The Flat Chat Wrap podcast covers a lot of ground this week, from the state-wide easing of covid restrictions in NSW (but not in Victoria) to a little local difficulty with window tinting.
NSW’s “Freedom Day” gets a lot of attention, as you’d expect, and we address the issue of whether or not we still need to wear masks on common property.
Jimmy compares figures with the UK that suggest, even with 80 percent of the population vaccinated, things could get a lot worse before they get better, if only in terms of infections and hospitalisations.
Plus we chat about the dangers of frustrated gym junkies rushing back and picking up their workouts and weights at the same intensity as they worked at before they were locked down.
We discuss at some significant changes on the Flat Chat website, including the fact that we have finally acquired the flatchat.com.au web address – losing the annoying hyphen between the “flat” and the “chat” – and the new menus that make it easier for readers to find the topics in which they are most interested.
We look at a newspaper story about a building engineer who’s just been awarded an Order of Australia but several of whose projects have attracted the unwelcome attention of Building Commissioner David Chandler.
We look at an owner whose been ordered to remove the tinting on their windows – the only thing that makes their main bedroom habitable – because it looks different from the other apartments in their block.
And the resident who’s fallen out with their owners corporation who have not only hit him with a series of petty Notices To Comply, but charged him an admin fee for doing so.
All that and more in this week’s Flat Chat Wrap.
TRANSCRIPT IN FULL
It’s Freedom Day in New South Wales (or, when you’re listening to this, it will have been; yesterday).
I can’t wait, because at the moment, it’s tomorrow.
It’s tomorrow, here in our little studio. You might be able to hear a storm brewing outside; I don’t know if our filters will cut that out. If you hear gusting winds, that’s what’s happening. There’s probably going to be a storm brewing in New South Wales, as well, if this loosening of restrictions creates an increase in COVID infections. We’re going to be talking about that. We’re going to be talking about big news in Flat Chat. We’re going to be talking about a couple of issues in strata schemes, one of which has come up on the Flat Chat forum, and you’ve got some news about an investigation into an engineer?
Yes, that’s right; an engineering firm.
We’d better get on with it. I’m Jimmy Thomson, I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review.
And I’m Sue Williams and I write about property for Domain.
And this is the Flat Chat Wrap.
The residents of New South Wales (or most of New South Wales), have been freed.
So we can walk about outside without masks on; we can go to cafes and gyms and all sorts of things… Is it going to make a big difference?
Oh, let’s hope not. I think the news was this morning, that first dose of the vaccination has hit 90% of people in New South Wales, so that’s a lot. So hopefully, any kind of rise at all in the infection rate, will be dampened down by the number of vaccinations we’ve had, hopefully. I imagine the rest of the country is looking on quite keenly to see what happens here, because they obviously want a good news story for when they’re coming out of restrictions, as well. Or, if you’re in Queensland, or WA; if you’ve never really entered them.
Well, I have, funnily enough, for the first time actively gone looking for COVID-19 infection statistics, other than just waiting to see what we get fed by the government.
What did you find?
Well, in the UK (I’m comparing with the UK, which has roughly three times the population of Australia); at the moment, 85.4% have had one dose and 78.5% have had a second dose.
Ah, so they’re not that different.
Guess how many infections a day they have? I’ll tell you how many Australia has… We have, at the moment, 2400.
A day, nationally?
So then they should have about 7000 a day, shouldn’t they? 7000 to 8000 a day.
Wow! That’s a huge difference, isn’t it?
It’s a lot. Now, they have 6853 people in hospital at the moment with COVID. In Australia, we have 1448. That actually works out, proportionately, about right. They’ve got 800+ on ventilators, of the people in hospital; we’ve got just under 300. Again, proportionately, that kind of works. So, you’ve got to look at that 35,000 and think, are we going to be looking at (proportionately, for the whole country), 12,000 people getting infected on a daily basis. It’s kind of worrying! I mean, I think they were a bit cavalier in the UK. I was watching a football match this morning on TV and I think there was about 60,000 people in the football ground.
How many wearing masks?
None. Singing, shouting, cheering… I think they had to register to get tickets and they had to prove their vaccination status, but it just seems like this balance between opening up the economy and protecting people from the virus… It’s a bit of hit and miss, isn’t it?
I guess Australia is in a bit of a different situation, because we’ve got two major States… We’ve got WA, we’ve got Queensland, we’ve got the Northern Territory and we’ve got Tasmania. They have barely any cases, whatsoever and then we’ve just got New South Wales, the ACT and Victoria, where we’ve got quite a lot of cases.
Especially in Victoria, which is getting out of hand.
That’s right, but Victoria is closed down. New South Wales, the restrictions have been lifted, but not completely, like they have been in the UK. So, one would assume that the numbers of cases would rise much more slowly here, than in the UK.
You would hope so, but in terms of people living in apartment blocks, you still have to wear a mask on common property; obviously not in your home. Some buildings are reopening their gyms and loosening the controls that they had on the number of people in the gyms and of course, commercial gyms are reopening. It’s been quite interesting that there’s been articles, telling people what to do when they go back to exercising.
Because I imagine there will be a lot of injuries!
Well, yeah. The advice is, train as if you were starting afresh, not as if you’ve just picked up from where you left off. So you know, if you were doing certain weights and a certain number of repetitions, when you’ve last trained several months ago, don’t think you can do that, without getting injured. You’ve got to build up.
There are people who have kept up their exercise routine religiously, throughout COVID. I’m probably not one of them, really, but I’ve exercised a bit. The other difficulty is that if you go back to gyms, you still have to wear a mask inside. So if you’re doing a really vigorous cardio class, you still have to wear a mask and that’s going to be a bit tricky for some people. I wonder if that’s going to keep some people away from the gym for a little bit longer. They might prefer working out outside, where they don’t have to wear a mask. I don’t know; it’ll be interesting. I plan to go back to the gym tomorrow. The classes can only take 20 people, whereas in the past, they’ve had up to 60 people in them. I don’t know if I’ll get a place in the class. I don’t know if it will be empty and I don’t know if it would be packed. It’s really hard to judge, isn’t it?
I mean, you’re saying tomorrow…
Yeah, so you’ll know by now, but people we know who run cafes and restaurants, are saying they don’t know if people are going to be scared off from coming back, or if everybody’s going to be desperate to just sit and have a cup of coffee and read a newspaper, somewhere other than their lounge room.
It’s hard, because we’ve had FOMO for so long, but now it’s becoming FOGO; you know, ‘fear of going out.’ I think people are a little bit worried, a little bit anxious; they’re keen to get out and about, but they’re just a little bit nervous about the whole prospect, really.
I think what’s happened in Victoria; you know, where the figures are still rising… Everybody is sheeting it back to the anti-lockdown demonstrations and the celebrations around the AFL Grand Finals; that long weekend. People illicitly getting together and kind of proving why they shouldn’t have been getting together, because they’ve accelerated the spread of of the virus. I guess now that they know that lockdown kind of works, they might all start behaving themselves a bit better. But, it’s tough, you know. The whole State gets locked down, because some people either don’t get it, or they don’t… By ‘don’t get it,’ I mean they don’t understand that they have a responsibility, or, they don’t care. You know, they put their personal freedom above the collective well being of the community. We’ve got a cat on our desk at the moment, so if things start going ‘bump,’ you know why. She seems very curious about what we’re doing up here; she’s gone off now. She doesn’t like the wind, or storms and it’s started raining. When we come back, we’re going to be talking about exciting news on the Flat Chat front. That’s after this.
What’s happening with Flat Chat then, Jimmy?
Well, I mean, apart from the fact that more people have been going onto the Flat Chat website anyway, during the pandemic. It took a dip at the beginning, because a lot of people used to go online when they were on their way to work, and then we stopped going to work. So you know, that little routine change, but then people came back and the past few weeks, we’ve been getting roughly 10,000 pageviews, per week.
So that’s good, but, big breakthrough! When we started the Flat Chat website (which I think is probably about 15 years ago), I tried to get the domain name flatchat.com.au. It had been taken by somebody who was using it for (I don’t know what they wanted to do with it), but it was full of ads for takeaway alcohol delivery services and things like that. I think the idea was, it was a website that you went to, if you were ‘flat chat;’ you’re too busy to do anything. Somebody had it; it would have cost a lot of money to get it from them, so we made our website flat-chat and have spent the past 15 years going on radio and television and getting them to say ‘flat hyphen chat.’
I think you made an offer to try and buy it earlier, didn’t you? I seem to remember, but the man said no, he didn’t want to sell it?
He didn’t want to sell it for anything less than a lot of money and had plans to increase, improve it, or whatever.
Because I think in those days, people thought that that was a really good way of earning money. A friend of ours bought the website called microhard.com.au (as opposed to Microsoft), and he felt that that was a sure way of earning a huge amount of money when he tried to sell it, but I don’t think he ever did.
Well, it’s a bit like me deciding that websites were all about procrastination, so I bought the domain name ‘doittoday.com.’
And what did you do with it?
Nothing! I forgot to renew it and so somebody else has got it now.
Absolutely! So last week (just as I do very occasionally), I did a check to see who had flatchat (without a hyphen).com.au and it came up as for sale. Well, I’m sure people have gone looking for flatchat.com.au and come up with a website, saying it’s for sale, so I think we’re lucky that nobody jumped in there and bought it before we did. The other thing I’ve been doing is, with the help of an SEO expert, I’ve been changing how you get into the website. It still looks exactly the same, but the menu at the top of the page; you click on the forum and instead of just going to the basic forum page, a drop-down menu comes out, with all the different areas. So, if you want to find out about parking, you click on the drop-down menu and click on parking and it takes you to all the questions and answers about parking.
At quite a high price, but I managed to negotiate to not quite as high a price. We now own flatchat (without the hyphen).com.au.
So, are you going to merge the two?
Yeah, what we’ll do initially, is anybody who looks for flatchat.com.au; that clicks on that, will go to the existing website, but eventually (quite soon), we’ll transfer everything on the website onto that address. Because I’m sure a lot of people (well, I know a lot of people), go looking for flatchat and it just puts a delay in the process, and other things come up.
That damned hyphen! That’s great, because you’ve got so much stuff on that website, haven’t you?
Oh, it’s ridiculous!
So it’s great to be able to have some kind of order there, if you’re just interested in one subject.
Yes and most people are. Most people don’t come to the website looking for information generally, about living in apartments. They come because they’ve got a problem with parking, or neighbours, or notices to comply.
I look at the website quite often, because I want to see what new stuff you have on there and it’s always really interesting; it’s always quite entertaining. I’m sure some people come and just browse and see what’s new.
There’s another website, an information website, which is really good on the basic strata law stuff called strataman.com.au. He recommends people come to Flat Chat, but has a warning which says ‘careful, this website is addictive.’ So yeah, as of now, you can go on flatchat.com.au. You don’t have to bother with the hyphen. We’ll check back in a month and see what difference it’s made, if any. At least it’s up and running, which is more than doittoday.com. When we come back, we’re going to look at somebody who’s in a bit of trouble over a new development; several new developments. That’s after this.
Sue, you found a story in the Daily Telegraph?
Sunday Tele, yeah. It’s about an engineering company that have attracted the ire of David Chandler, the Building Commissioner, who’s now looking into Ace Engineering. It’s interesting, because they’ve been involved in a couple of projects which have been the subject of some controversy. Do you remember the Skyview building, in Castle Hill? It was targeted by the Building Commissioner and there’s also another one in Meadowbank. I think there’s another one in Western Sydney, somewhere, but also, they were involved in Aland’s Peak Towers and as you know, next door is Mascot Towers (which is kind of crumbling) and they’re suing the developer, Aland.
‘They’ being the Mascot Towers Owners Corporation.
That’s right. They’re suing the developers of Peak Towers (which was engineered by the same company), for their defects; for blaming them for their defects. The other day, the guy in charge of the engineering company, Anthony Hasham, was given an Order of Australia. The Owners Corporation chair of Mascot Towers is really annoyed, because he said ‘well, you know, we’re fighting these people… He’s associated with that building and we’re involved in legal action and now the government’s given him an Order of Australia.’
Well, presumably, they’ve given him an Order of Australia for all the good work that he’s done?
Yeah, that’s right. For his contribution to engineering and apartment buildings and probably, lots of other projects as well. But, you can understand an Owners Corporation being really frustrated…
I can understand their frustration, but you know, it’s that thing of ‘innocent ’till proven guilty.’ Sure, his company’s involved in some major court case (at least one court case), and some investigations, but I don’t think it should mean that he should ‘be cancelled,’ as the current phrase goes.
I guess it would have been ‘politic’ really, to have hung on a bit.
It’s awkward. But you know, as we’ve discovered with the response to the pandemic, the government doesn’t really; the left hand often doesn’t know what the right hand’s doing. It’s interesting; on our Facebook page the other day, we ran the story about David Chandler and all the stuff that he’s doing, and somebody just put the comment ‘too little, too late.’ I responded to that; I said “well, that’s certainly true for the people who are in older buildings, that have lots of defects that have never been addressed, but for the future; it’s got to be a step forward, having somebody out there, looking at developments and saying ‘this isn’t good enough. Fix it, or you don’t get an occupancy certificate.'”
Absolutely, but for those people trapped in deficit-riddled buildings, it’s kind of hard, I’m sure, looking on at all the great work that’s being done now and thinking ‘why wasn’t this done 20 years ago?’ All these problems could have been averted.
So, you’re given a magic wand, to fix all those buildings that have got defects, and they’re past their warranty dates… What could the government be doing for them?
The government could give retrospective powers to David Chandler, to order those buildings be patched up.
But in a lot of these cases, the companies who built them are long-gone. I mean, let’s assume that the reason a lot of them are in that predicament is because the developers have disappeared; they no longer exist as companies.
It’s like David Chandler said; ASIC should actually put ‘it’s man pants on,’ (sorry; that’s such a bizarre expression), and should stop these companies phoenixing into other companies, because it’s been so obvious, for such a long time. Whenever a company assumes the name of the development it’s currently working on, you kind of think that’s always a red mark to say watch this company; watch this space, because if anything goes wrong…
So, if they call themselves the ‘Three Bellahouston Terrace Development Company,’ because that’s where they’re doing the development…
It always feels like a warning sign; that something might be going wrong and they’re hedging their bets.
So what about if the government said to ASIC, we give you the power to find the people who were responsible (who presumably still exist); the directors and give them the option ‘fix your problems, that you left historically, or we will come after you for everything that you’ve done wrong in the past 10 or 15 years.’
That would be interesting, but do they still have money? They probably do!
They’re probably very rich. They might have to sell one of their mansions.
In Monaco. Maybe, they’ll be in the Pandora papers as well.
I’m sure a couple of them will, but surely, that’s an option; to be able to say to people ‘we’re coming after you, if you don’t do the right thing by these people.’ ASIC would have to go out and buy a whole set (a whole wardrobe), of man pants!
Let’s hope Dominic Perrottet is still as keen on this kind of action, as Gladys was.
Well, two former Fair Trading Ministers are now in the second and third positions in the New South Wales Government, but have they just mentally and emotionally moved on from strata? I suspect (in the case of at least one of them), they were just glad to see the back of the whole strata thing. As soon as they moved into (I’m not gonna say which one), but as soon as they moved into their new Ministry, it was like ‘oh, thank god I don’t have to deal with those crazy people in apartments anymore!’ Okay, when we come back, we are going to look at a couple of issues; trivial issues maybe, to some people, but not to the people who are involved in them. They’ve come up on a personal level and on the forum, that’s after this.
It’s gonna be summer soon.
Yes, despite the weather that’s happening outside our windows, as we speak.
And a lot of apartment buildings are having problems with sun streaming through their windows, heating them up. Some buildings don’t have air conditioning. Some buildings don’t have cross-ventilation and there have been some interesting measures that people have taken, to try and limit the sunlight into their apartments, haven’t there?
Well, there’s people we know; they’ve got an apartment in a block in Melbourne. It’s a very modern building, it’s got a very attractive; it’s almost like a turret kind of arrangement on one corner, which is where the main bedroom is. It’s a kind of circular glass tower and that’s where the main bedroom is. They’re finding their tenants can’t sleep in the main bedroom, because the air conditioning is only in the lounge room and the bedroom just gets so hot, with the sun.
Because it’s just glass.
It’s just glass. It’s like a greenhouse, so they very cleverly put tinting on their windows, which cuts down the amount of heat coming in, by a huge amount and they’ve been told to take it off, by their Owners Corporation.
Because it makes their apartment look different, from the other apartments.
Isn’t it (almost), invisible tinting?
I’ve seen photographs and especially when they have their blinds down, it really has big blotches, so it does look different. The irony is, that other people above and below them, have said to them “hey, let us know how you go with that tinting and the Owners Corporation, because we’d like to do it too.” The Owners Corporation, they’re saying ‘you’ve got to take the tinting off, or we’re going to take you to the Tribunal.’ Their reasoning is, ‘because you look different from all the other apartments.’
And that’s interesting, because if that was happening in New South Wales, I don’t think it would be such an argument, would it, because you can take sustainability… You can take measures to improve the sustainability of your apartment; cut down the heat coming in, because then you won’t use as much air conditioning, in theory. Those sustainable measures, you don’t need permission, or the Owners Corporation can’t unreasonably refuse permission for you to take those. So, maybe if that was happening in New South Wales… Maybe it will happen more often in New South Wales; with climate change, as it gets hotter and hotter… I mean, tinting on windows sounds like a really good idea.
These folk, they’ve gone back to the Owners Corporation and said ‘rather than forcing us to take this quite expensive tinting off the windows, how about you give everybody else permission to put the tinting on their windows and then we won’t look any different from the other people in the tower area?’ But of course, they’re dealing with people who are not interested in anybody doing anything untoward at all and will prevent anybody from changing anything in their building. You know, the type.
That’s a shame. How much does the tinting cost, do you have any idea?
No idea, but I think it’s not just the wasted money in taking the tinting off. It’s the fact that their tenant will no longer be able to sleep in the bedroom, because it will go back to being ridiculously hot. Let’s just say, they’re fighting this on every front and kind of challenging the Owners Corporation to take them to the Tribunal, where they will fight it on the basis that Victoria has the same fundamental bylaws as everywhere else, which is, it can’t be oppressive, unfair or discriminatory. It will be interesting to see how that one plays out.
We’ll keep an eye on that.
And the other one (in a similar vein), has come into the forum this week. Somebody has fallen out with their Owners Corporation (big time), and the Owners Corporation has started slapping them with Notices to Comply. ‘You breached this bylaw, you breached that bylaw (which may or may not be the case), but at the same time they’ve sent them a bill, for having a breach notice issued against them.
Really! Can they do that?
No! Well they can do it….
But you don’t have to pay it.
You don’t have to pay it. It’s it’s a form of bullying, really. What they’re saying is ‘okay, our strata manager charges us $50 for issuing a Notice to Comply; we’ve issued you with a Notice to Comply, so we are passing that fee onto you,’ and you can’t do that. I mean, the only way you could really do that, would be to go to the Tribunal and ask the Tribunal to award costs, which it’s not going to do, anyway. But you certainly can’t say ‘here we are; we have decided (because it’s basically the Owners Corporation that have decided), to issue a Notice to Comply.’ Again, it’s that ‘innocent ’til proved guilty’ thing. They’ve decided to issue the Notice to Comply, so they have incurred the charge; they can’t just pass it on. It’s like ‘we’re fining you for annoying us.’ Nope, it doesn’t work, so if anybody from that Owners Corporation is listening, or reads the Flat Chat forum, stop it, withdraw, apologise; do it now! And on that note, it’s now flatchat (with no hyphen).com.au. Look forward to lots of people coming and checking us out, over the next week or two. Thank you very much, Sue, for coming in, while the storm is raging outside and thank you all for listening. I’ll talk to you again soon. Bye.
Have a great week!
Thanks for listening to the Flat Chat Wrap podcast. You’ll find links to the stories and other references on our website flatchat.com.au. And if you haven’t already done so, you can subscribe to this podcast completely free on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your favourite pod catcher. Just search for Flat Chat Wrap with a W, click on subscribe, and you’ll get this podcast every week without even trying. Thanks again. Talk to you again next week.