Flat Chat 600 – Still crazy after all these years


Writing a new column – on the value of a good whinge, if you must know – I noticed that this would be our 600th Flat Chat. It’s true – we have been going for almost 13 years.

Obviously, we’ve seen a few changes in that time.  For a start, new strata laws came into effect last year, although we are yet to discover how many of our hopes and fears turn out to be well founded.

We’ve seen a succession of good, bad and indifferent Fair Trading ministers come and go, to the point that it became known as a training-wheels ministry. One of the worst was best known for her ability to raise funding from developers! Really?

Then there was the previous incumbent who begged her apartment neighbours not to complain about noisy students – in case the Press found out she wasn’t living in her constituency.  It’s one of those strata ironies – the one person who might have done something, couldn’t because she was on the fiddle.

The last time the NSW government had its regular game of musical chairs, it ditched the Fair Trading title entirely – one way to deal with a negative image.

However, at least two of the last four Ministers, it must be said, understood strata and tried to make a difference.

Anthony Roberts, newly anointed planning supremo, was the architect of the new strata laws. Victor Dominello, fine-tuned and shepherded them into existence and has now been elevated to Finance – which has oversight of his previous portfolio.

Good Lord!  Are we actually going to get continuity?

When Flat Chat started in Domain, it was based on a book my partner Sue Williams and I wrote about Apartment Living.  It was a very angry book based on our experiences being ripped off by developers, duped by strata committee crooks, let down by the legal system and and unfairly blamed and targetted by neighbours.

Domain originally offered the column to Sue but she was contracted elsewhere so she passed it on to me.  I reckoned I had six weeks tops before I was found out and shown the door so I let rip.

Lo and behold, people liked my boots and all approach to property writing and the rest is 600 columns of not quite history.

The earliest column I can find here on the website goes back to 2004.  It’s called “Reeling in the Ratbags” and, believe it or not, is about attempts to write sensible new strata laws.

Plus ca change, as your airbnb guests from France might say.

Amid all the scams, schemes and scandals we’ve uncovered, one Flat Chat campaign that sprouted a series on the news pages,  stopped developers demanding proxy votes from buyers of new apartments. Then planning minister Frank Sartor credited the media with pushing through the changes. That would have been us because no one else was writing about apartments back then.

More recently, our exposure of government MPs running illegal holiday lets in a residential-only building near parliament got Sydney council to act, but the MPs are still at it, hoping their mates in Macquarie St change the law.

We’ve backed campaigns to curb proxy harvesting, limit the contracts for strata professionals, create defect bonds for new buildings and end sunset clawbacks (where developers delayed completion of new blocks so they could return deposits then re-sell their apartments in a hotter market).

We’ve charted the growth of the Owners Corporation Network – the voice of apartment owners across NSW and beyond – as well as the challenging rise of airbnb.

Meanwhile this website has run almost 18,000 questions and answers on about 4,000 topics on its forum. We are on Twitter and Facebook, not to mention popping up occasionally on James Valentine’s show on ABC 702.

So, as we greet our new Minister, Matt Kean, forgive us if we pat ourselves on the back and thank the various editors of Domain who first gave us the opportunity to do this, then kept us going when the going got tough.

Most of all, we need to thank you, the readers and participants in the Forum who do the hard yards in strata and then bring us the stories that keep Flat Chat  going.

The column on the power of negative thinking will appear next week – if we make it to 601.

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