If you own a lot within a community title scheme, then it’s likely that you may be aware that they are required to pay Body Corporate levies. However, it can be a conundrum for many of them, in particular, understanding what Body Corporate levies are, what they are used for, and what happens if you do not pay them, and how Body Corporates encourage the payment of these levies.
In this podcast, Body Corporate Law expert, Juliette Nairn discusses the matter.
Dan: Juliette, what are these Body Corporate levies?
Juliette: That’s actually a very good question, because we often come across it a lot within a Body Corporate. We have the commission members, who obviously know very well what Body Corporate levies are, but for those individual lot owners who live in a strata scheme, they might necessarily not know that they have Administration Fund levies, which is for daily repair and maintenance of the Body Corporate, a Sinking Fund levy, which is for capital work that a Body Corporate undertakes, and also insurance, which is very important to pay on behalf of a Body Corporate.
Juliette: What happens is, the Body Corporate, usually through a Body Corporate management company, will send out a notice and agenda for an annual general meeting, and it’s actually at that time that the lot owners need to read that documentation and look at what is the budget for the Body Corporate in terms of how much money does the Body Corporate need to raise to cover its day-to-day expenses.
Juliette: We often talk about Body Corporates being a bit like a not-for-profit organisation because a Body Corporate has to get in exactly the amount of money that it needs to pay its expenses throughout a 12-month period. So it’s not a business that actually raises money, or has any revenue.
Dan: So Juliette, where is all this information enshrined? Is there a contract? Is there a document of some sort that somebody can go to and go, “Ah, that’s what my Body Corporate levies are,” or whatever the case might be?
Juliette: Unfortunately there’s not, because the only place it exists is in the legislation, which is called the Body Corporate Community Management Act, and an appropriate module that applies to each strata scheme.
Juliette: So, for example, that information about levies is not contained in your bylaws, it’s not contained in a community management statement. What happens is when I’m a purchaser and I might be looking into purchasing into a strata scheme, I would do what is called a Section 205 search, and that’s actually a letter that gets written to the Body Corporate management company on behalf of the Body Corporate, and the solicitors usually do that on behalf of an individual lot owner who might be buying into a Body Corporate.
Juliette: What they get back is a little snapshot which says, “Oh, this is the budget for the Body Corporate, and this is what your contribution is, and this is how we pay it in quarterly instalments.” So, that’s the only information, really, that individual lot owners get. So often what happens is a Body Corporate management company might send out a welcome packet to its lot owners that actually explains in a little bit more detail what levies are. We also have a really good website which is the BCCM office website, being the commissioner for Body Corporate in Queensland, and they give a summary of what levies are and what is a Body Corporate debt.
Dan: Can there be a great divergence in what those levies are across Body Corporates?
Juliette: Yes. Definitely, Dan. It depends on the size of the building that you live in, actually, and even the type of plan that’s being recorded. A lot of the high-rise buildings are what we call building unit plans, and those building unit plans, you know, you’ve got one level stacked on top of the other. You’ve got charges for lifts and all sorts of other costs, and maybe even care taking costs or letting fees associated with that Body Corporate, as well as its normal admin.
Juliette: But if you live out, say Ribena or Matriba you might live in a duplex-style complex, or where there are actually individual homes under what we call a standard format plan, and those levies are very different, because they can be much lower from a Body Corporate perspective.
Dan: So, what happens if people don’t pay these levies?
Juliette: Usually what happens is that the Body Corporate then can’t afford to pay its bills. We often have Body Corporates approach us, or committee members or individual lot owners within a Body Corporate, where they may have run out of money and can’t afford to pay the insurance for their building.
Juliette: If a Body Corporate gets to that situation where it can’t pay its bills, it then looks very carefully at which individual lot owners haven’t been paying their levies on a regular basis, and will look at implementing processes or steps to recover those levies, which usually include receiving reminder letters. So the people, the lot owners, might receive a reminder letter from the Body Corporate management company, and then maybe a second reminder letter, then a final letter of demand, and also often the Body Corporate manager might make a phone call as well to try and get an understanding as to why that individual lot owner is not paying its levies.
Dan: So, in contrast, if the lot owner doesn’t pay their levy, what are the penalties? Is there any sort of ramifications on them?
Juliette: Yes. So in terms of the penalty which will apply to the individual lot owner, because the lot owner and the levies that they pay are basically the lifeblood to the Body Corporate, because there’s no way the Body Corporate receives other money, the penalties are actually very high. So one, not only are your levies outstanding, but the legislation specifically allows the Body Corporate to charge a 30% simple interest per anum charge to each and every levy that’s outstanding.
Juliette: Now 30% simple interest adds up very quickly when you have outstanding levies, and it’s applied on a monthly basis. It’s actually far higher than what you would pay on a VISA card. It’s far higher than what you might pay, definitely, on your mortgage, and it’s certainly far higher than what you might pay on a loan if you got a personal loan if you’re in some hardship to pay your levies.
Juliette: The reason why the legislators made the 30% simple interest a general rule that applies across the board to all Body Corporates in Queensland is because they wanted lot owners to be penalised, because there’s no other way in which a Body Corporate can raise revenue. It can only come from those individual lot owners.
Juliette: In addition to that, Dan, if you actually have, and the Body Corporate engages legal representation, being a Body Corporate solicitor to institute legal proceedings against that lot owner, that individual lot owner will become responsible for all the costs. So, the Body Corporate manager’s cost being expenses and outlays, and any expenses and outlays of the Body Corporate, including any legal fees that it incurs as well.
Dan: Is there Body Corporates out there that don’t pay their levies. Does that typically happen?
Juliette: Unfortunately there are a lot of lot owners out there who don’t pay their levies. Because of the amount of information that we’re seeing these days, particularly through our Queensland Commissioner’s Office, we find that individual lot owners are better educated, particularly if they live in Australia.
Juliette: Fortunately we do have a lot of overseas investment, but some of those individuals who live in Bodies Corporate may not have Australian agents, and so, for example, if Chinese is their first language, or they’re in a country like Japan where the levy notices are being posted to them, one, it’s very difficult for them to understand the reason behind paying levies to the Body Corporate. They’re just aware that they’ve purchased the lot and paid that purchase price, but didn’t realise that there were individual, ongoing costs associated with the Body Corporate. So we do see much more foreign investment in that form.
Dan: So what can they do to become more aware and make sure that they pay their levy?
Juliette: The best thing to do is that most of these buildings do have a Body Corporate manager appointed, and just contacting that Body Corporate management company and having a good conversation or an email conversation with the Body Corporate manager will enable you to get all of your information. They keep their roll up to date, and the best way is to have a role address by way of not only a postal address, but also an email address, so that they receive newsletters on behalf of the Body Corporate as well as any relevant information from the Body Corporate regarding their levies and their notices of contribution by receiving that information and understanding what levies are for, the Body Corporate manager, through their welcoming packets that they send to individual lot owners, that’s how people are encouraged to pay their levies.