High density unit living

30 Aug 2021

Apartment and body corporate living has its own challenges and rewards. Living in close proximity to others calls for greater consideration and sensitivity, but being part of a tight-knit community can be greatly rewarding. 

In this week’s episode of the Talking Tenancies podcast, we discuss high density unit living with Sarah Halligan and Andison Lai and what you need to consider when renting a unit, apartment or townhouse in a complex.

Rental law changes around ending tenancies, renting with pets and the introduction of repair orders commenced on 1 October 2022.


Host: Belinda Heit – Communication and Education – RTA  

Guest 1: Sarah Halligan – Customer Experience – RTA 

Guest 2: Anderson Lai – Customer Experience – RTA 

Host: Welcome to the Talking Tenancies podcast, brought to you by the Residential Tenancies Authority. I’m your host, Belinda Heit. Join me as we explore everything you need to know about renting in Queensland, with experts from the RTA and industry. We're here to help make renting work for everyone.    

Apartment and body corporate living has its own challenges and rewards. Living in close proximity to others calls for greater consideration and sensitivity, but being part of a tight knit community can be greatly rewarding. Today's experts from the RTA are Sarah Halligan and Anderson Lai from Customer Experience. Welcome to you both. 

Guest 1: Thank you. 

Guest 2: Thanks. 

Host: Now, can you tell us about your roles at the RTA and what you're responsible for? 

Guest 1: I'm a Senior Support Officer at the RTA. I work with the Support Team in Customer Experience to help resolve escalated customer enquiries, handle complaints and alleged fraud, and provide subject matter expertise across service delivery systems and processes. 

Guest 2: I am also a Senior Support Officer within the Support Team in Customer Experience. As Sarah’s mentioned, we generally support customers with additional more complex enquiries, and handle any escalations and complaints in our day-to-day duties. 

Host: And you're both very busy, so thank you for joining us today. Now, today we're talking about high density unit living. What are some of the things you need to consider if you're looking at renting an apartment, townhouse, or unit in a large complex? 

Guest 1: First of all, for any rental application processed, whether it's a house or townhouse, apartment or unit, it's really important to read through and understand the lease along with the terms and conditions that apply to that rental property. It is common when renting a townhouse or unit that it is a large complex, that there are also body corporate by-laws that occupants need to abide by. These by-laws are in addition to the terms and conditions outlined in the general tenancy agreement. This means that there are more rules to follow. As a prospective tenant, you should be provided a copy of the general tenancy agreement, along with the relevant body corporate by-laws. 

It is the responsibility of the lessor/agent to be aware of them, to pass them on, and it is actually an offense not to do so. Not having a copy of all the rules means you could breach your agreement unknowingly. 

Host: There’s nothing worse is there? 

Guest 1: So, another consideration is whether the type of living suits your needs as well. You will be in close proximity to your neighbours, you might even share a wall with them. Some units or apartments may not have a dedicated balcony or outdoor space, and instead they have shared facilities within the complex for occupants to enjoy. Some by-laws may govern the size and type of pets allowed and outline the water and utility supplies preselected for the complex. Use of common areas, parking arrangements or guest rules is another one, so it's really crucial you consider every aspect seriously before you sign the tenancy agreement to see that it really suits your needs. 

Host: Yeah there’s so much to consider, isn’t there, when it comes to getting into one of these agreements. 

Guest 1: Absolutely, and sometimes you could even find a copy of the by-laws on the website or the complex’s on-site management agency. Or, by all means, if you haven't been given a copy, just ask for one. 

Host: So, it's really important to get across those before you sign the agreement, because you could be in for all sorts of things. 

Guest 1: Oh, you want to know what you're getting! 

Host: So, can tenants within the same complex have different tenancy agreements, special terms and conditions, and what are the impacts of this? 

Guest 2: Yeah, tenants can absolutely have a different tenancy agreement even compared to their next-door neighbour who can be in a very similar unit. You could have variations in your agreements such as rent amounts to managing party whether it's landlords themselves, the on-site managers, or a property manager from an external agency. The way you are charged for utilities and water, the contact for emergency repairs, inclusions of the premises and the special terms around maintenance, and if pets are allowed, just to name a few. These variations mean it's important to understand the details of their specific tenancy agreements and by-laws, to ensure they know exactly what they're signing up for and understand your neighbours may have gotten a different deal or arrangement. By going through these by-laws before signing the lease agreement, it gives you an opportunity to discuss any concerns or questions you may have. 

Host: And I guess it's really important to note there as well, that can impact disputes, particularly between tenants. And I think we need to be clear here that the RTA doesn't handle those kinds of disputes between tenants. 

Guest 2: Correct, exactly right. 

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Host: Right, now it can get complicated sometimes between having a body corporate manager, who are generally on site, and a managing party who is not, who are both responsible for managing your tenancy, right? 

Guest 1: It can get a little complex. Generally speaking, the tenant will mainly liaise and communicate with the managing party they have entered into the tenancy agreement with. Whether that is the landlord, a real estate agent appointed by the landlord, or the appointed on-site manager, that's the person to speak to. Because of the by-laws or body corporate living arrangements, some items and inclusions of the rental premises will be the responsibility of the body corporate—and need additional approval—as well as your landlords, to be altered, replaced or added. 

So, some of these items may include our front door locks, a lot of times the doors are the responsibility of the body corporate. The same goes for fobs or swipes for garage access or access to communal facilities; balcony screening for privacy; plants or laundry drying racks on balconies—these items can be considered part of the external appearance of the complex. I have had enquiries where a tenant put up bamboo screens on their balcony to have a bit more privacy, however was not aware that it was actually in breach of the by-laws. 

Host: Oh really? 

Guest 1: Yeah, so something to consider. Standalone storage units in the garage or parking spaces is another big one. 

Host: Right. 

Guest 1: In these instances, refer to the by-laws and check in with your managing party who will arrange the additional approval required. 

Host: So, when a by-law is breached, how is that handled in a body corporate living situation? 

Guest 1: If a by-law or any part of the tenancy agreement is breached, the property manager or owner or tenant can issue a breach notice. Should the breach not be rectified, there are options for parties to take action further. Where body corporate managers are engaged to manage the day-to-day responsibilities of the body corporate, then breaching a by-law may cause a body corporate to issue a contravention notice to the occupant of the property, no matter if they are an owner, occupier or a tenant. So, as you can probably tell, it helps in this situation to keep lines of communication open and transparent to ensure everyone involved are on the same page and has the same level of information. 

Host: It sounds like a dream, doesn't it? Now look, I've lived in units, and sometimes there are typical issues residing in a complex around unapproved pets, parking spaces, noise and use of communal facilities. What’s the best way for these to be managed? 

Guest 2: When living in close proximity to people who have different lifestyles and habits to you, personality conflicts, noise issues, and disputes can arise. Disputes between neighbours and residents may be more complicated, as the parties in the dispute are not often bound by the same tenancy agreement. In any case, attempting self-resolution by having an open communication, like a conversation, is always a good first step. 

While the RTA is unable to handle disputes between neighbours, tenants or residents—as they are not parties to the same tenancy agreement—the Office of the Commissioner for Body Corporate and Community Management, or BCCM for short, may be able to help. Disputes between body corporates and occupiers, including owners and tenants, can be addressed through the dispute and adjudication services at the Commissioner's Office. 

In any case, all residents should recognise respectful communication, and maintaining an open dialogue as good starting points to resolve disputes quickly. Preserving a friendly and amicable relationship with your neighbours should be a mutual goal when negotiating resolutions and outcomes. 

Host: OK, so where can people go to get support when having issues living in a body corporate situation? 

Guest 2: It depends on the other party that is involved with the issue on hand. If their issue is with another resident or neighbour, they can try directly approaching the resident or neighbour first. If that hasn't helped, they could approach the body corporate manager or even the local government, depending on the issue. 

If the issue is between you and your managing party, then you should approach your managing party, whether that's the property owner, property manager, or the on-site manager. These people have good knowledge of the rules and legislations involved in this situation. 

Original publication on 30 Aug 2021
Last updated on 01 Nov 2022

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