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Flat Chat Live roundup

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The Flat Chat column’s recent seminar, Flat Chat Live, saw somewhere north of 120 people turn up in central Sydney to hear a cavalcade of experts discuss a huge variety of issues at the Strata Community Australia Owners Day –  and I got to tell my strata manager joke.

Between us we powered through most of the pre-planned questions and quite a few from the floor,  Matthew  Jenkins of Bannerman Lawyers, Anne Maree Paull of CHU Insurance and Richard Holloway, all-round strata guru and I dealt with the implications of the new laws in the morning session.

In the afternoon Fair Trading’s head of mediation Michael Courtney and Marcus Browne, who deals with complaints about strata managers at FT, conducted a session on complaints and disputes.

Here is a sample of some of the Qs and most of the As.

Can you pass a by-law banning short-term or Airbnb lets?

Probably not per se, but you could pass a by-law committing the Owners Corp to abide by local council zoning, if your building was zoned residential only.

Would an upsurge in Airbnb lets in your building invalidate insurance?

No.  Unless there was an obvious and major change in the way the majority of the building was run, which would require notification to the insurer.  Even then, rather than denying claims they would probably just increase either the premium or the excess.

Will the 2 percent defects bond on new buildings improve the quality of buildings or will developers simply factor defect claims into the price of new apartments?

The general opinion was that the 2 percent bond wasn’t enough and, even so, it would just be added to the cost of units.  But at least owners will have a fund to pay for defects.  The critical issue was getting your defects checked before time ran out (two years for non-major defects)

Will the obligation on strata managers to declare commissions from insurance policies change anything about the way compulsory insurance is organised?

Short answer, no.  Small strata firms, especially, would go to the wall if they didn’t have insurance commissions.  You won’t get the commissions taken off your premiums if you do direct because the insurers would rather work with experienced people who know the claims procedure and what is and isn’t worth claiming.  That saves them time and money.

Will local councils really send parking rangers into apartment blocks?  Will strata committees even invite them in when minor infringements like parking over the line could lead to fines?

Parking wardens will not enter multi-storey or underground car parks for safety reasons.  However, strata schemes with “open:” car parks near commuter hubs like railway stations will put up with the inconvenience of more strictly enforced rules just to get rid of the parking thieves who park in their place all day, every day, and can’t be touched by strata by-laws.

Will the curbs on proxy farming work when the worst offenders have already devised ways around them, such as distributing blank signed votes to loyal supporters?

At least there can be no more scare campaigns about proxies being needed, so as to avoid the AGM having to be done all over again if there aren’t enough proxies.  Under the new laws those who do attend an inquorate meeting can wait half an hour and then just go ahead as if they were quorate.  However, if there are loopholes, the power-addicted rusted-on EC members will exploit them.

What is the point of having new laws when NCAT, the Tribunal meant to enforce them, hands down inconsistent rulings based on outdated attitudes and undermined by a complete lack of training of its adjudicators?

Under the new system, there will be no “paper” adjudication as a first stage.  You will be able to have a hearing in front of a real person, if your dispute doesn’t get resolved at mediation.  However, everyone thought there should be a separate strata section of specially trained adjudicators at NCAT.
Will the new pet by-laws see an upsurge of animals in apartments – or just a rise in the number of misguided complaints to Fair Trading?

A bit of both, was the answer.  It was generally felt that pets were a good thing in communities but there was some agreement with the new laws that allow owners corps to provide proof of an “assistance animal’s” bona fides.

Can you pass a bylaw restricting pet ownership to owner- resident and excluding tenants?

No.  Under the new laws, by-laws can’t be “harsh, unconscionable or oppressive”. Excluding tenants could be seen as both harsh and oppressive.

What do you do when a member of a racial minority says that your complaints about breaches of by-laws are race-based discrimination?

“Ignore it,” says Michael Courtney, or invite them to prove it.  If you aren’t being racist, then it’s a cheap shot and it’s certainly not a get out of jail free card.

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