Expert advice on fire safety, balcony leaks

Q: I LIVE in a complex that is self-managed. We do not have any fire extinguishers or fire hoses. Is there any legal requirement for installation of fire-fighting equipment?A: There are two aspects to this issue:

a) Yes, fire extinguishers or fire hoses are a legal requirement in all blocks of flats and townhouse complexes. Developers now have to install fire hydrants (painted yellow, not red!) in all townhouse complexes they build. I am led to believe each unit may not be further than 80m from a hydrant. The local fire marshal can confirm this distance.

b) Should the townhouse complex or block of flats have a fire, when the trustees claim for the loss with the insurance company the first thing they will do is to check whether the body corporate has adequate fire extinguishers or fire hoses installed and when they were last serviced. Trustees are required to ensure that their fire-fighting installations are serviced annually.

Not having fire hoses or fire extinguishers or having them but not servicing them annually could be seen as gross negligence on the part of the trustees.

Trustees guilty of gross negligence can be held liable in their personal capacities.

The above and correctly insuring the complex for its full replacement value is the most important duties of the trustees.

Q: Certain sections of wood on the outside of the wooden window frames of my cottage are rotten due to lack of maintenance – because of this, areas of rot has penetrated to the inside wood of the frames. I know the outside work would be for the body corporate but my question is: As the cause of the inside problem was due to the outside problem, am I or the body corporate responsible for the cost?A: You are correct. Any problem inside a unit caused by a problem outside the unit is for the body corporate account.

Examples other than windows include roof leaks causing water damage inside, foundations sinking causing cracking walls and water ingress due to weather walls not being waterproof.

Wooden windows on weather walls (and others) should be replaced with aluminium if possible.

Q: I have found your articles in the Weekend Property Post very interesting. Could you please help with this query?I have enclosed my flat’s balcony; the unit above me has not. I am now experiencing water leaks from the balcony above – who is responsible for the cost of fixing the problem, me or the body corporate?

A: Usually balconies are part of your section; their square metres are part of your unit’s total square metres. You can confirm if the balconies are part of your section (as opposed to being common property) by examining the ST plans. Should it show a dotted line where the balcony begins, then you balcony is part of your section, even though it is “outside” your unit.

You therefore “own” from the median line of the balcony walls and the enclosure up to the middle of the balcony floor above you, and to the middle of your balcony floor.

The balcony door and window are also part of your unit and not common property. You, as the owner of the section, are responsible for the maintenance of this area.

When owners enquire about enclosing their balconies I ask if the balcony above has been enclosed – if it hasn’t there will be leaks as balconies being outside do catch the rain water and not all of it drains out through the little drainage pipes in the balcony walls. The remainder seeps into the concrete causing the leaks below.

I advise them before they start to ask the owner of the unit above if you could waterproof their balcony for them to avoid your future leaking problems. Although the problem is in their unit, they “own” to the middle of their balcony floor. I doubt whether they will waterproof it for you at their cost.

Q: Our board of trustees always read your informative articles in the Weekend Property Post, we would like to pose the following question:Our board of trustees are grappling with the decision concerning the required level of our reserve fund, which is currently equivalent to three times the monthly levies. How realistic is this?A: Thank you for your interesting question. The answer is relative to the complex you live in.

There is no set figure for a reserve fund as yet – in the new act, which may come out next year, it states “that the minister may set an amount …”

In Australia, the government took about four years to determine a reserve fund (they call it a “sinking fund”) for each and every complex. We are a long way from this ideal.

Bodies corporate vary from tower blocks of flats, businesses in warehouses and townhouse complexes.

Townhouses: A reserve fund for a townhouse complex with tin roofs, painted walls and wooden windows will require a higher reserve fund (high maintenance) than a complex with face-brick walls, tiled roofs and aluminium windows (low maintenance).

Blocks of flats: These mostly require painting every five years (could go up to seven) and older blocks require their sewerage pipes to be replaced. The cost of the scaffolding for this maintenance adds about another 50% to the cost of painting.

So long as there is a reserve fund in your budget you are abiding by the rules. The amount is at the sole discretion of the trustees at the moment. Of course, at the AGMs members may impose directions for the trustees to follow on this matter.

Les has been a managing agent for almost three decades. He is a member of NAMA, an estate agent and has been a committee member of the Sectional Title Association of PE for 29 years. Should you have any queries, you can contact Les at

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