If you own your own home and want to give your backyard a facelift, all you need is the motivation, time and materials. If you live in a strata titled property, however, it may not be as easy to achieve.
The main difference with outdoor areas in strata titled properties is that the balconies, lawns and fences are usually classed as common property and nothing can be done to them without the permission of the body corporate.
These are the collective owners of the property (of which you are one, unless you are a tenant) and, in order to erect a pergola, put in an outdoor spa, or make any other sizeable alterations, you would need to make a submission to the body corporate and obtain their consent before doing so.
The body corporate would need to decide by special resolution at a general meeting and pass an ‘exclusive use’ by-law, allowing you the use of the area of common property. Consequently, if granted use, you would also be responsible for the repair and maintenance of that area.
Depending on the body corporate rules regarding appearance standards, they may or may not allow you to go ahead. It depends on whether the addition is deemed to fit in with the general air of the complex and whether it will be an eyesore or potential hazard.
Speaking of air, that is actually the part you do own in a strata titled property. The boundary walls, ceilings and floors are common property, but you own the airspace within them.
That airspace generally extends onto a balcony or into a backyard or courtyard, so with that in mind, the best way to upgrade your strata titled outside area without wading through miles of red tape is simply to make changes that only affect your airspace. Many strata titled properties are units or townhouses, so your outdoor area may not be massive anyway.
A balcony can be transformed into a mini outdoor oasis with the addition of some pots, plants and hanging baskets (be sure to find out the load limit, if it is a wooden balcony), all of which are fully portable and will not impinge upon any structural elements of the common property. You can even install a mini water feature or fountain, as these are available in lightweight fibreglass and are relatively inexpensive.
A courtyard can be transformed with outdoor furniture, a portable barbeque, or a rockery (again, imitation stone rather than the real thing), but if you want to erect a garden shed or lay stone pavers, you may need to get permission from the body corporate.
Putting up shade awnings can be a simple way to brighten up your outdoor area, but even if they are within the cubic space of your property, because they are very visible from other properties, their type, colour and size may have to be approved by the body corporate. It would therefore pay to make your awnings as tasteful as possible.
To sum up, the golden rule is this: unless you are happy to make submissions and abide by the rulings of the body corporate, be sure to leave a light footprint with whatever changes you make when upgrading your outdoor living area in a strata titled property.