Creating more sustainable strata lots – what can be done?

By Alex Smale – Owners Corporation Manager

Over the years as a strata manager, countless owners have come to me with bold plans to make their strata lot more sustainable by installing solar panels. They go out, get a quote, present it to their committee of management and it gets voted down. Why? Too often, simply because other owners don’t like the look of solar panels. This is especially true at townhouse estates where owners want to maintain a consistent appearance.

It was always disheartening when aesthetics came before combatting climate change. However, things have changed.

With the changes to the Owners Corporation Act introduced in December 2021, owners corporations may no longer make rules that unreasonably prohibit the installation of a sustainability item on a lot. For example, if a lot owner wants to install solar panels, the owners corporation cannot deny this request simply on aesthetic grounds. However, they may be able to deny the request if they have a legitimate reason. For example, if the solar panel impedes access for window cleaning.

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This does not just apply to solar panels. The Owners Corporation Act defines a sustainability item as anything that eliminates or reduces a reliance on non‑sustainable energy sources and includes: a solar hot water system, solar panels, and a roof with colours having a particular solar absorption value.

It is yet to be seen what impact this new legislation will have on the sustainability of owners corporations, but it is a positive step in the recognition that these upgrades should not be impeded. In fact, they will be crucial for us to achieve net zero.

What can we do without needing approval?

Owners can make minor alterations that don’t change the external appearance without requiring permission from the owners corporation. Even better, the Victorian government has a number of rebates to reduce the cost for sustainable upgrades. This includes: replacement of inefficient TVS, lights, showerheads, pool pumps and lights.

I live in an old apartment building which still has its original fittings. I recently replaced my inefficient showerhead at no cost through the government scheme and saw a 30% reduction in my hot water bills as a result. All I had to do to arrange this was go to Energy Vic’s website, find an accredited provider, and arrange a time for the swap. I encourage everyone to take a look at the Victorian Government’s Energy Upgrades website and see if they qualify for any rebates.

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What more could be done?

A major hurdle in getting strata sustainable is that a significant alteration to the common property requires a special resolution. This means that 75% of all owners would need to vote in favour for a final resolution to pass on the installation of solar panels on a common roof. Lowering the threshold for approval would go a long way in getting more sustainable upgrades through.

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For now, though, if these sorts of improvements are something you’re passionate about, we recommend getting involved in your owners corporation. Holding an information evening or contacting your fellow owners about the benefits can go a long way in getting special resolutions across the line.

This article was first written for and published by North West City News.