By Rebecca Leshinsky and Judy Rex, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne
20 March 2012 – Dr Leshinsky and Dr Rex identify the tools needed to help apartment owners future-proof their buildings and budgets against rising energy costs.
Over the past 25 years, Australia’s capital cities have experienced urban consolidation with a marked increase in the incidence of residential living in medium and high rise apartment buildings.
As buildings begin to age, they require maintenance and retrofits. For existing buildings, a retrofit means making changes to the structure inside a building. Typically this is done to improve the amenities for the building’s occupants and/or improving the performance of the building.
Past experience shows that maintenance and retrofitting in common areas within apartment blocks are mostly done for aesthetics or to ensure compliance with legal requirements.
This is often done without considering energy efficiency or other sustainability issues. Increasingly, there is recognition of the need to make more information available to support and encourage apartment owners to plan their future maintenance works and retrofits in a sustainable manner.
There are strong benefits that come with sustainable retrofits – including lower running costs (averaging around 25-30 per cent savings per annum); creating a healthier and more attractive living environment for both owners and renters, and enhancing property values.
So while it seems that is much to be gained from undertaking sustainable maintenance and retrofits to Australian apartment buildings, the question needs to be asked – why is the uptake so slow?
City of Melbourne research
Previous research conducted by City of Melbourne has identified several reasons for this. As well as the upfront cost of implementing sustainable retrofits, governance issues within an owners corporation (OC, formerly called a Body Corporate), are preventing the adoption of sustainable retrofits.
Compared to their single title counterparts, owners within apartment buildings in Victoria must work together to reach a 75 per cent consensus within their OC in order to undertake significant upgrade works.
Knowledge of how to undertake sustainable retrofits is also a barrier to their adoption.
Any number of conflicts can derail proposals for retrofit projects. There may be owners who either do not wish to engage or do not understand the benefits of the proposal.
There is a clear need for state and local governments to review legislation and policies to ensure that – at the very least – they do not act as disincentives towards OCs taking sustainable action.
ACT has reviewed legislation
The ACT government has acted by recently amending the Unit Titles (Management) Act 2011 to make it easier for apartment owners to implement sustainability measures and retrofits to common areas and shared infrastructure.
Legislative changes take time and there is an urgent need for widespread support of sustainable retrofits in apartment buildings. One solution identified through the City of Melbourne’s project which can easily be met, is providing OCs and apartment owners with easy access to quality information and guidance about sustainable retrofitting of existing apartment blocks.
Such information and guidance will provide all of Australia’s apartment owners access to independent information regarding the benefits and processes for sustainable retrofitting.
Swinburne University and the City of Melbourne are conducting further research to identify what information apartment owners need, who they trust to deliver such information, and in what form they want the information delivered.
Dr Rebecca Leshinsky is a barrister and law lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology. She practices law and researches in the areas of strata and property law, as well as planning and environment law.
Dr Judy Rex is a marketing lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology, specialising in marketing research and data modelling. Her thesis modelled the decision making factors that determine sustainable behaviour and intention for consumers in their daily lives.
 Developing Sustainable Solutions for Apartment see outcomes from the focus groups located at