WA set to demolish strata rights: what you need to know about the 'boot-a-granny' bill
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WA set to demolish strata rights: what you need to know about the 'boot-a-granny' bill

Imagine you're in your 80s, you live by yourself in a beachside suburb, you've worked all your life to afford a downsize to this unit overlooking the water.

Getting around is easy. You live close to the shops, the bus stop and the park.

But property speculators have bought up all the other units and want to knock down your small apartment block. They've offered to buy you out, but you're happy. Where you live is perfect, thank you very much.

Too bad for them, right? There's nothing they can do. You bought your own home. And your home is your castle.

Well, not once WA's new strata laws get through parliament.

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The state government's changes to WA's strata laws, which govern every unit and apartment in the state, have been in the pipeline for more than a decade.

The existing legislation has not been reviewed since 1996, but the bureaucracy, along with the property industry and both sides of parliament, have backed the introduction of new laws which are due to hit the upper house in coming weeks.

Owners of strata-titled properties are staring down the barrel of a massive change in the law.

Owners of strata-titled properties are staring down the barrel of a massive change in the law.Credit:WAtoday

Hidden in the 438-page wad of new laws – Deputy Opposition Leader Liza Harvey called it a "veritable phone book" – is a change to how strata schemes are wound up when an owner wants to develop.

As it is now, a strata plan property can only be developed if all the strata owners agree.

That means if a developer or property speculator wants to knock down a strata plan property and build a bigger and better one, they can't unless everyone agrees, or unless they buy up all the lots.

But under the new laws, they can can propose a development and if three quarters of the strata owners think it's a good idea, they can force those against it to sell.

The new laws put the state's power of compulsory acquisition of private property into the hands of developers.

In parliament, the new provisions were referred to as the "boot-a-granny" clause.

Instead of developers being forced to pay a premium to buy up all the lots, they will have the legal power to turf their opponents out onto the street by force.

"If we strip away the veneer on the clauses around the termination of strata title schemes, this bill effectively uses the compulsory acquisition powers of the state to terminate strata titles," Cottesloe MP David Honey told parliament when the legislation came before the lower house.

"In the larger part, that will be for the profit of individuals or a group.

"It will be because groups or individuals perceive they can make a profit."

Planning Minister Rita Saffioti said the new process was more than just a vote.

She said it was instead a "comprehensive, transparent process" in which a strata plan would only be terminated if the process was followed and objecting owners received "fair market value" for their property.

Ms Harvey said the provisions could prevent the abuse of the current laws under which owners of new apartment developments can buy a single unit in a nearby development to ensure it can never be developed, "thereby ensuring that their view can never be blocked".

There would also be protections to look after the vulnerable, such as a three-month wait between the tabling of the proposal and a vote, and the requirement that a development proposal and compulsory acquisition be approved by the State Appeals Tribunal.

It would be astonishing if any member of parliament thoroughly understands the hundreds pages of complex legislation amending the state's strata laws.

But they should pause and think about who is pushing hardest for the changes.

Its supporters include the Property Council of Australia, the Real Estate Institute of WA, Strata Community Australia, Urban Development Institute Australia, Planning Institute Australia, Facilities Management Australia and the Australian Property Institute.

As Dr Honey said in parliament: "The major advocates for this bill overwhelmingly stand to benefit financially from its passage."

Let's hope someone is prepared to advocate for the "grannys" who live in many of the state's 350,000 strata properties and stand to be "booted" under these new laws.

Update: The government's different take on 'boot-a-granny' law

After the publication of the above, the planning minister's office emailed to take exception to our analysis of the new strata laws.

Ms Saffioti's spokesman said the laws did not allow "compulsory acquisition", but were instead a "majority terminations process".

He said the government had done a deal with the opposition to raise the threshold for "terminating" a strata from 75 per cent to 80 per cent of owners. And small strata schemes of fewer than five lots would still need the unanimous agreement of owners for a redevelopment. That's welcome news.

However, the spokesman took particular exception with "the picture painted in the article of an elderly person in their ideal location".

He said there would be protections; for example, if a resident is unable to move due to ill health, the State Appeals Tribunal "is unlikely to allow the proposal to succeed". Of course, the sick resident will still have to go to the tribunal and face off against property developers in order to prove it.

Also, when elderly people are forced out of their strata properties after a "majority terminations process", under the new laws they can receive "like-for-like" compensation instead of a "fair market value" payment.

This means an owner who doesn’t want financial compensation for their lot "can elect to be compensated with a similar property in the same area".

And why the need for all this?

"Without a majority terminations process, 'hold outs' are encouraged, meaning a single owner can essentially hold the other lot owners and the [development] proponent to ransom, demanding exorbitant sums of money for their lot, before the will of all other owners is able to be carried out," the spokesperson said.

Exorbitant sums? Demanded by people who own their own homes? How will property developers ever cope.

Nathan covers state politics for WAtoday. He is a former editor of the Mandurah Mail, where he also covered politics for Fairfax's regional titles.