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Strata owners wrestle with vax-passes for gyms

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TOPSHOT - People exercise at Inspire South Bay Fitness behind plastic sheets in their workout pods while observing social distancing on June 15, 2020 in Redondo Beach, California, as the gym reopens today under California's coronavirus Phase 3 reopening guidelines. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

Should strata facilities like gyms and swimming pools be restricted to vaccinated residents? 

Would “vax-passes” for apartment block communal areas be reasonable, especially if state and federal Governments ever introduce vaccine passports for overseas travel or even to restrict access to bars and restaurants?

These are questions currently confronting strata schemes across NSW and Victoria, especially, as those states come to terms with the high probability that they will never be 100 per cent covid-free.

Just this week, the strata committee of one large building in Sydney was asked to consider reopening shuttered facilities, only to double-vaccinated residents.

The argument was that they had done their bit and paid their levies, presented little risk to, and were at considerably reduced peril from other double-vaxxers (who would be the only people allowed into the gym, anyway).

However, the shadow that’s cast over just about every strata meeting these days apparently soon appeared: “what if we get sued?”  That fear is usually exacerbated by residents who claim they will take legal action on any and every decision that they don’t like.

In fact, some strata committees are notoriously gun-shy at the slightest prospect of legal action against them, so much so that just being litigious can give you a virtual veto over strata affairs in your block.

In this case it was, “what if a tenant demands a rent reduction because they can’t get into the gym and the landlord sues us for compensation?”

The answer to that is far from simple.  The tenant would have to quantify the loss of amenity and prove that it was real – e.g, they spent a lot of time in the gym before it was closed – and then show that being asked to get vaccinated was unreasonable, another hurdle.

And there is a simple cost-free, socially responsible solution – get the damned jab. The owners corp has to be allowed to set reasonable rules to protect residents from themselves and each other.

When a visitor to our block sent her 10-year-old to play barefoot on our treadmill while she sunbathed by the pool, was I wrong to glower and point to the sign that said he was too young and under-equipped to use the facilities?

Is it unreasonable to ask residents not to use the gym while they are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, or not to get in the pool or spa when they’ve recently had diarrhea?

Is their vaccinated state purely a matter of personal privacy? If it could affect my health, am I not entitled to know how much risk I’m taking by just being in the same room?

These questions have also been exercising the find minds over at the Owners Corporation Network where their forum is thrumming with legitimate if occasionally contradictory opinions (sometimes in the one post).

“Our Strata has [top-class facilities] but unlike commercial gyms who have staff present to be able to validate right of entry, if vaccine passports are mandated, the same will not be possible for us,” writes one member.

“I would be reluctant to return to one of our gyms knowing that there is a gyrating, sweaty and unvaccinated person using the equipment next to me. As much as vaccinations will reduce the risk it’s not completely eliminated,” the proud double-jabber continues.

“I am also acutely concerned about the potential for an Owners Corporation being sued if contact tracers determine that the point of transmission was an unvaccinated person at one of the Leisure Centres,” they say, adding, “a contrary argument will be that there are owners who chose or refuse to be vaccinated and will believe that as they pay levies they will be entitled to access.”

Another member says: “If the government intends on allowing vaccinated people to do things that unvaccinated people are not allowed to [do] based on risk assesment, then it seems entirely reasonable that the same approach will need to be taken in strata / community space.

“It’s a bit of a hard one … However the choices and privacy of individuals needs to be balanced against the rights and safety of everyone else in the complex.”

For the record, for reasons of objectivity, I am not a member of OCN (this discussion was passed to me by someone who is).  But that organisation is the sole, truly independent voice of strata owners in NSW and does provide a voice in the room when our lives are being discussed by government.

Join up now and read the discussions referenced here in full.  And have your opinions on strata living heard where they can make a difference.

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