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Selling up your Castle from under you: Body corp discussion paper stirs debate

In the immortal words of Dennis Denuto, “…it’s justice, it’s law, it’s the vibe, and…no that’s it…it’s the vibe. I rest my case.”

When might your “Castle” be sold out from under you, in a real life case for the bumbling movie lawyer Denuto? If you live in an apartment, should a proposal for redevelopment that’s supported by your neighbours be enough for the building to be bulldozed? Should progress and efficient land use take priority, or should our right to stay in our homes be a sacred, Kerrigan-like right?

In a discussion paper recently released in Queensland the big questions are being asked on body corporate laws. This is a deliberately pot-stirring exercise with QUT Law raising contentious topics like bans on balcony smoking (the one that’s got some media attention), the former government commissioning the review and asking Queenslanders to give their views on the common causes of friction in medium and high density living.

We attended a property forum in Singapore a couple of years back and wrote of their 80% policy at the time, locals there recognising the scare land supply warrants some watering down of civil liberties (softened to some extent by commonly very high prices at sale). If there’s 40 Singapore apartments and 32 owners want to sell up for demolition and redevelopment, the others are forced to go. Each page of this local discussion paper is headed “not government policy”, so there’s no suggestion this was LNP policy. But could this become law here in Queensland?

The QUT paper points to similar reviews in NSW where a decision by just 75% of your co-owners might be enough to force you out, and the NT where it could be 80 to 95% depending on the age of the building. Neither has yet acted to legislate, but the conversation is underway around the nation.

The paper explores the challenges of high maintenance on aging buildings, volunteer committees faced with big workloads, and the naturally diverse ownership agenda of a mix of investors and residents.

And this is not a new phenomenon in Brisbane, with whole building demolitions already part of our property cycle.

The Urban Development Institute thinks the change should happen, with a pre-election call for 75% of lot owners in agreement to be the threshold for a scheme termination. At the time the opposition ALP told the UDIA, “Queensland Labor will review (The BCCM Act) and investigate the approach taken by the New South Wales Government to facilitate the redevelopment of ageing and uneconomic buildings in consultation with the UDIA and the Queensland Body Corporate Association.”

It will be interesting to see how our new government receives the final report, and how the apartment-owning public might handle a change like this. I know a few apartment owners who’d be fairly firm if property developers came knocking: ”Tell him he’s dreaming!”

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