No one likes to pay out extra fees unnecessarily, but while strata fees may initially seem like an extra expense they actually offer plenty of benefits to unit owners. If you own an apartment in The Hills District, you’ll soon see how robust strata fees help with good management.
Like taxes – where your money goes to help fund schools, roads and hospitals – strata fees have a bad rep but help apartment owners considerably, whether they’re living in their unit themselves or they’ve purchased it as an investment property. These fees are normally for one building, but in some cases, they can cover a group of buildings with owners of each apartment chipping into a mutual fund.
How much the fees are, when they’re due (monthly vs quarterly) and what exactly they cover vary from property to property. Generally, there will be an annual general meeting where these things are set by the body corporate, letting you know how much and how often you have to pay.
Although there are variances across the country, put simply, there are three main areas that your strata levies are being spent: ongoing costs, sinking fund and admin fees.
One of the most noticeable things a strata company will arrange for is ongoing upkeep of a block of apartments. Without proper maintenance and care, the property would quickly look unappealing, lose appeal to tenants and pose health risks.
Maintenance includes jobs like garden maintenance, pest extermination, cleaning communal areas and making ongoing repairs, such as replacing light bulbs or fixing windows. Depending on the property, other communal facilities like lifts, gyms and swimming pools will also have their upkeep covered in these fees. Other shared costs like electricity bills for lights in hallways are also paid for from this pot.
While this is a nice touch for people living in the building, it’s a great way to ease the load of a landlord and also to improve the appeal of a property when you’re looking for tenants.
Of course, not all costs have to be covered by the strata company. Just as private homeowners take out building insurance to cover any major damage, strata companies do the same for their properties. This is a fee that any unit owner would have any way, and often by clubbing together to get a quote, you can end up getting a better deal.
The sinking fund
A certain percentage of your strata fees goes into what’s known as a sinking fund, which is essentially the body corporate saving away for a rainy day. By setting aside a bit of money, there’s always a bit of cash on hand to pay for expected but sporadic costs.
Although it’s tempting to have a low amount in a sinking fund, this is risky.
This may be used for something related to safety like repairing locks or it might be spent on improvements like installing new carpets or repainting walls.
The rate for how much should be saved and when it can be spent will be decided at the AGM.
Although it can be tempting to have a low amount in a sinking fund, this is a risky manoeuvre as property owners may have to cough up a lot in the case of emergency. If an extra expense pops up that there isn’t enough money in the kitty to cover, such as an expensive job like roof repair, you may be asked to pay special levies to help cover costs. This will be decided at an EGM (Extraordinary General Meeting) and will only ever be done for jobs that are deemed vital.
Trying to organise a block of people to work together to maintain a building is a near impossible task. To make sure everything runs smoothly – making sure companies are hired for upkeep, that insurance is paid on time and that repairs are seen to – there needs to be someone who looks after all these tasks, and they need some money for their time. Whether that’s one person or a whole team depends on factors like the size of your property, but these people need to be paid either way.
Although this makes things a little more expensive, it ensures that you get a high-quality service and that jobs get carried out in a timely manner. Not only does a strata fee cover these costs, it also saves you time finding companies, getting quotes and organising work to be done.
As well as setting, collecting and spending strata fees, the body corporate has a number of other duties to attend to. They are responsible for creating rules and making sure people living in the building stick to them, and you need to be aware of these whether you live in your unit or if you’re renting it out.
All property owners are eligible to attend the body corporate’s AGM to join the discussion.
These rules can be common queries such as if pets are allowed in the building, they can cover the external appearance of the units or whether people can work from home. Some of these rules have knock-on effects for owners too. For example, if the look of a unit has to fit in with guidelines, you will need to get permission if you want to install different windows, change the look of a balcony or anything that changes the appearance from the outside. You may be granted approval, but you may also have your application turned down.
All property owners are eligible to attend the body corporate’s AGM to join the discussion on strata fees and if you, or a representative, wants to get more involved it’s possible to join the executive committee.
The bottom line
If you own a unit in such a building in The Hills District then you are legally obliged to pay your strata levies. If you can’t afford to pay, there are often procedures in place to help, but if you don’t follow the correct steps you may have to pay late fees. In the worst case scenario, you could be taken to court where it might be decided that you legally have to give a certain percentage of your wages or rental income to the body corporate.
If you need more information about investment property and strata fees in Castle Hill, Baulkham Hills or Kellyville, get in touch with us at Stone. We’re experts at this!
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