If there are two groups in strata who cop the most grief from residents, it would have to be strata managers and rental agents.
In the case of the former, many complaints stem from neither party fully understanding their roles or expectations. They can range from strata managers being merely levy collectors and bill payers, to them acting as legal advisors, mediators, culture carriers and emotional support.
But rental agents are different. They appear to have only two jobs – let a property for the maximum achievable rent and collect the said rent on behalf of the investor owner.
Easy-peasy? Not in the world of strata, where they should also be an essential bridge between the landlords, the tenants and the strata committee.
However, judging by frequent complaints on the Flat Chat website, they are more often a barrier. Why? For the very simple reason that it’s easier that way.
Good rental agents – and they do exist – will diligently pass on requests from the tenants and the owners corporation (body corporate) to the owners, and vice versa. They’ll also pass complaints between the renters and the strata committee, so that they can hopefully be resolved quickly and painlessly.
Bad rental agents will try to avoid the three parties from communicating with each other. If the stakeholders start discussing issues among themselves, it soon becomes obvious where the problem really lies.
Take the case we cited recently of the couple who ignored notices from the strata committee that their driveway was about to be dug up and re-concreted. Unable to access their cars, they started screaming at the rental agent.
Soon after, the landlord got involved as the tenants were threatening to sue for loss of amenity (and anything else they could think of). And who was right in the midst of this clusterfunk? The rental agent, pointing the finger at the committee who’d done nothing wrong.
Judging by many other posts to Flat Chat, a typical scenario involves tenants causing a problem but the landlord not even hearing about it until they get a letter saying they’re being taken to a tribunal.
Conversely, you have a situation where the tenants are putting up with some unacceptable conditions in their home and the owners know nothing until they’re hit with a demand for a rent reduction.
The times when these incidents could have been resolved with a couple of phone calls to establish the problem and inform or warn the relevant parties are far from rare.
Part of the reason is that it’s not in the agents’ financial interests to see tenants locked into long-term leases. They make most of their money in the churn, when renters move in and out of properties.
You can only imagine their frustration of the real estate agents required to serve their time on the rental desk while their colleagues are working towards their first Porche in a booming sales market.
They don’t want to take problems to investor owners because there is no revenue involved. Also, it’s easier to pretend that there are no problems or just blame them on the strata committee.
Of course there are bad tenants who lack basic social graces. And yes there are crap landlords and awful strata committees who forget that they are dealing with people who just want to be treated fairly.
But most of us – tenants and owners – behave mostly decently, most of the time. And if rental agents can’t aspire to that too, then they are probably in the wrong job.
This column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.