Monthly Archives: September 2012

Steps Towards Taking Responsibility

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If an owners corporation is to develop any sense of responsibility for self-determination it usually happens about year three or four.

By then the penny has dropped that the builders not coming back to fix anymore leaks and cracks, the warranties on repair and replacements have expired and there is no money in the tin to pay the bills. Maybe now the owners are ready to embrace and even thrive on the responsibility of taking matters into their own hands and determining the future of their building.

At about this time, as when a corporate takeover is concluded or a new government is elected; all the developers’ people are ousted. This purge will start at the committee level and the first chairperson who became a little too matey with the developer will go, followed by his or her acolytes and the strata manager appointed by the developer when in total control of the newly formed owners corporation.

Strata mangers get work from developers by setting up owners corporations for the developer for free. Instead of taking a fee for this service from the developer who has the legal responsibility to set up the owners corporation, the developer promises to grant to the strata manger a contract to manage the new owners for up to three years and in some cases longer. This contract, the developer fixes at that time when the developer controls all of the newly formed lots and therefore the owners corporation. No matter how good a job is done in this time by the strata manager, towards the end by virtue of the developers exclusionary appointment process the strata manager is a dead man walking and as ineffective as a twice elected American President in his last year of office.

With a new team in place and ready to face their responsibilities as owners, the committee goes to work not always knowing what those responsibilities might entail. But that has never stopped a board of directors of a newly floated company or the cabinet of a newly elected government. On the job training is the best, in fact that’s all there is – but there are two important differences. Company directors and government members are paid and their undertaking will be the sole focus of their working lives. Here we have a group of owners who are unpaid, unfocused and unappreciated. The mantle of responsibility just got a little harder to bear.

Insurance When All Else Fails

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The type and amount of insurance for owners corporations for public liability cover for those using the common property is set by law.

This covers owners, tenants, visitors, works contractors and even intruders. Setting a minimum monetary level of public liability insurance is not always the best way to develop a sense of responsibility for a group but at least by this approach there are minimum safety nets for our community against the risk of personal injury.

When it comes to building repair and replacement insurance, no fixed amount can be set to cover all building types. Interestingly, here corners are cut by penny-pinching committees in their all-consuming quest to lower premiums and therefore their levies. Owners will use outdated valuations as the basis of their decision making on the level of cover, the cost of demolition and redesign will be deleted and GST will be discounted or ignored. Governments are attempting to cover this responsibility gap as well by forcing valuations to occur each few years. Even then in places this is being applied only to larger buildings as if the smaller ones are less important to their owners or smaller owners corporations are more likely to be more responsible than bigger ones. There is no known link between size and intelligence.

What to Call the Workhorses

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What to Call the Workhorses
Each year the owners meet to elect representatives to handle day-to-day matters and to pass budgets so levies can be struck to pay the common bills.
The name of this group is more easily and narrowly defined. They are called committees or some derivation of this term in most places except in the west, where they are called councils.

An ‘owners corporation management and leadership team’, as we would call it if we were to adopt the weasel words of modern politically correct corporate speak, is an ‘executive committee’ in the fast paced corporate world of New South Wales, a ‘management committee’ in the more gentile state of South Australia, and a ‘committee of management’ in the much more verbose Tasmania – why use two words when three would do – and simply ‘committee’ elsewhere except for Western Australia.

Those in the west of our country use ‘council’. The term ‘council’ is the uppity cousin of ‘committee’ which uncharacteristic for our friends from the west. The term ‘council’ lends itself far too easily to the royal we; ‘we are the council, council has determined, council approves, council disapproves, council controls your life’ – so when you don’t get your way, get angry with council. This is not what we want. We want inclusiveness. We want a sense of belonging. We want a feeling of control over our own place – a say in how our home is managed. The term ‘committee’ is more down to earth than ‘council’ and a better use of understandable language to describe the workhorse of our strata communities.

People get committees. We know what a committee does. They do the work. Almost all of us have been on one and, most of us then spend the rest of our days trying to avoid them. Love them or hate them, we understand committees.

A By Law Past Its Use By Date

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A reasonable set of by-laws will contain none that have past their use by date. By-laws about architectural guidelines are in point.

There are those who are fans of seventies architecture but not many are ‘out’. The decade is a little too recent to be ‘retro-chic’ and some just haven’t got around to replacing that mission brown fence or that amber beer bottle coloured glass feature panel on the front porch. Be that as it may, there is no good reason to enshrine these standards in by-laws for the enclosing of balconies and force our children, and our children’s children to live with these aesthetic atrocities.

A by-law that thirty years ago, before the advent of seamless glass, imposed a standard for enclosing balconies with the permission of the ‘council’ as committees where then pretentiously called, with brown framed windows of a certain size, all in the name of consistently when viewed from a Boeing 747 is not today, a reasonable by-law, if it ever was. Yet some poor wretch among the many that went a little early with their renovations and conformed to this standard will demand that the by-laws be observed by the owner of the penthouse with the million dollar harbour view undertaking renovations featuring floor to ceiling seamless glass walls.

Unreasonable by-laws encourage unreasonable behaviour both in the breach and the enforcement. By-laws are a legitimate way of enforcing community standards, including those of an architectural type but they must be written with enough flexibility to enable a building to age gracefully but then face the reality that it’s time for a little brow lift and a tummy tuck if you are to keep up with the neighbours.

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