When a plumbing issue arises in a strata scheme, determining whether the homeowner, building manager or strata owners corporation is responsible for plumbing repair and maintenance can sometimes be complicated and confusing.
Conventionally, plumbing involves many elements that are hidden behind walls or under floors. Since plumbing parts aren’t always easily visible, establishing who exactly is responsible for repairs can be difficult.
At Tunnel Vision, we have created a comprehensive guide to help you understand the strata repair process and how to determine which party is responsible for various common plumbing problems.
Guidelines for Strata Plumbing Responsibility
Even if you take all precautions to try and eliminate the possibility of plumbing problems and damage, sometimes it just happens. As a lot owner within a strata scheme setting, you may find it difficult to determine who you should talk to should you suffer property damage, and what exactly you are responsible for repairing.
If you are a lot owner, it is recommended to report any plumbing issue or damage, either within your property or on common property, as soon as you can. After notifying the strata owners corporation, it is their duty to organise a professional who will inspect the damage and conduct a liability assessment.
For minor repairs, it shouldn’t necessary to call a meeting, but it’s always good to double-check with your strata owners corporation’s rules. Larger repairs may require the strata owners corporation to meet and discuss the potential repair costs and course of action.
The following guidelines not only cover water-related damage but also extends to electrical and fire-related issues:
1. When there is any damage to common property, the strata owners corporation is responsible for the repairs. This also includes repairs to the item causing the damage such as a burst pipe or clogged drain.
2. Should there be any property damage to a strata lot or common property, and the cost of the damage exceeds the strata owners corporation’s insurance deductible, the affected parties may submit an insurance claim using the owners corporation’s policy.
Any repairs, excluding any improvements or enhancements, will be paid for by the owners corporation. The owners corporation is then reimbursed by the insurer. If the damage is less than the minimum deductible or only slightly exceeds it, the owners corporation may decide to file an insurance claim. This will therefore not void lot owners of their insurance benefits.
3. When the property damage originates from one lot and spreads to another lot or the common property, the strata owners corporation could assign the responsibility to the owner and ask for reimbursement of the insurance deductible.
Many owners corporations endorse a ‘chargeback’ by-law that permits them to claim the deductible from the responsible lot owner without going to court.
4. In the case of a plumbing emergency, such as a burst water pipe in the middle of the night, the owners corporation through the strata manager will be summoned to immediately act upon it. This is because, at that point in time, the source of the leak may be unclear.
As it is unreasonable to ask the lot owner to take care of the problem themselves, the owners corporation should arrange for a plumber, roofing contractor or any relevant professional to stop help the leak immediately.
Who is Responsible for Common Strata Plumbing Problems?
1. Blocked Drains
Blocked drains are one of the most commonly experienced plumbing problems. To determine who is responsible, you must first identify the location of the blocked drain. Typically, a blocked kitchen sink drain or a blocked toilet drain will be the responsibility of the lot owner, as the blockage will likely be located within their property.
Blocked shower drains and other floor drains are the exception as they typically fall under the jurisdiction of the owners corporation. This is because the pipes running from these drains often go underneath the floor and service multiple lots. In cases like this, it can be difficult to determine whether a lot owner caused the blockage.
In addition, this type of blocked drain will often affect multiple lots, so the strata owners corporation will likely be responsible for repairing the damage. The same applies to blocked sewer drains as they generally serve the entire building, not individual lots, so they will be the strata owners corporation’s responsibility.
2. Burst Water Pipes
The responsibility for repairing a burst water pipe can vary depending on the location and function of the pipes. As a general rule, any leaking pipes that are underneath the floor are the responsibility of the strata management company, while the pipes that aren't underneath the floor are the responsibility of the lot owner.
However, some scenarios don’t follow this rule. For example, you might have a pipe that runs through your walls, which you would think would be your responsibility. However, if that pipe services both your lot and the lot above you, it will be the responsibility of the owners corporation to fix it. Burst pipes that run inside the wall between two strata property lots typically fall to the strata owners corporation too.
When a pipe bursts, you’ll likely have water damage to contend with as well. Whoever is responsible for fixing the burst water pipe typically will have to cover the cost to repair the water damage too.
In cases of water damage, there is a chance that mould and mildew will form if the problem is not addressed quickly or if the repair technician doesn’t do a thorough job of drying out the area. If mould or mildew is located on the internal walls of your lot, it will most likely be up to you to fix. However, if it forms on the ceiling, floor, external walls or shared boundary walls, the strata owners corporation is responsible.
3. Leaking Fixtures
Fixtures like taps and shower heads are typically sealed tightly so they don’t leak. Over time, those seals can wear out and deteriorate, resulting in leaking from the base of the tap and shower head. Since these are all internal lot components, they will nearly always fall to the individual lot owner to resolve.
Fortunately, these tend to be relatively easy fixes so you shouldn’t need to worry about too much of an impact on your wallet. Depending on the extent of the damage, you may be able to simply repair or replace the seal to get everything working properly again. In cases of major damage, you might need to replace the entire fixture.
4. Balcony Leaks
If the lots in your strata property have balconies, you will know how frustrating it can be when water pours from the balcony above onto your own. In this case, strata plumbing responsibility depends on the reason behind the leak. If the water is running down from the roof or a burst pipe in the area, it will typically be up to the strata owners corporation of the building to address the plumbing issue.
However, most often it is that your upstairs neighbour has plants on their balcony. When they water those plants, any excess water can spill over the sides and onto your balcony below. Your strata owners corporation may have specific rules regarding instances like this, though that is not always the case.
You may be left on your own devices to deal with this problem. Often, all you’ll need to do is have a brief chat with your neighbour to get them to be more mindful of where the water is going.
5. Major vs. Minor Repairs and Maintenance
If a repair will be relatively easy and inexpensive to fix, you may wish to simply take care of it on your own rather than dealing with the bureaucracy of the strata owners corporation. This is perfectly fine, unless your strata scheme has specific rules forbidding it.
However, for major repairs it is always a good idea to check with your strata manager first. If you believe the problem to be their responsibility, make every effort to get the strata body to cover the cost. You don’t want to be left footing the bill if you don’t have to.
How to Prevent Strata Plumbing Issues Arising
A proper maintenance schedule will help identify risk areas both visible and invisible. Some damage may go unnoticed for prolonged periods and won’t be spotted until visible evidence arises such as leakages, dampness and mould.
It’s important to try and identify damage early on to prevent spread to other strata property lots or the common property. In most cases, an insurance company will not cover damages that are a result of poor maintenance, wear and tear, or a problem that has been neglected and left to deteriorate over time.
If you live in an area that reaches freezing temperatures during winter, your water pipes could freeze and burst, causing extensive damage. Before the cold weather sets in, identify any piping or equipment which may be susceptible to freezing. Lot owners can prepare for the cold weather by draining any plumbing equipment and condensation units and protecting them with an anti-freeze product.
During the winter season, it is recommended to inspect your plumbing system on a semi-regular basis to identify if there are any plumbing issues. Turn on your taps and check if there is a steady flow of water. If the water flows slowly or is non-existent, your pipes may be frozen. Should you suspect that there is a frozen pipe within your lot or on common property, contact your strata manager immediately.
If you notice that water pressure is a concern, the owners corporation should consider installing pressure limiting valves at the main supply to reduce the pressure of the water before it enters the strata building. Such valves will help extend the lifespan of the pipes by about five years by minimising vibrations and deterioration.
Sewer blockages can also cause extensive property damage. The owner's corporation is responsible for having the strata building’s sewer drains inspected regularly to allow for the early detection of blockages and that they can be treated promptly.
In the case of a blockage, the owners corporation can call upon a drain specialist such as Tunnel Vision who will use advanced drain unblocking technology such as CCTV drain cameras and drain cleaning equipment to fix the blockage in a safe, timely and efficient manner.
Still Unsure? Speak to Tunnel Vision Today!
No matter who takes strata plumbing responsibility, you’ll need a plumber who is experienced in working on strata properties, like our technicians here at Tunnel Vision.
We’ll be happy to help you identify the source of the issue, repair the damage and get everything back to normal as quickly as possible. Reach out to us today on 1800 631 799 or book an appointment online!
Disclaimer: We recommend that all property owners refer to their own Strata Plan and or Management and or obtain legal advice in relation to property boundary definitions to determine responsibility.