Termites in strata

In Queensland, our natural environment makes timber buildings a target for termites. Termites are a class of insects that consume timber as their food source, and if left undetected or untreated can cause significant structural damage to timber-framed buildings.

This article focuses on townhouse or villa-style developments. Whilst termites can also threaten a high-rise apartment building – those building types are more likely to rely on steel or concrete for structural stability, so are less likely to be at-risk for termites.

How to prevent termites

Termites are a fact of life and exist everywhere – in trees and in the soil (hopefully not in buildings). Buildings must have a strong line of defence which should consist of:
  • A physical barrier to prevent termites from accessing timber elements
  • A chemical barrier (to kill termites as they try to access the buildings)
  • Regular inspections (at least yearly) to detect and treat any termite activity
Termite inspection experts also report that the following strategies are effective to minimise termite risk:
  • Keeping moisture away from the base of buildings. Fix up those dripping garden taps or air-conditioner drains to keep moisture away from the foundations
  • Keep gardens and hedges away from the building so that the foundation and lower walls are exposed to sunlight and can be inspected visually
  • Clear out building gutters regularly (termites can fly and can enter through the roof)
Over time, a chemical termite barrier may degrade and need to be re-applied. This is generally done by drilling holes around the perimeter of the foundation and injecting a chemical treatment. This is fairly expensive, however it is nearly always cheaper to invest in protection instead of repairing damage.

Importantly, the requirement to inspect at least once per year will always exist, even if the body corporate has invested in a new chemical termite barrier.

What is the body corporate responsible for?

There is an established requirement for bodies corporate to maintain the common property (including preventative maintenance). Carrying out termite inspections is a form of preventative maintenance.

The most common plan type for this style of development is a building format plan. The common property in a building format plan generally includes:
  • Earth beneath/around the townhouses
  • Slabs
  • Boundary walls
  • Structural walls inside each townhouse
  • Structural beams/other structural elements in between different levels of a single townhouse
  • Roof trusses/roof framing of each townhouse
Practically speaking – the only way to inspect many of these elements is via entry into each lot. The purpose of that isn’t to inspect the lot or the contents, but to inspect the common property elements which are only able to be inspected from within the lot, for example:
  • The roof cavity inspected via the manhole
  • The boundary walls inspected by thermal camera and/or visual inspection of interior timber trims
When a motion proposes that the body corporate “inspect common property and the lots” it is effectively proposing to  inspect “the areas of the lots which contain or are adjacent to concealed common property elements, for the purpose of detecting any termite activity in the common property, or any termite activity in the lot which may jeopardise the maintenance of the common property”

The common property (as a defined term) is much more extensive than ‘common areas’. Whilst a body corporate is always responsible for its common areas (e.g. swimming pool, BBQ area, gym etc), the body corporate often has significant responsibilities for the structure of each townhouse.

The issue to consider is that if the body corporate’s termite contractor did not go into each lot, it would be basically impossible for the body corporate to inspect the areas of common property for which it is responsible (as those elements are concealed by plasterboard, bricks and roof tiles). The body corporate also has statutory powers under the law to:
  • Enter each lot to assess common property which is only accessible from within the lot
  • Give owners directions to maintain their own lot if additional maintenance is required
  • Step in and carry out maintenance which owners fail to carry out

Standard format plan lots

Less common than a building format plan is a standard format plan. The standard format plan creates increased responsibilities for individual lot owners, instead of the body corporate. The strategies for defending against termites are often the same, however, in a standard format plan, the body corporate generally will not pay for the inspection of each townhouse structure – as that is owned by the lot owner.

If you are unsure about your own plan type, feel free to contact us for advice.

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