The Chair vs The couch potato

When it comes to running apartment blocks there is an army of unsung heroes who put in the hours and, far from getting the gratitude they deserve, cop nothing but abuse. These are the office-bearers of your Executive Committee who give up their time and energies for your benefit.

Sadly, their reputations suffer because of a minority of megalomaniac busybodies who rule buildings with wills of iron and the logic of three-year-olds: “If I don’t get my way I’m going to scream.”

In our book Apartment Living (ABC Books), Sue Williams and I discuss the roles of these office bearers at some length, including the kind of person you need and the kind you often get. When it comes to the EC Chairs, they fall into four main categories.

The first is firm but fair, diplomatic, focussed and, when needs be, a formidable figurehead for your building. This Chair will allow everyone who has something to say to say it but they will cut people short when they ramble or become abusive. They will be impartial and committed. They are a rare breed.

The second is the opposite. On election, they assume the role of a dictator, bullying and deriding anyone who disagrees with them or their cronies and making sure everyone in the building knows they are top dog. Often they have another agenda which, in new buildings, can be to promote the interests of the developer ahead of the owners’ and residents’. Be afraid … be very afraid.

In between those extremes is the genial dolt who sees running the Executive Committee as an extension of their social life (or perhaps a substitute for one). They are like David Brent from The Office, trying way too hard to amuse while failing miserably at the one thing people want from them, a well-run meeting that gets through the business in hand.

Just as bad is the scaredy-cat incompetent who is terrified of making decisions and bases their support on the fact that they have never made any in the past so therefore have never stuffed up. These people get voted in because they never, ever spend money and would no sooner stand up to a belligerent owner or tenant than dance naked on their balcony.

There are many other types but one basic fact remains: especially if you’re not prepared to contribute yourself, you get exactly the Executive Committee you deserve.

Jimmy’s Mailbox

We recently bought off the plan and discovered that the caf‚ below us is operating illegally – ie, they have installed grills and deep fat fryers when they only have permission for sandwich makers and a coffee machine. The cooking smells fill our apartment on a daily basis. I’ve just discovered their landlord, who refuses to do anything, is a senior employee of the developer. What can I do?

Donald, Pyrmont

Go after them hard and don’t give an inch: dodgy operators like this will take that and more. Write to the council’s planning department, the health department and the Office of Fair Trading. Copy all correspondence to the developer. The one for your building has a good reputation and they will be furious that it’s being jeopardized by one of their own employees. That distant rumble you can hear is the culprit being hit with a ton of bricks.

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