Monthly Archives: May 2013

More on Focus in Strata

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A focus, in the context of an organisation like an owners corporation, might be described as a single unifying purpose. It is the very point to our being. The point to being a lawyer is to be an advocate of those seeking justice.

The point to being a teacher is to help people learn and become the best they can be. The point to being a builder … you get the point.

The point to being an owners corporation is to look after common property. That’s it, no more, no less. An owners corporation exists as a creature of legislation about strata titled property, wherever it is, whatever it is called, to look after common property; the hallways, the exterior skin, the driveways and gardens, the foyer and the surrounds and facilities. Reduced to its simplest form, as all things should be, this thing we find ourselves involved in need not be so strange and mysterious at all.

A Litany of Woes

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‘Let’s make an agenda’, says the chairperson on debut. There follows an outpouring of personal grievances of the committee members.

The temperature of the pool, the randomness of parking habits, the dog faeces on the podium level, the butts flicked over the balcony and of course, the need to keep the levies the same as they were last year despite the price of insurance, energy, wages and every other expense ever known to a strata community having gone up. When the chairperson’s notebook page is full of issues, and all have flagged their particular pet cause, it’s time to get down to business.

An issue is selected for debate. There is no particular order to this; just the one that was mentioned first and therefore got top billing. It might be dogs. Should we have them, should we not? Should we allow only small dogs (as if small dogs don’t bark!)? If we are allowing small dogs only, what type? How do we define a small dog? Is it to be defined by height, by weight, by breed? We should put up a sign: ‘Dogs, please ensure your humans clean up after you’. It’s 9.30 pm and their is no agreement on dogs. A subcommittee is formed to look into the issue of canine behaviour and report back at the next meeting.

Another issue is attempted and the same process plays out. Its now well after 10.00 pm and everyone is exhausted. So the meeting ends and the committee stands adjourned to a date unspecified until someone thinks to call another meeting.

The minutes arrive some considerable time later and reflect, in agonising detail, the most in depth discussion ever had about canines and their impact on a group of high-rise dwellers that failed to come to any conclusion. And we wonder why more than half of the group, including the subcommittee into the behaviour of dogs, will contribute only their apologies to the next meeting.

In Keeping With Our Obsession About Health and Safety

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In today’s society, to argue against steps that are designed to keep us safe and healthy is like arguing against motherhood as a worthwhile undertaking. At work and in our homes, the health and safety officers are on the case.

At work we have studies on unsafe practices, consultants to tell us how to bend and lift, colleagues are trained and responsible for leading us in this endeavour and managing directors proudly taking the credit for providing a safe and healthy environment for their people. We have electronic signs on building sites telling all who pass how many days it has been since someone was killed or injured on the site.

In our homes too we must have smoke detectors and we can’t smoke in cars carrying children. Whatever we may think about the intervention of the government in our lives and the decay of our liberties to live as we want, this movement has momentum and is now seen as a mark of a well-developed society.

In owners corporation land the health and safety movement is retarded. Very often the same people that at work would dare not speak against health and safety ridicule the idea and mock its fanatical ways as it applies to the common property where we live. Paths are broken, carpet in doorways is lifting at the edges, tiles are loose, exit signs are not visible and fire extinguishers are not serviceable. Building mangers stand on milk crates to work at heights, janitors push large bins up hills and the floors are cleaned and wet first thing in the morning as the lobby is in peak use. We don’t seem to understand that health and safety laws apply to where we live and share common property. Laws about fire safety and essential services apply to all buildings whether domestic or commercial and other laws apply because our common properties are regarded as workplaces for the purpose of laws designed to create safe and healthy workplaces.

It matters not that the owners corporation does not employ the workers on a permanent or casual basis, it is enough that contractors must, or at some stage may, come on to the grounds to do work. This triggers the application of the workplace health and safety laws. In other walks of life and human endeavour people are personally fined and jailed for breaching these very laws, but in strata land we act is if we could care less.

Learning To Be Understood

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‘We are one but we are many’ goes the patriotic song: We Are Australians. For strata management, as for so many other aspects of Australian public and private administration, this is not the truth. One relatively simple legal concept is expressed across our country in eight different languages, a different one for each of our states and territories.

So what; the Peoples Front for State and Territorial Rights will argue in eight separate submissions; does it really matter that we call swimming attire, cossies in one state, togs in another, swimmers somewhere else and suits in yet another – odd, but does it really matter? Are we lesser swimmers for this oddity? Is our beach culture diminished? Do our swimwear designers suffer for this lack of uniformity? These are the things that make us interesting and break the conversational ice when we move from one area to another. The embarrassment and subsequent ribbing of mistakes made of a cruel and parochial language is part of the national fabric – to be celebrated not denied.

The People for the Abolition of the States and the Supremacy of the Commonwealth in all Respects (you do the acronym), not surprisingly has a different and more complex view of the world. In their perfect world of master planned cities built around a model of concentric circles, there would be one set of laws, one set of forms to fill in and one all powerful public service to keep us in line and definitely, there would be one language. To them a bag is something you carry things in, a port is a fortified wine served after dinner and a suitcase is something used to protect formal attire when travelling. What is there to be confused about?

The Origins of Apartment Living

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Whilst shared housing and facilities might be new to some of us, it is a far from new form of housing. Apartments date back to Roman times, when space was short and people lived vertically in stacks. The word apartment derives from the Latin verb partire meaning to divide or share.

If you were poor in Rome, you lived in simple flats or apartments – the inside of these places was symbolic of your lack of wealth. These flats were known as insulae and only contained two rooms at the most. People tended to use them only for sleeping. Their days were spent working, perhaps a visit to the baths (as their flats had no running water) and they usually ate in local inns as cooking in these flats was not safe.

Unlike modern apartment buildings where the very wealthy have the penthouse at the top of the block, in those days, the hierarchy was the poorest at the top, the least poor closest to the street – they were the first out in the event of fire if somebody did try to cook!

All of this of course means that multi dwelling complexes are a thing of the past, a thing of the present and a thing of the future.

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