Apartment owner, strata manager groups welcome ACT government reforms

Apartment owners and strata managers have welcomed the ACT government's planned overhaul of rules governing high-rise living, saying the changes are "long overdue".

Planning Minister Mick Gentleman and Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay unveiled the government's strata reform package on Monday, promising a suite of measures to benefit people living and working in Canberra's growing number of apartment and mixed-use developments.

Strata Community Association ACT president Chris Miller, who has welcomed the ACT government's plans to overhaul the rules governing high-rise living. Picture: Jamila Toderas

Strata Community Association ACT president Chris Miller, who has welcomed the ACT government's plans to overhaul the rules governing high-rise living. Picture: Jamila Toderas

In one of the key reforms, the government wants to give developers and owners corporations the freedom to negotiate how strata fees and levies are divided up.

At present, all owners - including households and businesses - pay the same fees, regardless of how often they use their building's utilities and facilities, such as water and lifts.

Strata Community Association ACT president Chris Miller said the "rigid [fee] structure" did not account for the "vastly different needs" of people occupying mixed-used complexes.

Mr Miller said the proposed changes could help reduce the chance of disputes between residents and businesses, which tended to flare amid frustration at the "unequal" distribution of fees, particularly for services such as waste management.

"It is a problem that manifests over a number of years - and it all comes down to equity and fairness," Mr Miller said. "When you have a combination of residents, offices and retail uses, you all have vastly different needs - but the legislation does not suitably accommodate the divergence."

Owners Corporation Network Gary Petherbridge, who said the current process for dividing up strata fees and levies in mixed-use developments is 'clearly unfair'. Picture: Karleen Minney.

Owners Corporation Network Gary Petherbridge, who said the current process for dividing up strata fees and levies in mixed-use developments is 'clearly unfair'. Picture: Karleen Minney.

Mr Miller said the three years it took for the ACT government to refine and release the reform package was "longer than everyone wanted".

But he said Monday's announcement signalled a "lot of positive changes", with his group now eagerly awaiting the reforms to be put to the ACT Legislative Assembly in the coming months.

Owners Corporation Network president Gary Petherbridge, like Mr Miller, welcomed plans to change how strata fees and levies were shared among a building's owners.

Mr Petherbridge said it was "clearly unfair" that residents in mixed-use developments were charged the same fees as commercial owners.

He expected the government's wider reform package would be largely welcomed by owners, but warned they would do little to appease those angry at being "gouged" by sharp residential rate rises.

A key pillar of the reform package, which will be introduced progressively into the Assembly, is the proposed measures to strengthen and make clearer the rights of apartment buyers, particularly those who purchase off the plan.

Under one measure, developers and real estate agents would be required to notify buyers when "significant" amendments were made to proposed developments which they had bought into.

The present lack of such laws had been criticised by Greens planning spokeswoman Caroline Le Couteur, who has questioned the motives of developers who attempt to tweak the design of their proposed developments after they have been approved.

Ms Le Couteur welcomed the reforms unveiled on Monday.

"I am particularly pleased to see the government moving on the 'DA Amendments' loophole, which allows developers to substantially change a development after buyers have already put down a deposit, without the buyers having a say," Ms Le Couteur.

Mr Ramsay said it was important for buyers to be aware of their rights and responsibilities.

"It is very important for people who are .. buying off the plan, to know that the place they have invested in, is the place they receive at the end of the process," Mr Ramsay said.

Urban Development Institute of Australia NSW/ACT chief executive Steve Mann said the industry was supportive of measures to "empower the consumer", but said some flexibility should be encouraged to allow "both parties to manage outcomes".

Mr Mann agreed that buyers should expect their property to be built as promised, but said slight design tweaks were sometimes necessary.