Strata buildings are set to get the sustainability upgrades; however, according to Christine Byrne, Green Strata president, cost and regulatory barriers are stopping these upgrades. She said that the lack of action on these issues means that Australian apartment owners are unable to invest into sustainability upgrades that could save them a lot of money.

Meanwhile, Byrne said, rooftops solar panels have become affordable for the medium and high-rise buildings and townhouses. Furthermore, the importance of sustainability upgrades was boosted by the NABERS for Apartment Buildings, which was released in 2018.

She believes that the time is right for the changes to happen. She finds that the governments don’t fully understand strata, which is holding back the sustainability upgrades. The incentives from the government are given only to the houses, while apartments are out of governments focus.

She feels that strata buildings are often seen as fifty houses stacked one on top of another, while the reality is entirely different. Owning an apartment in strata buildings is in the form of airspace, which means that nothing on those boundaries can be changed because it is outside of what the buyer owns. That space is considered to be common property, and because of that nothing can be changed without the owner’s consent. The problem is that those common areas include lifts, pool pumps and ventilation systems which can use up to 60 per cent of the entire energy consumption.

A change is going to come

One sure way to make it easier to get approval for sustainability upgrades is to lower voting thresholds – from 75 per cent to 50 per cent majority. According to Chris Duggan, NSW President of Strata Community Association, many states are already considering this option.

Strata structural reforms to boost sustainability upgrades already happened in ACT, while Western Australia recently changed its legislation to allow lowering voting threshold to 50 per cent. Duggan believes that Victoria is next in line to lower voting threshold, while Queensland will go through corporate reform in the coming years.

The re-elected Premier in NSW government, Gladys Berejiklian and energy minister Don Harwin, said that the government is going to change laws to help strata communities get support from owners to install battery storage, solar panels and electric vehicle charging points.

Duggan believes that other states are most likely going to implement the same changes. For him, this means that the governments are starting to fix some of the issues. However, he still thinks that broader structural reforms are needed.

Lowering voting thresholds is not going to solve all issues magically

Byrne says that even though any action toward improving strata laws to help implement sustainability features is welcome, there are still some misconceptions on how this voting works. For her, lowering voting thresholds will not magically solve everything.

She explained that the reality is that you don’t need 75 per cent of all owners to vote. Instead the percentage is applied only on those owners who are present at the meeting where a quorum has been declared. This can often be much less than 75 per cent. She believes that lowering the threshold to 50 per cent will make a difference in some cases.

What is slowing down the sustainability upgrades?

In low rise apartments, roof and apartments are closer, which enables their owners to connect them and use for their energy needs. Byrne stated that a lot of people are trying to do this, but the process is quite long and expensive. One of the problems is that a bylaw is required, and the owner has to cover the fees. Along with that, there is the cost of an extraordinary general meeting, which can increase the overall cost up to $2000 per project.

Someone even votes against solar panels

In some cases, some owners voted against solar panels, because they don’t like how they look. Byrnes said that this just isn’t fair, especially when it is straightforward to install solar panels on houses.

For Byrnes, two simple changes to strata laws could make it easier for all owners who want to invest in sustainability upgrades. First is not to allow owners to vote against sustainable upgrades just based on appearance, and second is to make standard bylaws available.

In the past, there were some actions to make standard bylaws available, but this is still far from happening.