Canberra apartment owners have been left powerless to stop neighbours turning their parking spaces into makeshift workshops because of a gap in the ACT's laws, a leading strata lawyer has said.
Strata lawyer Chris Kerin has published a new book which highlights the flaws in the laws governing the territory's multi-unit dwellings.
Fifteen per cent of Canberrans lived in an apartment or flat at the time of the 2016 Census, with apartments now accounting for about one in six households in the ACT.
In the decade to 2011, nearly 60 per cent of the properties added to the ACT's housing stock were medium or high density.
The ACT recently moved to plug a gap in the law that will allow buildings greater than three storeys to be covered by statutory warranties.
That entitles residents to residential building insurance should there be major defects and the builder is dead, disappeared or insolvent.
But other strata law reform has lagged.
In 2016, planning minister Mick Gentleman flagged changes that could see residents who share their building with businesses or hotels pay a fairer share of maintenance fees.
Those changes are yet to materialise.
Mr Kerin said Canberra's strata laws had not kept pace with the rate of growth in high and medium density housing.
"One of the problems is Canberra is small so typically what happens is there aren't as many people looking at the situation at any one time.
"In NSW, there are 70,000 owners corporations and a very active tribunal that's always handing down decisions so legislation is amended more often and more significantly.
"There's around 4000 owners corporations in Canberra. Things are managed better in SW because a lot more people are thinking about these things."
NSW residents, for example, can pass bylaws to control what happens on lot property. In the ACT, these rules can only apply to common property.
This issue came to a head in a case that came before ACAT this year, Mr Kerin said.
A tenant living in a block of units set up a carpentry workshop in their parking space, where the noise and dust annoyed other residents.
The owners corporation issued the tenant with an infringement notice as the activity allegedly breached one of the rules of the complex.
The owners corporation sought an order from ACAT to force the owner of the unit to pay a fine and to have the tenant remove the workshop.
The tribunal found the owners corporation did not have the power to make rules about the use of car spaces, as they are considered part of private property.
"The reason the ACT has taken that view is people believe owners corporations shouldn't make rules abut how people can use their units but this creates problems in ways people hadn't thought of, like in this case," Mr Kerin said.
"Sometimes you need to pass a rule on lot property and the ACT doesn't allow it and it really should."
The ACT is also dragging behind other jurisdictions on the amount of residential building insurance paid to unit title holders.
In the ACT, residents receive $85,000 if the builder is found to have breached their statutory warranty - a last resort mechanism to help pay for major building defects.
"Nationally that's very low," Mr Kerin said.
While $85,000 per unit adds up to millions of dollars in large apartment blocks, smaller complexes and detached houses find the money does not come close to covering the damage.
Mr Kerin cited a case in Canberra where a slab of a house was built below the water table, leading to widespread damage.
"That meant they had to take down the whole house but $85,000 was not adequate to do it," Mr Kerin said.
In NSW, residents receive about $340,000.
The insurance coverage period also falls about a year short of the six-year statutory warranty period, meaning there was a gap in coverage.
Mr Kerin said strata law was increasingly complex and affecting more and more people.
"People research a television purchase more closely than an apartment," Mr Kerin said.
"People think 'we can put someone on the moon, we can build apartments that don't leak.
"I think there's a blind spot around these apartment buildings and how poorly they're built."
Chris Kerin's 'Guide to ACT Strata Law' is available for $49.99 at kerinbensonlawyers.com.au/shop/
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