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Everybody’s got somebody out there on the barricades or in the trenches, fighting the good fight on their behalf.
Drivers have the motoring organisations while cyclists and pedestrians have their lobby groups. Trades unions look after the workers and there’s a whole raft of think tanks and pressure groups for everyone from bankers, doctors and lawyers to even a couple for property developers.
But who’s looking after apartment owners? Who’s tapping politicians on the shoulder and saying, ‘hey, while you’re tweaking our laws and regulations, we’re the people who have to live with them’?
In fact, there are two major groups that represent apartment owners when state governments sit down to ‘consult’ on issues like short-term letting, flammable cladding and building defects.
The main player for apartment owners is the Owners Corporation Network (OCN.org.au) which was launched in 2002 and has been steadily growing in its reach and influence.
Created initially to provide a voice for the committee members of strata schemes in NSW, it has expanded to include individual owners and has moved into other states where there are associated groups.
The other main body is the Strata Community Association’s owners’ section and it is a little different. SCA, called Strata Community Australia but gradually rebranding thanks to expansion into New Zealand and Singapore, is the national professional group for strata managers and service providers.
To many strata owners, who remember a time when strata managers were perceived as sworn enemies of apartment residents, joining their owners’ group may feel like signing your henhouse up to a fox convention.
However, these days SCA and OCN are much more likely to agree than disagree; that said, the SCA is primarily about strata managers and other professionals – it’s their raison d’etre.
There’s no doubt they represent a powerful and influential group but you’d be forgiven for wondering whose side they’d take in an arm-wrestle over the conflicting demands of owners and managers.
Two recent examples have been the largely pro-owner limits placed on management contracts and the mostly pro-manager decision to allow commissions for arranging compulsory strata insurance. So the score is one-all, on those issues at least.
For what it’s worth, I frequently advise owners that, if their strata managers aren’t in SCA, they should ask why. However, I also strongly recommend that owners join the OCN.
The SCA does a terrific job of looking after strata managers and the OCN is a powerful independent voice for strata owners. The weak link in all of this is Fair Trading which has yet to de-register even the worst strata managers for anything directly related to their job (something that bugs SCA too, by the way).
I’m hearing unconfirmed reports that some strata managers are telling their owners not to bother with OCN as they are “covered’ by the SCA. Now, this is definitely NOT SCA policy and, more to the point, not true. Both organisations require registration and a small fee.
Meanwhile, both OCN and SCA have owners days coming up in a couple of months – now might be a good time to go online and check them out. I’m not a member of either group but you might want to be.
Whilst our scheme has no personal issue with our strata manager, we do have an issue with the big machine in the background that appears to treat us like a ‘cash cow’.
Just like the financial planners of old, strata managers are paid bonuses for extra non-routine services. Invoicing for such services are often via a back-door obscure process. A practice that could be described as deliberately deceitful and unethical.
Whilst our scheme is usually quick to pick up these ‘services’, and we always get our money refunded, it is tiresome to be on the alert all the time and occasionally does lead to dispute.
Our financial year commenced 1st October 2017, and to date we have identified $3,000 charged erroneously.
It is time the large strata management agencies stopped the practice and put in place a transparent system – such as sending invoices to a Treasurer for approval, just like any other contractor.
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