Access to strata properties during COVID-19 lockdowns

As a result of the lockdowns currently being experienced across several Australian states, property owners are becoming reluctant to allow contractors access to their properties to carry out essential works, due to the threat of exposure to Coronavirus.

We have recently observed an incident where owners have contacted the police to prevent access to a property by contractors and have them escorted from the premises. In this case, the works to be carried out were the annual fire safety review of the essential fire services at the property.

Following this incident, the Owners Corporation were concerned that failure to carry out the works required to complete their annual Fire Safety Statement on time could result in a penalty from council. Furthermore, what the ramifications could be from an insurance and liability perspective, should a fire occur during this period of non compliance.

Issues like this are becoming increasingly common during the pandemic. In order to reassure the strata committee that appropriate steps are being taken to avoid unnecessary liabilities, the Strata Manager, Building Manager (if applicable) and broker should be working hand in hand to put in place a plan with council and insurers in consideration of any obstacles they are facing. Of key importance is that all stakeholders are made aware of any new issues resulting from COVID-19 restrictions as soon as they arise.

For example, as the Strata Manager or Building Manager oversees the process of the annual review of fire services by engaging a qualified fire practitioner, they should advise the committee of the options available should there be a delay in getting the review completed on time. This advice should include options to extend the expiry date of the AFSS.  One such option is A Stay of Infringement Penalty notice. This can be applied with council provided the reason for not completing the task on time is valid up to a maximum period of 6 months. We recommend you discuss this option with your Strata Manager or Building Manager.

From an insurance perspective, your broker should guide you on how to disclose this matter to your insurer. The key is being proactive in your approach and demonstrating to the insurer that you are taking the necessary steps to have works completed within a reasonable timeframe (and in respect of the current lockdown restrictions put in place by the relevant State Government). This could be compared to defects rectification works in progress. Insurers understand the current environment and expect their clients to be proactive in their communication. Your duty is to disclose as much information to your insurer as possible, with your broker’s assistance and expertise.

Bellrock’s approach in this situation would be to notify the insurer of a possible fire impairment should the AFSS not be completed on time. Any documentation than can support our approach will assist us in negotiating a positive outcome with your insurer. It is also up to the broker to keep the insurer apprised of any developments with the assistance of the Strata Manager, Building Manager and Strata Committee.

Once the broker has received confirmation from the insurer that cover will be provided in the event of a fire, the strata committee would be advised accordingly. The insurer may place some conditions to the policy. As this is a local and global issue, they may be lenient in their approach.

For further information and advice relating to Strata Insurance, contact a Bellrock Broker via the form below.