Overcrowding in Sydney Apartments

By February 5, 2013 Uncategorized No Comments

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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