed’, and time and time again we have seen those bans being overturned,” Ms Mercorella said.
“We know pets are an extension of our families in many cases and the mental health benefits of having pets has been widely reported, so this reform will come as welcome news to many.
“However, it’s the REIQ’s view that there’s a missed opportunity to align this legislation to the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act regarding the timeframe for a decision in relation to a pet request – any inconsistency will likely impact lot owners that rent their properties on the residential rental housing market.”
Under the latest reforms, there will also be changes to the way developers are able to terminate a sales contract for an ‘off-the-plan’ land purchase if it was not settled within a stated time period.
The new laws limit when property developers can invoke these clauses to help enhance buyer confidence and protections.
Under the new changes, a sunset clause can be invoked by a developer to terminate ‘off-the-plan’ contracts for land with the written consent of the buyer, under an order of the Supreme Court, or in another situation prescribed by regulation.
The sunset clause amendments will apply to new ‘off-the-plan’ contracts for the sale of land, as well as contracts that have not yet settled.
The new laws will also allow termination of a community titles scheme with the support of 75 per cent of lot owners, where the body corporate has agreed it is not economically viable for lot owners to continue to maintain or repair the scheme.
Attorney-General and Minister for Justice and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, Yvette D’Ath said the reforms will help give buyers more confidence.
“With rising property prices, it was worrying to hear reports of Queenslanders left out of pocket and without the land they wanted to purchase because of developers invoking a sunset clause,” Ms D’Ath said.
“The new limitations on the use of these clauses will give certainty to Queenslanders when purchasing land under an ‘off-the-plan’ contract.”
Ms Mercorella said the REIQ had some concerns around the changes to sunset clauses.
“It is our view that the proposed provisions, albeit offering strong consumer protection, may lack consideration for the commercial challenges faced by developers in providing housing,” she said.
“We appreciate that in what has been an unprecedented, extraordinary market period, that there have been some reports of developers pulling the pin on developments and leaving buyers to start again.
“However, our concern is that this now legislates an outlier issue which is not prevalent or evident in today’s market now that we’ve returned to ‘normality’, and under normal circumstances these clauses are needed for developers to avoid bankruptcy on unfeasible projects.”