Even given the many and great differences between our states’ strata laws, you might think it should be possible for us to distil the best of them into one cohesive standard that everyone owning or renting apartments anywhere could live by.
Whether you live under a body corporate (Queensland), owners corporation (NSW and Victoria) or, bizarrely, strata company (WA), giving our collective ownership one name that doesn’t imply big business rather than a whole other level of democratic government would be a start.
But those are just the cosmetic differences. Each state has a rag-bag of good and bad strata laws, some of which are tried and tested or forward-looking, while others are out of date or were never good ideas to begin with.
Probably the most significant positive difference in Queensland is the relatively recent absorption of strata into the Attorney-General’s office. Considering apartment living in the Sunshine State has previously come under the departments of horse racing, tourism and wine promotion, this has to be seen as a step forward, and one that other states would do well to copy.
Serious disputes are going to end up at a tribunal under your state A-G’s aegis anyway. Why create more cracks for issues to fall into?
Also, Queensland has a Body Corporate and Community Management Commissioner, informing and advising strata residents undistracted by the jumble of unrelated issues that Fair Trading (NSW) and Consumer Affairs (Vic) have to deal with.
Less obviously beneficial are Queensland’s two-level levies (or strata fees). There, levies are split between contributions to the general running of the block and your share of building insurance, separating the value of your pad from your use of common facilities.
Travelling south, in NSW our promised short-term holiday letting laws are probably the most significant positive difference from all the other states.
The as-yet unproclaimed laws passed last year will consolidate owners corporations’ right to pass by-laws restricting commercial Airbnb-style lets in residential blocks.
Apart from getting past the recent election, the government is apparently awaiting the Brexit-like negotiations, dominated by conflicting vested interests in the holiday trade, on the proposed code of conduct.
In Victoria, one highlight is the requirement for owners corporations to set up their own internal dispute system, compelling neighbours to address problems directly, before going off to Consumer Affairs for mediation and then to the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for a ruling.
Some might also see Victoria’s insistence on requiring a special resolution – needing the support of 75 per cent of all owners – before the owners corp can take legal action, as a brake on irresponsible litigation.
Others would argue that it hinders valid cases when a minority of timid or self-interested owners can block legal moves.
In NSW, a simple majority of those owners who attend or send a proxy to a general meeting can drive a dispute up the legal route. Considering these meetings don’t even have to be quorate, the opportunities for abuse are huge.
Perhaps a more equitable approach would be a combination of NSW’s easy votes and Victoria’s interim resolutions. There motions that don’t reach the 75 percent at a meeting can be carried, provided no more than 25 percent of owners don’t object within 14 days.
But one problem with any suggested improvements is that each state’s politicians think their strata laws are the best while the people who live under them often think they’re the worst.
And we’ll be looking at the worst of the worst next week.
This column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.