Buying into a community title

There are particular issues related to buying a community lot. Effectively, you are buying into a corporation and will become a member of the corporation. It is therefore essential that you have as much information as possible about the corporation before you decide to purchase. You may obtain information before you enter into a contract. Alternatively, if you have entered into a contract, you must be provided with certain information at least 10 clear days before the date of settlement under s 7(1) Land and Business (Sale and Conveyancing) Act 1994 (see below).

Obtaining information as a prospective purchaser

As a prospective purchaser, you may apply to the community corporation for a range of information for moderate fees (see Community Corporation: Access to information). Some of the information must be made available as copies, and some must be made available for inspection. Any information requested should be provided within five business days of making the application. The information should enable you to establish the current financial position of the corporation.

Service infrastructure issues for new developments

Both SA Power Networks and SA Water have requirements for the location of connection points for power, water and sewerage. The location of connection points and meter enclosures that service more than one lot may be shown on the community plan, which is available for a fee from the Land Titles Office. However, these details are often not shown. If service infrastructure is not shown on the community plan, agreement must be reached among the lot owners as to the location of the services [s 24(4)(b)], subject to the requirements of the relevant agencies. Even if there is an existing house on one of the lots with connections in place, it may be necessary for new connection points to be established which cater for all lots. To determine requirements for the number and location of connections and meters, visit relevant agency websites (sapowernetworks.com.au; sawater.com.au) or contact the relevant agency.

Core documents

Prospective purchasers of a lot in a community scheme should be aware of three documents that must or may be associated with the community title: the by-laws, scheme description, and development contract. It is also important to note the level of the scheme being bought into. The by-laws, scheme description and development contract of any scheme above also apply to that scheme.

These three documents may be obtained either from the community corporation or the Lands Titles Office, upon payment of the fee under the Regulations.

The by-laws

This is a compulsory document for all schemes. It sets out the obligations of the corporation in administering the scheme and the rules by which the scheme is to be run. Prospective purchasers must be able to inspect or buy a copy of the by-laws.

The scheme description

The scheme description gives the prospective purchaser an overall view of how the scheme is to be developed and the end result. This is an optional document for schemes that contain six lots or less that are used predominantly for residential purposes and do not contain a development lot. This document must be lodged for commercial schemes, irrespective of the number of lots, or if the plan contains a development lot, or if the common property or a lot within the scheme is to be developed in a specific way. Prospective purchasers must be able to inspect or buy a copy of the scheme description.

The development contract

This is a contract entered into by the developer; the developer must complete the scheme in accordance with the scheme description. Prospective purchasers must be able to inspect or buy a copy of the development contract.

Information to be provided when entering into a contract

If you enter a contract to buy a community lot, along with the information that must be provided in relation to any proposed sale of land, the vendor must provide certain information under Land and Business (Sale and Conveyancing) Act 1994 (SA) s 7(1) and Land and Business (Sale and Conveyancing) Regulations 2010 (SA) reg 8. Both general information about community titles and information specific to the community title you are proposing to buy must be provided.

General information

The general information is found in the notice in Land and Business (Sale and Conveyancing) Regulations 2010 (SA) sch 1 div 3, which sets out a range of issues to consider when buying into a strata corporation, as follows.

Matters to be considered in purchasing a community lot or strata unit

The property you are buying is on strata or community title. There are special obligations and restrictions that go with this kind of title. Make sure you understand these. If unsure, seek legal advice before signing a contract. For example:

Governance

You will automatically become a member of the body corporate, which includes all owners and has the job of maintaining the common property and enforcing the rules. Decisions, such as the amount you must pay in levies, will be made by vote of the body corporate. You will need to take part in meetings if you wish to have a say. If outvoted, you will have to live with decisions that you might not agree with.

If you are buying into a mixed use development (one that includes commercial as well as residential lots), owners of some types of lots may be in a position to outvote owners of other types of lots. Make sure you fully understand your voting rights, see later.

Use of your property

You, and anyone who visits or occupies your property, will be bound by rules in the form of articles or by-laws. These can restrict the use of the property, for example, they can deal with keeping pets, car parking, noise, rubbish disposal, short-term letting, upkeep of buildings and so on. Make sure that you have read the articles or by-laws before you decide whether this property will suit you.

Depending on the rules, you might not be permitted to make changes to the exterior of your unit, such as installing a television aerial or an air-conditioner, building a pergola, attaching external blinds etc without the permission of the body corporate. A meeting may be needed before permission can be granted. Permission may be refused.

Note that the articles or by-laws could change between now and when you become the owner: the body corporate might vote to change them. Also, if you are buying before the community plan is registered, then any by-laws you have been shown are just a draft.

Are you buying a debt?

If there are unpaid contributions owing on this property, you can be made to pay them. You are entitled to know the financial state of the body corporate and you should make sure you see its records before deciding whether to buy. As a prospective owner, you can write to the body corporate requiring to see the records, including minutes of meetings, details of assets and liabilities, contributions payable, outstanding or planned expenses and insurance policies.

There is a fee. To make a request, write to the secretary or management committee of the body corporate.

Expenses

The body corporate can require you to maintain your property, even if you do not agree, or can carry out maintenance and bill you for it.

The body corporate can require you to contribute to the cost of upkeep of the common property, even if you do not agree. Consider what future maintenance or repairs might be needed on the property in the long term.

Guarantee

As an owner, you are a guarantor of the liabilities of the body corporate. If it does not pay its debts, you can be called on to do so. Make sure you know what the liabilities are before you decide to buy. Ask the body corporate for copies of the financial records.

Contracts

The body corporate can make contracts. For example, it may engage a body corporate manager to do some or all of its work. It may contract with traders for maintenance work. It might engage a caretaker to look after the property. It might make any other kind of contract to buy services or products for the body corporate. Find out what contracts the body corporate is committed to and the cost.

The body corporate will have to raise funds from the owners to pay the money due under these contracts. As a guarantor, you could be liable if the body corporate owes money under a contract.

Buying off the plan

If you are buying a property that has not been built yet, then you cannot be certain what the end product of the development process will be. If you are buying before a community plan has been deposited, then any proposed development contract, scheme description or by-laws you have been shown could change.

Mixed use developments—voting rights

You may be buying into a group that is run by several different community corporations. This is common in mixed use developments, for example, where a group of apartments is combined with a hotel or a group of shops. If there is more than one corporation, then you should not expect that all lot owners in the group will have equal voting rights. The corporations may be structured so that, even though there are more apartments than shops in the group, the shop-owners can outvote the apartment owners on some matters. Make enquiries so that you understand how many corporations there are and what voting rights you will have.

Further information

The Real Estate Institute of South Australia provides an information service for enquiries about real estate transactions, see www.reisa.com.au .

A free telephone Strata and Community Advice Service is operated by the Legal Services Commission of South Australia: call 1300 366 424. Information and a booklet about strata and community titles is available from the Legal Services Commission at www.lsc.sa.gov.au.

You can also seek advice from a legal practitioner.

Specific information

Information specific to the community corporation and lot you are proposing to buy must be provided by the vendor under Land and Business (Sale and Conveyancing) Regulations 2010 (SA) sch 1 div 2:

  • particulars of contributions payable in relation to the lot, including details of arrears of contributions related to the lot
  • particulars of the assets and liabilities of the community corporation
  • particulars of expenditure that the community corporation has incurred, or has resolved to incur, and to which the owner of the lot must contribute, or is likely to be required to contribute
  • if the lot is a development lot, particulars of the scheme description relating to the development lot and particulars of the obligations of the owner of the development lot under the development contract
  • if the lot is a community lot, particulars of the lot entitlement of the lot.

The following documents should also be provided:

  • a copy of the minutes of the general meetings of the community corporation and management committee for the preceding two years or since the deposit of the community plan (whichever is the lesser)
  • a copy of the statement of accounts of the community corporation last prepared
  • a copy of current policies of insurance taken out by the community corporation
  • a copy of the scheme description (if any) and the development contract (if any) – these documents may be obtained from the community corporation or the Lands Titles Registration Office
  • a copy of the by-laws of the community scheme - copies of the by-laws may also be obtained from either the corporation or the Lands Titles Registration Office.

Note that if the vendor has no agent but the purchaser has an agent, the purchaser’s agent must apply to the community corporation for the information [Land and Business (Sale and Conveyancing) Act 1994 (SA) s 9(2)].

Buying into a community title  :  Last Revised: Fri Nov 7th 2014
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.
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