Time we banned strata management cowboys

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I was at the launch of a new strata management venture recently and one of the senior executives said to me: “You’re not as angry as you used to be.  You’ve changed.”

“No,” I replied, “You have.”

And it’s true.  Since I started writing Flat Chat 12 years ago the strata management industry has really cleaned up its act – the good companies have grown and prospered and the bad ones, mainly, have been found out.

But are my glasses rose-tinted? Are strata managers in fact  getting worse?  That would certainly seem to be the case, judging by the raw statistics.

Fair Trading, whose territory this is, received 800 enquiries about strata managers and 48 official complaints last financial year – a rise of 50 percent on 2014-2015.

To be fair, it’s hard to judge how much of that is down to the sheer increase in numbers of strata schemes and managers.  It may also be that strata residents are a lot more savvy we once were.

Strata management is going through a transition.  Increasingly, the best companies are highly professional and look after their clients properly as a means of enhancing their reputation and expanding their businesses.

But there are still cowboys who don’t know what they’re doing and don’t really care. They operate with the same ethics as cattle rustlers, rounding up the maximum number of clients with the promise of super-cheap rates, knowing that there’s no way they can deliver a reasonable service at those prices.

Strata schemes can be cash cows where, often, investors vote for the lowest cost option while the residents – owners and tenants – pay the price in poor service.

You can become a registered strata manager after less than a week’s professional training. Even now we see employment ads for strata managers, inviting newbies to jump on the gravy train by boosting their income with Schedule B payments – charges for everything from photocopies to phone calls that isn’t specifically covered by your contract.

If you have a complaint about your strata manager, Strata Community Australia – the professional body for the top firms – deals with issues internally and, they say, come down hard on repeat offenders.

But they can only deal with their members. As for the others who aren’t in SCA, Fair Trading  – supposedly the sheriff  in this not-OK Corral  – is pretty much missing in action.

They tell us they will “counsel” miscreants but there are no cases we can find of strata managers having had their licenses revoked or suspended purely for being incompetent at their job.  Sure a couple have been struck off for fraud, but that’s because of dodgy dealings in their related real estate agencies.

I know for a fact that the professional and responsible companies are desperate to see the remaining chancers, crooks and incompetents cleared out of their industry.  The same goes for us strata residents – the damage a bad strata manager can do to a strata community is incalculable.

The government needs to start weeding out the cowboys and shady operators whose only motive is maximum profit.

Reward the good ones with recognition, punish the bad ones with de-registration. That would be both innovation and better regulation.

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