Monthly Archives: September 2016

The fate of your strata scheme could be decided with emojis

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New forms of communication interest me. Oxford Dictionaries named  its 2015 word of the year. Really.

Embracing this new form of communication I have devised a method of voting in strata title owners corporations by emoji which, incidentally, is permissible under Regs 14 and 15 of the Strata Schemes Management Regulation 2016 [NSW]. It addresses every common response to meeting motions; except for the one you give in response to the strata manager asking for a higher fee as it’s not suitable for younger readers.

Yes

No

Abstain

Need more details

I can’t afford the levy

Not this bloke again

Pet approved

Pet denied

Say what?

Dear God please let this meeting end

In all seriousness, the ability to vote in new ways could be a boon for owners, but with laws so broad they allow emoji votes, we have to ask where this puts underpaid strata managers and legal professionals coming to grips with new legislation. As anyone who’s tried organising a meeting knows, you won’t get everyone to agree on a venue; let alone whether or not to do it online, whether tenants can participate or the content of the explanatory notes that will now accompany motions.

Compared to that farce, emoji voting seems pretty logical.

From a misplaced mat to a $170k lawsuit – the danger of breaching duties of care

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Damages of $171,500 plus costs have been awarded against a Mosman owners corporation for a breach of its duty of care to a resident who tripped on a frayed floor mat Left in a lift for more than a day after somebody had moved in.

The owners corporation’s duty of care owed to the resident was held to be a duty including the known potential risk of damage and injury caused by removalists using the building’s lift. The performance of this duty included ensuring compliance with the building’s code of conduct for moving, checking the adequacy of the mat used to protect the lift floor and ensuring it was safe for residents to go to and from their apartments while removals were occurring.

The award of damages here will no doubt be paid by the owners corporation insurer but will likely increase the building’s future premiums and excess. But there’s more to money in these cases. The incident involved a long-term resident of the building who was 88 years of age. Her injuries were serious and the findings against a member of the committee and the caretakers was damning to say the least.

The assistant caretaker was criticised for leaving work when the move was incomplete even though the building rules provided for an extra fee to be paid for out of hours moves.

A member of the executive committee who saw the mat in the lift after the move but before the accident was criticised for his personal failure to arrange for the mat to be removed in circumstances when he was aware from previous incidents that the mat remaining in the lift constituted a danger to lift users. He was also criticised for not minuting the accident.

The current caretaker, who at the time was the cleaner and who put the mat out on the day in question, was found ‘not to be a witness of credit’.

The resident that was moving in was found ‘not to be impressive and appeared self-conscious and embarrassed’.

All these people have to continue living and working together and it won’t be pleasant after what’s happened. The lessons are these; be careful but if you aren’t then being forthright in dealing with the consequences will result in everyone being better off.

(Case reference – Allen v SP 54664 [2016] NSWDC 217)

Sydney council aggro a reminder of why strata brawls are so fierce

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There seems to be an inverse correlation developing between the powers of government and the emotions of voters.

Last weekend’s Sydney city local government elections serves the point. The independent Clover Moore and her team belted the Liberals to win a record fourth term for her as Mayor. The main reason seems to have been a backlash at attempts by the Liberal state government to interfere in local politics. In the lead up to the election there were very acrimonious fights about the amalgamation of various councils and the right of businesses to vote in the elections, a move thought to favour the Liberals. In the end it did exactly the opposite.

The powers of local government are relatively insignificant compared to the powers of the state and federal government yet when messed with locals react angrily. There were fist fights last weekend at polling booths.

It must be something to do with territory. The closer the decisions are to home, the greater the emotional response is to the perceived violation of property rights.

When this theory is applied to the so-called ‘fourth tier’ of government, an owners corporation, it explains much about the often challenging behaviour strata committees and managers must deal with day-to-day.

With this in mind, changes to strata laws will likely achieve little in terms of reducing communal living conflict. Turf wars have been going on since the beginning of time and this is not about to change with the stroke of the Parliament’s pen.

The case for reintroducing ostracism rather than secret ballots

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The ancient Greeks used secret ballots for the purpose of ostracism, a procedure by which you could be voted out of Athens for 10 years.

It remains for us to see what use owners corporations will put secret ballots to when they are permitted under the new strata laws, beginning in NSW on 30 November 2016, but many in quarrelsome buildings would argue for the power to be used in exactly the same way. Banishing the persistent visitor car-space hog out of town for 10 years is a much better idea than issuing a by-law breach notice.

In modern times, the secret voting method has become the accepted way to elect governments to counter corruption and remain hidden from people seeking favours.

These historical vignettes tell us something about the serious matters that secrecy has addressed over the years. They also tell us something about the sad point at which our strata communities have arrived.

We have introduced secret voting not to fight crime and corruption but to opt out of direct talk on interpersonal matters and decisions about the way we share space and property.

Those responsible should be ostracised.

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