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Law change survey leads to our strata manifesto

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This week, I slipped down the ultimate strata rabbit hole – NSW Fair Trading’s consultation questionnaire in which they invite us to tell them how we think strata laws could be improved.

I really should have read the fine print – actually, the big bold letters at the top of the process detailing the number of sections  – because once you dig into the online document, it’s hard to resist pushing through to the end.

And this is a deep, dark tunnel that tests your endurance as well as your feelings about how you want to live in apartments, and your experiences to date. To be fair, you can skip whole sections (unless you are a strata tragic like me).

To some extent, the questions seemed like push-polling; the things you get asked in a survey during an election campaign where the point of the question is to plant a thought in your mind rather than find out what you’re thinking.

I’m sure that wasn’t the case but they did give an indication of the areas that Fair Trading is exploring when it comes to new legislation.

So what were the questions and what were my answers?  I won’t bore you with ALL the details but I can say they were thought-provoking. Do I think apartment blocks should be allowed to ban pets?  Hmmm … in a survey at the top, 85 per cent of respondents say no.

But reading through my responses, I was surprised at how conservative I am when it comes to strata law. Here, in no particular order, are some of the high (or low) lights in my strata manifesto:

Voting

Firstly, I would have a different set of standards for special resolutions (the votes you need to pass by-laws) for two, three and four-lot schemes as a 75 percent vote can often require unanimity the way special resolutions are constructed.

I suggested that there here should be some way of preventing electronic vote harvesting (which I’m told is the new proxy farming). Votes should only come from registered email addresses, for instance.

I also suggested that online voting to a secure, password protected website should be encouraged.

I said proxies held by any one individual should be limited to a maximum of five, regardless of the size of the scheme.

Committees

I would introduce penalties for committee members for failure to maintain common property or act in the best interest of the majority of owners. These could range from sacking from the committee to actual fines.  Where these sanctions already exist, I would make it easier for owners to trigger them.

I would introduce a model code of conduct and standing orders (for committee procedures) that strata schemes would be obliged to adapt or adopt as by-laws.

I would make the installation of metered supplies from common property electricity for the purposes of electric vehicle charging a non-major permissible alteration to common property.

Disputes

I would replace mediation with a panel of one strata manager, one strata lawyer and one independent committee member to give instant adjudications which could later be challenged at NCAT if they were less than unanimous.

I said there should be a strata ombudsman’s office and that there should be random performance audits for strata committees.  That would work where owners’ and tenants’ complaints about mismanagement would go into a hat and Fair Trading would periodically pick one at random for further investigation.

I also said that strata needed its own ministry, albeit a junior one.

By-laws

I said funding should be provided to an organisation like the Owners Corporation Network (OCN) to provide affordable “off the peg” bylaws.

Even better, there could be a “build your own by-laws” website where strata committees and ordinary owners could select the key elements for the by-laws they were trying to create.

I agreed that old by-laws should be brought into line with new model by-laws as communities evolve with society and they shouldn’t be held back for the lack of a 75 per cent majority.

I also suggested there should be a new model by-law that compels owners replacing insulated carpet with hard flooring to ensure there is no noise intrusion into neighbours’ apartments.  Citing BCA standards is not enough – noise transmission tests in situ are the only effective measure.

Strata and building managers

I suggested that building managers should be limited to a one-year contract for the first year of a scheme, then a maximum of three years for each contract thereafter (as now happens very effectively with strata managers).  Building manager currently get 10-year contracts.

I said developers should never be allowed to be the strata manager for schemes they built.  

I also suggested that bad strata managers should be fined or even lose their licences for gross incompetence. Good strata managers are still having the industry’s reputation sullied and undermined by cowboys

I said there should be a model strata management contract available in the regulations (as there is for residential rentals) and that any scheme of more than 50 lots should be required by law to employ a strata manager.

Pets

Although this has been rendered obsolete by the Court of Appeal ruling last year effectively eradicating blanket “no-pet” by-laws, I  said anyone claiming they had an assistance animal should have to provide documentation to show that a) they needed the assistance for medical or psychological reasons and b) the animal in question was properly trained to provide it.

I also said schemes should be allowed to have no-pet by-laws … not because I’m against pets in strata – I’m definitely not – but I think people who really don’t want to or can’t live in the same building as animals should be able to live in apartments. 

It’s a question of finding the right balance so that those of us who enjoy having pets around can do so, while those who don’t want to live near animals have a choice too.

Survey

You can have your say on the changes you think NSW strata law needs by clicking HERE.  Don’t worry, it can be anonymous, so you can say exactly what you think and you have until March to do so.

And I’d love to hear your comments on my submissions too, regardless of how vehemently you disagree with them or how enthusiastically you concur.  Log in and post away or email me on mail@flat-chat.com.au.

4 Replies to “Law change survey leads to our strata manifesto”

  1. Ethicsfirst says:

    Thanks Jimmy,
    I agree with the points you have made in your manifesto. I too think there needs to be better oversight of strata managers. If it doesn’t already exist how about something like a continuing professional development programme which requires strata managers to undertake a minimum number of hours of education each year in order to retain their credential. My suggestion is based on experience with our manager, who obviously does not understand the strata law as it now exists but wont acknowledge his deficiencies. I would also suggest that there should be a requirement to put strata management arrangements out to tender on a regular basis. I don’t think it’s good enough to simply renew a management arrangement at each AGM without going out to the market at some stage.
    In relation to strata committees, I can see no justification for having a committee comprise more than five members in a complex of less than 100 lots. This should be prescribed in law.

  2. Jimmy-T says:

    If you want to start a discussion or ask a question about this, log into the Flat Chat Forum (using the link above). More people will read it there and you can more easily keep track of responses.

  3. There are 101 strata matters that need to be looked into in this Review and the ones that will get most attention will be those that are already canvassed in the consultation document; but there are others….and important ones.

    Let’s think about what has been happening with meetings over this last Covid year; there has been an exponential increase in the number of electronic meetings or meetings that have been a mix of electronic or physical. If electronic meetings are to be a permanent fact of life, then we have to clean up the way that strata managers identify those voting online eg.- Does a name under a zoom screen provide evidence of who the voter is ? What about multiple owners on zoom who are logged in on the same connection? etc.

    Even more important….PRE-MEETING VOTING is completely different to electronic meeting occurring when a meeting is being live streamed. It’s typically asking owners to provide their votes ( probably by email) AHEAD of the meeting whether it is a physical or electronic meeting. This might work as a way to more easily get routine resolutions approved and give owners the feeling that they have participated even if they never came to the meeting ; but it is fraught with danger…

    To offer the opportunity for owners to vote ahead of the meeting is to invite owners to vote WITHOUT HAVING HEARD any discussion around the motion, let alone any debate if the motion was contentious. It is fundamental that votes should be cast in an informed manner AFTER a matter has been debated, NOT BEFORE the motion has been discussed – why else do we have debate / discussion ?

    We have seen how unscrupulous strata committees have used Pre-Meeting voting to assist in getting their favoured motions approved with a minimum of explanation and opposition. We have also seen how owners who put forward motions end up putting their case to other owners at a general meeting, only to find that, despite having won the approval of those physically present or online at the meeting, their motion is defeated by the Pre-Meeting votes cast against them by owners who were never there and who had never listened to the “case” and the arguments.

    Pre-Meeting voting may have a limited role for dealing with non-contentious matters but the Act needs to be amended so that it does not displace the traditional sequence of Meet, Debate and Vote. ( It could also assist if the Act provided for the owners corporation to be obliged to circulate the “case” in support of an owner’s motion and not just the “case” for those motions that the strata committee supports.)

    STRATA ANSWERS
    http://www.strataanswers.com.au – practical solutions for strata living

  4. mary says:

    Re pet owners? What are their responsibilities? Such as faeces deposits on Common Property? I had returned to my building, entered, and was instantly approached by the temping young o/s born female cleaner. “Did you step on the dog poo”. What! I said. Whereupon she pointed to it right in the middle of the doorway entrance. I checked my shoes. I told her to complain to the B.C. as I did not feel she should have to do the removal of the poo. I left her in her quandary. Next day she told me she contacted her cleaning company who told she had to clean the disgusting mess. What are cleaners’ rights?

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