It would be fair to say that Flat Chat’s approach to apartment living and strata law over the years has been robustly non-academic. We use often cite anonymous sources and unverified reports to build a picture of all that is wrong with strata living (and many things that are right).
Academic researchers, by contrast, meticulously record numerous interviews, often with clearly identified and authoritative subjects, referencing other studies and reports, to reach carefully considered conclusions.
One such diligent researcher is Dr Hazel Easthope of UNSW who joined us this week for the Flat Chat Wrap podcast to discuss her new book The Politics and Practices of Apartment Living which has just been published by Edgar Elgar in the UK.
In the podcast we discuss why she wrote the book – basically to get a handle on all this rapidly evolving lifestyle and its challenges, and how people are coping with it in different countries – and why she wrote it the way she did.
The book is structured, she says, to follow the entire life cycle of an apartment block, from the planning stage to the eventual extinction of the strata scheme for renewal or even demolition.
What she discovered was that, even though different parts of the world have different strata systems, everyone has basically the same issues – defects, lack of communication within the blocks and with their committees and managers, selfish residents and lack of understanding of rights and responsibilities.
One universal issue was the lack of concern for and communication with tenants, who are routinely locked out of information, decision-making and community activities.
This, of course, is hugely ironic since renters make up more than half the residents of apartment blocks and are basically financing half the investment in strata homes (along with, in Australia, the subsidies provided by taxpayers via negative gearing).
Hazel Easthope highlighted efforts in community building in Vancouver, with “street parties” and volunteer concierges, but she also talked about the problem of hijacked buildings in South Africa.
There, in the “white flight” that followed the end of apartheid, luxury apartments in the posher parts of Johannesburg were abandoned by their owners, taken over by squatters, allowed to deteriorate with power cut off, affecting lifts, lights, sewerage and water supplies, and then criminal gangs moved in to “manage” them.
The city council is trying to recover the buildings for paying renters but the problem is that with the majority of strata owners long gone, mostly overseas, there is no one to sign off on the legally required documents.
And finally, she tells a funny but alarming story about what happened when two different companies were contracted to complete vital work on the same building.
All in all, it’s a fascinating discussion about a very interesting book.