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Reeling in the Ratbags

Right now (late 2004), somewhere in a State Government office, a team of bureaucrats, lawyers and politicians is trying to untangle the unholy mess that is our apartment-living strata laws. The original laws were drafted long, long ago when strata plans were little blocks of six or eight units whose owners had to be given different days on which to hang out their washing.

Now we live in an age of multi-storey, multi-building, mixed use strata plans and the laws governing them have loopholes through which you could push Blues Point Tower and still have room for the Toaster.

Hopefully one of the first things our law-makers will do is to tighten the rules on ratbag owners. These are the people who live in a strata unit and refuse to obey any of the by-laws, figuring, quite rightly, that there’s not much anyone can do to stop them being totally selfish and anti-social. They play loud music incessantly, encourage their visitors to park in your car spot and act as if they are the only people of any significance in the building. This is a free country, they delight in telling us, the rest of us can go to hell (where we probably feel we’re already living).

These miscreants can be fined, true, but only after a long and difficult process which goes something like this: They misbehave, they get a warning letter; they do it again, they get another letter; they do it again, you take them to the Office of Fair Trading for a mediation; they ignore the ruling, you take them back for an adjudication.

This is where it gets interesting. The OFT can fine them for ignoring the adjudication and those fines can go up to $5,500. But you and your neighbours have had to put up with literally months of aggravation to even get to that point. Read between the lines and you realise these sociopaths are being punished for ignoring the OFT rather making their neighbours’ lives a misery.

Hopefully when the new strata laws come out, we’ll get new, quick and workable rules that merely require proof that owners, their friends or their tenants, have broken strata by-laws for them to be fined. If they feel hard done by, let the miscreants chase the Owners Corporation through the OFT for an adjudication. It’s about time the shoe was on the other foot.

Jimmy’s Mailbox

The owners of two town houses in our complex employed professional help to successfully defeat a proposed development that would have had serious impact on their homes (and theirs alone). They now want to be reimbursed from owners corporation funds. Their costs were incurred without any prior consultation with the owners corporation. What do you think?
L.G. Hunters Hill

If the only people to benefit were the two owners, there is probably no obligation for the owners corporation to refund them any money, especially there has been no prior approval to spend OC funds. However, it might be argued that the complex as a whole had benefitted thanks to their efforts. My first instinct would be to go to the Office Of Fair Trading and ask for a mediation. They’ll know what can and can’t be done and it will keep the arguments at arms length so you can continue being good neighbours.

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