Cosmetic vs Minor vs Major Renovations: Understanding Renovation Types in Strata Properties

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Embarking on renovations within New South Wales strata properties requires a comprehensive understanding of the various types of renovations permissible under strata laws. This is an essential guide aimed at shedding light on the complexities involved in these processes. This article explores the intricacies of cosmetic works, minor updates, and major structural changes, each governed by specific regulations and guidelines. Whether you’re looking to add personal flair to your apartment or planning significant structural modifications, this guide provides valuable insights to help property owners make informed decisions and ensure their renovations adhere to the relevant strata schemes and strata approval requirements.

Table of Contents

Understanding Cosmetic Works

In New South Wales, owners within strata schemes have the flexibility to undertake cosmetic work on their apartments, duplexes, or properties without the need for prior approval. This freedom is essential for residents to personalise their living spaces according to their preferences, while ensuring the structural and aesthetic integrity of the property is upheld.

Cosmetic work typically includes modifications or changes that do not impact the structural integrity or external appearance of the property and do not involve waterproofing. This category encompasses a variety of interior modifications, offering property owners considerable flexibility and autonomy.

Examples of cosmetic work include the installation or replacement of functional fixtures like hooks, nails, screws, and handrails, as well as aesthetic enhancements such as blinds, curtains, or built-in wardrobes. Painting the interior of the property is also a common form of cosmetic work, allowing owners to customise the look and feel of their living spaces. Other forms of cosmetic work include filling minor holes and cracks in internal walls, which is important for maintaining the appearance and structural integrity of the property, and laying carpet, providing an opportunity for owners to choose flooring that suits their personal style.

However, it is important for property owners to note that specific strata schemes may have their own definitions of what constitutes cosmetic work. Therefore, it is advisable to review the by-laws of one’s particular strata scheme to fully understand what types of work are permissible without approval. Adhering to these regulations ensures that any modifications are in line with the strata scheme’s guidelines, fostering a cohesive and harmonious living environment for all residents.

Best Practices for Cosmetic Works

When undertaking cosmetic works in a strata property, it’s important to adhere to best practices not only for compliance with strata regulations but also to maintain a harmonious community environment. Here are some key guidelines to consider:

  • Documentation: Keeping detailed records of any changes made is crucial. This includes retaining receipts and maintaining a clear description of the work carried out. Such documentation is invaluable in case of disputes or queries about the changes, serving as a transparent and accountable record of your modifications.
  • Communication: While approval might not be necessary for cosmetic works, it’s good practice to inform your strata manager or committee about your intended changes. This communication fosters a sense of community and ensures that the management is aware of the changes, allowing them to proactively address any potential concerns.
  • Professional Assistance: For significant cosmetic alterations, consider hiring professional contractors or tradespeople. This ensures that the work is completed to a high standard and in compliance with building codes and standards. Professional input can prevent inadvertent damage or issues that might arise from DIY projects.
  • Community Harmony: Ensure that your cosmetic changes align with the overall aesthetic and standards of the strata scheme. It’s important that your modifications do not disrupt the visual harmony or ambiance of the community. Respecting the collective environment is key in maintaining good relationships with neighbors and preserving the integrity of the property.

By adhering to these best practices, you can effectively and responsibly make cosmetic changes to your property, enhancing your living space while respecting the norms and harmony of your strata community.

Types of Renovations: Understanding Minor Renovations

Section 110 of the Strata Schemes Management Act provides a clear framework for conducting minor renovation within a strata scheme. Unlike cosmetic works, minor and major renovations require approvals, depending upon the type of renovation involved. For lot owners, understanding and adhering to these guidelines is essential to ensure that their renovations are lawful and align with the strata community’s standards.

Minor renovations include the following:

  • Kitchen Renovations: This includes updates to kitchen fixtures, cabinetry, and appliances.
  • Lighting Upgrades: Changing or upgrading recessed light fittings falls under minor renovations.
  • Flooring Installations: Installing or replacing wood or other hard flooring materials is considered a minor renovation.
  • Electrical and Cabling Work: This encompasses installing or replacing wiring, cabling, power points, or access points.
  • Reconfiguring Walls: Alterations that change the layout of the lot by moving walls.
  • Sustainability Enhancements: Installation or replacement of items like rainwater tanks, clotheslines, air conditioners, windows, heat pumps, and ceiling insulation.
  • Additional Works: Other works as prescribed by regulations or specific to strata by-laws.
  • Minor renovations do not include:
  • Cosmetic Work: These are superficial changes that do not impact the structure or functionality.
  • Structural Changes: Alterations affecting the building’s structural integrity are not considered minor renovations.
  • External Appearance Alterations: Changes that alter the external appearance of a lot.
  • Waterproofing Work: Renovations involving waterproofing, like installation of a new toilet or bathtub, are excluded from minor renovations.
  • Work Requiring Other Approvals: Renovations that need consent under other laws are not included within the ambit of minor renovations.
  • Work Covered by Specific By-Laws: Work already authorised by specific strata by-laws as cosmetic work or major renovation is automatically excluded from the purview of minor renovations.

Hence, it is crucial to refer to and understand your strata by-laws before undertaking any renovation projects.

Before undertaking minor renovations, strata owners are required to take approval from the owners corporation or strata management empowered in this regard. This process comprises of the following:

  • Initiation by Owner: The owner must seek approval from the owners corporation, typically via submitting a motion at a general meeting.
  • Voting Requirement: Approval requires more than 50% of the votes cast in favour. A special resolution is not necessary.
  • Conditions and Transparency: The owners corporation can impose reasonable conditions on the approval. The owner must provide detailed written notice of the proposed renovations, including specifics of the work, duration, personnel involved, and waste management plans.

To understand the approval process and requirements in full, please read our detailed article here. By adhering to appropriate approval process, lot owners can ensure that their minor renovations are conducted smoothly, legally, and in a manner that respects and maintains the harmony of the strata community.

Types of Renovations: Understanding Major Renovations

Major renovations within a strata scheme, though not explicitly defined in the Strata Schemes Management Act, typically refer to extensive modifications that significantly impact the property’s structure and framework. Due to their potential effects on common property and the overall integrity of the building, these renovations require a stringent approval process, often involving the entire owners corporation. Major renovations are characterised by:

  • Structural and Exterior Impact: These renovations might include altering load-bearing walls, expanding balconies, or reconfiguring layouts, which affect the building’s structure. Changes that significantly alter the building’s external appearance or structural integrity, like modifications to the facade, roof, or windows, are also considered major renovations.
  • Waterproofing Changes: Comprehensive renovations involving plumbing system replacements, electrical rewiring, or the installation of additional outlets, especially in bathrooms and kitchens, fall under this category.
  • Ceiling Alterations: Any structural or aesthetic modifications to ceilings are regarded as major renovations.
  • Compliance with Other Laws: Renovations that require approval under other laws, such as council approvals, are categorised as major.
  • Fire Safety, Cladding, and Insulation: Modifications in these areas are significant and are treated as major renovations.
  • Installation of Amenities: Adding new amenities like pools or gyms requires substantial planning and is classified under major renovations.

Major renovations necessitate approvals and legal compliances. Below is a brief summary of the broad requirements for undertaking major renovations:

  • Owners Corporation Approval: Major renovations typically require a special resolution vote at a general meeting of the owners corporation. The work is approved if no more than 25% of the votes cast are against it.
  • Written Notice Requirement: A 14-day written notice is necessary for structural changes, detailing the renovation’s impact on the property’s structure.
  • Contractor Licensing: It’s crucial to engage building contractors or tradespeople with valid licenses.
  • Consequences of Unapproved Work: Undertaking major renovations without approval may lead to the requirement of restoring the property to its original state at the owner’s expense.
  • Maintenance and Repair Responsibility: If the owner is responsible for post-renovation maintenance and repairs, a new bylaw authorising the project and establishing this responsibility is required.

We have covered the approval process and requirements in our detailed article [here]. Adhering to these guidelines is essential to ensure the structural integrity of the property, maintain legal compliance, and preserve harmony within the strata community, especially when undertaking major renovations.

Stocker vs The Owners: Why is obtaining proper approval important?

The case of Stocker vs The Owners – Strata Plan No. 6622 is a pivotal example in the context of strata renovations, highlighting the complexities and potential disputes that can arise from not obtaining proper approvals. In this case, Mr. Hartley undertook significant alterations to a wall in his unit back in 2011, including the removal of bricks and installation of sound insulation and a bookcase, without the necessary approval from the Owners Corporation. This action set the stage for future legal disputes, emphasising the importance of following due process in strata schemes.

The situation escalated when the Owners Corporation retrospectively approved Mr. Hartley’s alterations in 2021 through an ordinary resolution, despite concerns raised by another lot owner, Mr. Stocker. Mr. Stocker’s subsequent legal challenge, seeking to revert the common property to its original state and questioning the nature of the required approval, underscores the complexities involved in strata management. The Tribunal’s involvement in this case brought several key aspects to light. It determined that Mr. Stocker did not have the standing to seek the order under section 132 of the SSMA 2015 and classified the renovations as minor, requiring only an ordinary resolution. This classification is crucial as it differentiates the renovations from cosmetic works, which are excluded from the Act. Additionally, the Tribunal’s decision not to order Mr. Hartley’s removal from the strata committee, acknowledging his efforts to address concerns, reflects the nuanced considerations in such disputes.

This case serves as a critical reminder of the importance of obtaining the correct approvals for renovations in a strata scheme. It highlights the need for lot owners to either consult with their strata manager or seek legal advice to understand the specific approvals required for their intended works. Moreover, it emphasises the importance of adhering to the guidelines set out in the SSMA 2015 to prevent future legal complications and ensure harmonious living within the strata community. The case of Stocker v The Owners – Strata Plan No. 6622 illustrates the potential complexities and the critical need for compliance with strata regulations when carrying out renovations, serving as a cautionary tale for lot owners in strata schemes.

Key Takeaways

Understanding the distinctions between cosmetic, minor, and major renovations in New South Wales strata properties is essential for any property owner planning to make changes to their space. This guide has explored each category of renovation, highlighting the importance of adhering to specific strata regulations and legal requirements. With this comprehensive knowledge, owners can confidently proceed with their renovation projects, ensuring they align with both legal standards and the expectations of their strata community.

For those in need of specialised advice or legal assistance with their strata renovation projects, our law firm is ready to provide expert support. At PBL Law Group, our expertise in NSW strata law enables us to offer customised guidance, ensuring your renovation projects are not only visually pleasing but also compliant with legal obligations and reflective of your strata community’s values. Contact us today for personalised assistance and embark on your renovation journey with confidence and legal clarity.


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Raea Khan Circle
Director Lawyer
Raea Khan

Raea is Managing Director and Principal Lawyer for PBl Law Group. Raea assists clients with major projects, property developments, construction and strata law.

He has worked in Western Australia and Queensland assisting with expansion projects in the energy and resource sector and now predominately advises clients in Strata and Community Association matters.

He is a member of the Australian College of Strata Lawyers where majority of his work is advising developers and owners corporations with dispute related minor and major defects, strata governance and common property litigation. He is proficient at leading negotiations and meetings.

Raea has a particular interest in the commercial aspect of any dispute and always tries to weigh up the risk, reward and benefit of legal proceedings at each different stage.

Raea enjoys all forms of competitive sport, including Crossfit and actively participates in Triathlons, representing Australia as an age group athlete. He was a member of Red Head Surf Lifesaving club.

  • Strata Law
  • Construction & Major Projects
  • Commercial and Business Law
  • Planning & Environment Law