When more is not merrier: Avoiding overcrowding this Christmas
As we veer deeper into the festive season, it’s natural to feel a little merry – but that shouldn’t mean that your strata community adopts a ‘more the merrier’ approach.
Overcrowding is an issue that can re-ignite in strata communities at this time of year. Here’s a reminder for communities about the serious nature of overcrowding in strata properties.
Strata properties (like townhouses and apartments) differ from detached houses in one key way: size. The fact is, apartments are built for a specific number of occupants. Overcrowding presents more than just liveability concerns.
Why is it important? The concerns of overcrowding
There are laws against excess occupants residing in a strata property for several safety and security reasons. Let’s take the issue of safety. More occupants will often mean a greater volume of storage both within apartments (and on balconies). Temporary structures (e.g. airbeds) can also impede access to safety exits. With fire safety and cladding already an issue for strata owners, this poses significant risk.
How many is too many in strata properties?
The impact of overcrowding may vary from one property to another. Determining the optimum number of occupiers per apartment is tricky as this could depend on various criteria such as:
- The state laws on occupancy limit and the owners corporation’s authority: In most states, the legislation is not clear on the matter and by-laws can only do so much. Owners corporations are authorised to enter a private property to get scheduled work done or to inspect exclusive use common property. They can do so with seven days prior written notice to the owner and occupiers. However, this provision does not cover inspections for potential overcrowding and owners corporations aren’t empowered to take hard actions.
- The size of the property and living space: Larger apartments may allow for comfortable sharing of space amongst a larger group. However, if your strata property has smaller apartments and studios, they become congested and uncomfortable.
- Relation of occupiers with each other: Often, people live not only with spouses, partners, and dependent family members but also share apartments with housemates, care-givers, short-term holiday guests, or overnight guests. Owners corporations cannot necessarily restrict who stays in an apartment (and in what capacity and for how long) because it’s often unclear who is staying overnight at a property and who is a day visitor.
How common is overcrowding? Why is it a Christmas concern?
A Macquarie University study revealed this year that homes in Sydney’s city centre suburbs had average occupancy rates of more than 2.5 adults per room. “It was not uncommon for two-bedroom apartments to have between 5 and 14 occupants,” says the study, referenced on The Conversation.
Over the festive season, short term letting in strata properties becomes increasingly popular, often leading to instances of overcrowding. Experts have indicated that owners offering lodging in overcrowded apartments know there is huge market for cheap rentals and holiday accommodation, and they can make a lot of money sub-letting apartments to multiple people.
Likewise, the festive nature of the season also sees visiting friends and family contributing to the overcrowding problem. Sometimes guests end up being packed into cramped spaces or in makeshift sleeping arrangements for days/weeks throughout the holiday period.
How to tackle overcrowding in strata?
Your by-laws and strata rules are your first point of reference. They apply to all owners and occupants equally, to ensure strata living is fair and enjoyable for all. Ignoring your committee’s warnings repeatedly or breaching by-laws can mean fines and penalties from the tribunal.
You should note that while your strata by-laws can recommend the ideal number of occupants, it’s difficult to monitor and restrict adults from sharing rooms, or differentiate between residents, their partners, care-givers, family members, and friends/general visitors.
If your by-laws are unclear or appear to be unfair, unreasonable or discriminatory, you can file a motion to have them amended at an AGM through a special resolution with majority vote.