Monthly Archives: February 2013

Them and Us in Strata Land

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Different languages and different dialects define ‘them and us’. How many civilisations have not advanced as they should because of ‘them and us’ thinking? That can’t be right because it is their idea?

This might explain why the majority of our eight strata jurisdictions in Australia have not picked up the Queensland concept of a small schemes module for a more relaxed and informal set of laws about the management of very small blocks of up to six apartments. It might explain why we have not seen a copying of the relaxed but extremely practical and pragmatic laws of Victoria about empowering committees to get on with business rather than having them hamstrung by the apathetic masses. These are the owners who chose not to become involved but then get the right to make important decisions and invariably make them based on price when so many other factors will be as relevant. ‘Them and us’ thinking is for the unenlightened and legislation should not be its medium.

A Word on Unit Entitlements

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Great philosophical debates take place between development consultants about how entitlements should be set. The socialists will say we are all created equal and each apartment should have one entitlement so the common expenses are shared equally.

The democrats will say we are all created equally but some more than others, so the rich should pay more than the poor and they should be determined on the initial asking price for the various apartments. The greens will argue for a determination based on size reflecting the carbon footprint of the apartment and the dictator, the nasty developer we all despise will say, I don’t give a toss how you split the bills but the penthouse I am keeping will pay the least.

There is no right or wrong answer to this question although most agree that the balance lies somewhere between the socialists and the democrats and never with the greens or the dictator. Expenses should be determined equally, much in the same way as polite people split a bill at the end of a communal meal at a restaurant. Divide the bill by the number of people at the table and avoid that horrid and embarrassing exercise of determining who had what to eat or drink. It doesn’t matter that your apartment is on the second floor and uses less energy to get to your floor than to the penthouses at the top – for those that care about such trivialities; two pieces of advice: firstly lifts use more power stopping and starting than travelling small distances up and down a lift well. Secondly, you should probably live on a farm.

Learn to Be Focused

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The collective responsibility of a strata community under our current system of self-determination can only be discharged by the actions of individual owners.

Each owner therefore has at least a moral obligation to do his or her bit. Participation in the affairs of strata management however, is at all time low. Perhaps this reflects our society generally but it probably has more to do with the dysfunctional rabble that is typically an owners corporation. Leaders and managers of our strata communities must find new ways of guiding committees to focus on the things that matter and avoid being distracted by irrelevant and out of scope issues. The things that matter include more than finances about which strata communities obsess to the detriment of other aspects of a balanced community organisation. A focus on client service, internal processes and learning and innovation within the group is required. In this way committee work will become more palatable, if not enjoyable and encourage more good people to make a contribution to the management of their immediate urban environment.

Overcrowding in Sydney Apartments

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In response to the tragic loss of life in badly built and overcrowded apartments in Sydney, the inevitable call has been made for law reform to allow owners corporations to make by-laws determining how units may be used (‘Air of Legitimacy Gives Rise to Many Urban Myths of Strata Title’, Stephen Goddard, SMH, Jan 7, 2013).

The strata world works this way: bad things happen, industry leaders call on the government for new laws allowing unit owners to make rules preventing said bad things, governments give owners corporations more power (lest government be left with the responsibility) and owners then complain they can’t bear the responsibility and cost of compliance. It’s happened this way for more than 50 years, and the time has come to say enough. This way doesn’t work.

Mr. Goddard’s opinion piece assumes powerlessness on the part of local government to act against overcrowding. His assumption should not go unchallenged. Local government is empowered to act on overcrowding. Local governments can, and do make laws about the use of property, including the number of permitted rooms and people that can occupy them. Local governments have the power to investigate, prosecute and seek the imposition of fines. That nothing happens to stop these practices is not for the want of power, but rather the will.

There is in New South Wales (and elsewhere) a sad history of state and local government abdicating regulatory powers about high density living and shifting the burden and cost of enforcement to owners corporations. It is a convenient solution to the troublesome matter of living cheek by jowl.

In the case of overcrowding, passing the enforcement baton on use from local government to owners will compound the current problems. Owners will not know how to use the powers, will not have the resources to properly investigate and lay prosecutions and in the wrong hands, the improper exercise of the powers will infringe human rights. If owners corporations can’t control parking, what hope do we have for the fair and proper regulation of sleepovers.

Far from seeking further power to self regulate in this area as Mr. Goddard suggests, unit owners should demand governments do their job to control the use of property and leave owners to do theirs, to keep it repaired and maintained.

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