The Unit Titles Bill (‘the Bill’) was introduced to Parliament on 5 March 2009 and if passed into law will repeal and replace the Unit Titles Act 1972 (‘the Act’). The Act governs multi-unit developments such as apartment blocks, townhouses, and office buildings. The Act was not designed to deal with the complex, large scale developments of the present day and the Bill goes a long way to revamp the badly outdated legislation.
One major change to the Act will be the specific disclosure requirements for vendors and developers of unit title properties. Vendors especially will need to be aware of the proposed disclosure requirements as it is mandatory for them to provide disclosure statements to a purchaser on the following occasions:
- before a Sale and Purchase Agreement is signed
- 5 working days before settlement
- at any time before settlement if the purchaser requests
Vendors need to be aware that if a disclosure statement is not provided to the purchaser within the specified timeframe then the purchaser may be able to defer settlement or even elect to cancel the contract. Vendors will also need to be careful to provide purchasers with accurate information as purchasers will be entitled to rely (in a legal sense) on that information.
Developers will be required to provide the body corporate with disclosure statements dealing with the construction systems of the buildings and their compliance with the Building Act.
Another major change is the move from the need for a unanimous resolution of the members of the body corporate to a 75% majority. The purpose for this change was to prevent voting on important matters from being blocked by one unit owner.
The common property of unit titles will now be owned by the body corporate. Presently common property is owned by the unit owners as tenants in common. It is proposed however that unit owners should still have a beneficial interest in the common property.
The body corporate will be required to make a long-term maintenance plan which must include expected maintenance requirements for the following 10 years, an estimate of costs involved with those maintenance works, and the basis for levying the costs from the unit owners.
The Act is very inflexible regarding unit entitlements which determine voting rights and how much unit owners contribute towards body corporate costs. The Bill seeks to address this by separating unit entitlements into two elements:
- ownership interest – which is determined by the value of the unit
- utility interest – which is determined by the extent to which the unit owner uses the shared facilities and services
Another major change is the way in which disputes under the Act are dealt with. Under the Bill any disputes will be referred in the first instance to mediation and then adjudication through the Tenancy Tribunal. Disputes were previously resolved solely through the courts.
As apartments and townhouses become a preferred style of living in the modern world, having a knowledge of unit owners’ rights and obligations under the Act is necessary. After the Bill is passed, all existing unit titles and bodies corporate will have 15 months to bring themselves in line with the provisions of the new Act.