Monthly Archives: October 2011

Vegetated roofs and walls in apartment buildings when we cannot build planter boxes

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For no less than 4 days commencing 9 November 2011, you can attend the Green Roofs Australasia conference in Sydney – Green Roofs Australia. Experts will gather for the fifth time at this conference to promote the incorporation of green roofs and wall infrastructure into the built form. Green Roofs Australasia is a not for profit devoted to this cause to reduce the carbon footprint of our buildings.

A noble cause indeed and this international trend has traction here. Our newest Sydney CBD office block, 1 Bligh, has an impressive vegetated feature wall. Further south in the nation’s capital, our federal parliament is one of the great buildings of this type in the world.

But these are structures of the commercial world with a single tenant and big repair and maintenance budgets. The conference program does not admit of discussion about this topic for strata titled buildings but the strata management magazines from North America, would have us believe they are increasingly popular in condominiums in those parts.

Why not then have these in our strata titled office blocks? Two reasons spring immediately to mind; we can’t build a residential apartment building that does not leak and our owners corporations won’t fund a round of drinks for the AGM let alone repair and maintain these seemingly complicated feats of engineering.

Our building defect lawyers will testify a simple planter box on a flat roof is presently beyond the competence of our builders and developers. The inevitable leaks through the ceiling to the lot below from this unsophisticated form of greening, accounts for a substantial number of cases each year.

The principal sponsor of this conference, City of Sydney, and its counterpart local authorities elsewhere in the country should not get ahead of themselves on this trend. We need tighter certification of our humble planter boxes before we put Centennial Park on our rooftops.

Strata people whinge it up again

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The strata industry has a habit of demanding new laws for every problem  (without first thinking how behavioral change could address the issue) and then whining when news laws are passed. It happened again last week.

The Home Building Amendment Bill 2011 was quickly passed by both houses of the NSW parliament last week and awaits assent. The government spin would have us believe this was about stimulating investment and activity in home building. If this is the best the government has on that front, then we should all despair.

Strata owners complained that this was another case of pandering to the developers at the expense of the consumer. While generally I agree this is the inclination of state governments, on balance this is good legislation. Here is why:

  • Abolishing proportionate liability for owners corporations will substantially reduce the cost and time line for owners chasing developers and builders (and insurers where that is relevant);
  • Shorter timeframes for bringing claims on statutory warranties for non structural defects is consistent with the strict repair and maintenance obligations of the strata schemes management laws and will go some way to dealing with owners corporation inertia which is in the public interest;
  • The time frame for bringing claims for structural defects workmanship issues remains 6 years but some clarity is given about how to determine when this time limit commences; and
  • The other provisions are insignificant but hard to argue against.

The real issue in this area is the non-availability of home warranty insurance for buildings more than three floors not including car parks. These people are without protection from developers using special purpose vehicles for the development that are then wound up to defeat creditors including the tax office and defects claimants.

On this occasion we should stop whining, pay credit where credit is due and remain focused on the need for real legislative protection for investors in high-rise developments, almost all of which now have significant building and construction defects.

 

Are We Asleep at the Wheel

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Over the weekend I had the pleasure of addressing the Australian Institute of Conveyancers NSW Division annual conference.

The topic was ‘What Purchasers Really Need to Know When Buying a Strata Apartment’. For the purpose of the exercise I had a colleague from another firm randomly select a strata inspection report for a recent conveyance and I put it under the microscope as if I was looking for someone to sue for the many things that were wrong with the apartment block. It was a fascinating exercise.

Amongst my findings were:

  • Policies on pets, parking and privileges were unclear and the information in the inspector’s report conflicted with the actual by-laws;
  • Building defects and fire safety orders existed but were not mentioned in the report;
  • The sinking fund was under-funded by nearly 30% against the expert’s report but nothing had been said of this;
  • The strata manager had not produced all of the records to the inspector; and
  • The report said that a fire safety certificate had been issued when one hadn’t issued.

Given that for most people a strata inspector’s report is the first substantial piece of information anyone gets about their owners corporation, this is a sad case.

Conveyancers and lawyers get these reports and send them to the clients, often I suspect without comment and purchasers are just lambs to the slaughter.

I suspect the truth about strata therefore is that we are asleep at the wheel.

 

iStrata

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(With respects to Steve Jobs (RIP)

I am Apple devotee so the passing of Steve Jobs this week has resulted in me reading more than my fair share of articles about this talented man’s life.

He had the ability to foresee what people would want if only they could touch and feel the very product that he was creating.

Sometimes those within an industry cannot see the future because of the shackles of their own experiences. This is true of strata. One Brisbane group of residents have worked it out for themselves. I’m referring to “Stradbroke Tower and Villas” which is part of the Dockside development at Kangaroo Point Brisbane.

I don’t act for this group, although I wish I did because a colleague of mine found their residents information booklet online recently and shared it with me. There I found some incredibly interesting information that probably has application to 9/ 10th of the towers I have ever represented and it is presented in an informative and positive way.

The by-laws are summarized and highlight the issues of concerns they seek to address. The reader is told of the problem before they are fed the solution which surely must put the by-law in it’s proper context and encourage compliance for all the right reasons.

The structure of the body corporate management is also succinctly explained. Interestingly, this group of owners incorporated a company and bought the letting and management rights so they could control their own future. They pay dividends from the letting operations and avoid conflicts of interest arising from the lack of continuity from external management rights operators trading in the rights of the building.

Repairs and maintenance is also dealt with sensibly. There are clear instructions of what approvals need to be obtained before work is done on lots and common property and the booklet tells you on how to go about getting that approval. There is a contact list with a telephone list for committee members and a list of preferred suppliers for different aspects of the building from air-conditioning installations to marble cleaning and TV reception. These trades and service personal are known to have done satisfactory work in the building at reasonable prices.

I know nothing of the harmony or otherwise of this building but if I was an owner this is 24 pages of information that I would really find valuable.  If I was Steve Jobs this is 24 pages of information that I would be trying to get to strata owners on a hand held device.

The numbers never lie

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The study of demographics fascinates me. I like that numbers about people determine with some reasonable accuracy what will take place in coming years in commerce and in our society. It amazes me that government and business leaders seem sometimes to do so little, or so much, without regard to demographics.

Figures just released show the population of Australia topped 22.5 million at the end of March 2011. Your view for a big or small Australia will determine how you react to that statistic. I am for a big Australia. We need more people to pay tax to support our aging society and high standard of living.

Interestingly, the growth figure (made up of 54 % net migration and 46% births over deaths) was the lowest in five years. The politics of immigration is speaking to us in the numbers.

As every property market in Australia tanks (except for Sydney – holding on only because of a slack performance in recent years and ridiculous planning laws), less buyers will affect values. We should be careful what we wish for.

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