NSW Labor has launched a renewed push to take strata out of Fair Trading and into a separate Government entity, saying it’s evident that stakeholders don’t trust the current structures to properly manage the many and conflicting issue confronting strata owners.
“Currently, strata is overseen by Fair Trading which also looks after consumer issues such as broken or dangerous toys and appliances, and complaints against motor mechanics, paintball centres and tattoo parlours,” Shadow Minister for Consumer Protection Julia Finn says.
“During budget estimates, it became even more clear that many stakeholders do not have faith in the capacity of this Government, or the Office of Fair Trading to properly regulate and support the real estate industry.”
Ms Finn was speaking in support of Labor amendments to an Upper House Bill intended to set up a new real estate section in the Better Regulation Ministry.
The Real Estate Services Bill, introduced by the Shooters, Farmers and Fishers Party, would take the regulation of the real estate industry from Fair Trading NSW and Commissioner of Fair Trading, replacing them with a newly created Real Estate Services Council and Real Estate Services Commissioner.
Labor introduced amendments to expand the proposed Council’s membership to include strata and tenants representatives and expand the remit of the Council beyond real estate to also include strata schemes and community land schemes.
“Every year there are tens of thousands of people moving into strata apartments for the first time and they have little understanding of their rights,” Ms Finn said.
“Strata is the fastest growing sector of housing in the state but the laws are complicated,” she added. “It’s time strata owners had someone in power who is focused on their needs.”
The Government supported neither the original Bill nor Labor’s amendments, and the chances are it will either be delayed or voted down when it reaches the Legislative Assembly, where the government has a slim overall majority.
Prior to the 2019 election, Labor committed to establish a standalone Office of the Commissioner for Strata and Community Schemes. And it’s not just confusion within Fair Trading that hampers good policy and management.
Strata issues also stray into Planning and the Attorney-General’s sphere, leading to allegations of buck-passing when complex issues get bogged down in conflicting priorities.
However, strata owners, renters and stake-holders who see potential parallels with the recent amendments to strata law regarding pets by-laws, may well be disappointed.
In that case, a government-sponsored Bill to change some strata laws had amendments attached in the Upper House at the same time as a Court of Appeal ruling erased blanket pet by-laws in apartment blocks. The Government needed to compromise to get the other aspects of the Bill through.
This time the Bill is sponsored by a minor party, the Government supports neither it nor the amendments, and has no incentive to turn it into law.
However, at a time when waning public confidence in strata developments, and plummeting sales of new units could create a dent in efforts to support the economy, the whole management of strata issues is subject to ever closer scrutiny from potential purchasers.
This Bill might die in the Lower House (it’s rumoured to be going to hit the floor tomorrow, March 24) but even if it does, the issue is not going to go away any time soon.