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    Just over a week ago, 7.30 on the ABC reported on the “secret” rent scam of high-rise buildings being infested with over-crowded apartments and the scandalous gaps in the law that protect the guilty.

    Of course, regular readers of this column will know that this is no secret – we’ve been banging on for years about over-crowded apartments and the ‘proxy harvesting’ that allows this to happen.

    Premier Barry O’Farrell was well and truly ambushed by the report – he was in the studio to talk about his first 100 days – while the people who should have had some answers were missing in action.  Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts was ‘unavailable’ and the director of the Consumer Trader and Tenancy Tribunal was saying nothing.

    The Premier said his government would maybe look at perhaps bringing NSW into line with other states after possible public consultation. A very “iffy” response, although what else could he say at short notice?

    So let me get the consultation ball rolling, Mr O’Farrell.  Within 20 years, half the people in this state will be living in strata, so you need to get cracking.  But there are some simple steps you can take right now.

    Firstly, wipe the clause in the Strata Act that doesn’t allow by-laws to interfere with strata owners “dealing” with their property by, for instance, limiting the number of residents they can have in their apartments.

    Then limit the number of proxies any one person can hold and replace them with postal votes on an issue by issue basis.

    Oblige owners corporations to enforce their own by-laws and demand executive committee office bearers  in large buildings either get strata law training or pay professionals to do the job for them.

    And replace the CTTT with something that actually works.

    You can find links to view the ABC report in the original posting HERE.  Meanwhile you can send your thoughts to the Premier on office@premier.nsw.gov.au.

    Jimmy will be answering your questions live on the James Valentine show on ABC 702 on Tuesday, July 26 at 2pm.

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    Billen Ben, some good suggestions!! It may be worth taking it a little further… It would be good to see some reasonable qualification requirements for Strata Managers of large buildings, especially when you consider many large buildings have millions of dollars in their annual finances.

    Jimmy, I am reliably informed that in the state north of the border, they have the option to complete a voting paper, indicating their vote on each motion, or appoint a proxy, or attend the meeting….the voting paper must be sent direct from the owner to the secretary or strata manager otherwise it is invalid. If an amendment is moved for a motion at the meeting, all of the voting papers votes on the amended motion become a ‘no’ vote.

    This seems to encourage getting the agenda right to start with

    AvatarBillen Ben

    Thanks Jimmy,
    I though as much with proxy votes.
    I should have been clearer.  Say there is NO PROXY. If postal voting came in an owner can vote yes or no but what if the motion changes; for example an amendment at the meeting changes a budget item to a greater amount. Where does that leave the status of the postal vote?

    The yes or no on the postal vote is for the motion as it appears on the agenda and not for the amended motion. In the case of postal votes how does it deal with changing motions?

    I see postal voting as relying on the motion being determined as it appears on the agenda. Any resolved amendment creates a slightly different motion the postal voter has not given any consideration.

    Motions that cannot be amended (except for typos or clerical errors) and postal voting; it is an idea worthy of discussion. How do people feel about having an agenda fixed to the point amendments are not allowed? It makes postal voting a viable option. It would probably lead to more conservative motions as well.

    One good thing about postal voting is that voting could be expected to be more independent. Our AGMs are determined by proxies; as many others SP would also experience. At least the postal vote gives owners a chance to vote without the pressure of the dominant clique giving them the “death stare” for not being on some bandwagon.

    Postal votes would also change the proxy hunters into vote hunters which is a much more difficult task across a whole agenda.

    Anyway; my concern is amendments and postal votes. Change the motion by amendment and would the postal vote, which was for a motion that no longer exists, still be countable?

    AvatarBillen Ben

    Thanks Mr Strata …great work. An amendment makes a postal vote a no vote.

    That can work and as Mr Strata points out – it makes getting the agenda right important.

    Just one other matter.

    If there is postal voting and postal votes become no votes upon an amendment of a motion could a small group present at a meeting pass an amendment with the sole objective of failing a motion that would have passed unamended?

    Consider: just over half of a quorum could still undermine a motion that would have passed unamended – if they wanted.
    I’ll put some numbers on that .. if one quarter of people entitled to vote show up to an AGM  (a quorum) and they pass an amendment solely to make all postal votes no votes then just over one eight of owners entitled to vote on a motion could potentially bring down a motion by simply passing an amendment.

    The current system is not great so perhaps postal voting is a better system even if the above was possible — smaller holes are an improvement.


    Just a small point but this is all very hypothetical.  There are, as far as I know, no plans to change strata law in NSW so radically (if at all).  The most the Premier has promised is “consultation”.  With whom about what remains a mystery

    AvatarBillen Ben

    Hi Jimmy,
    I am curious about the idea of issue based postal voting.

    At our AGMs amendments are common from those present in person.
    I have seen an AGM notice from a management group in Tweed who send out agendas with a yes/no option for each motion and this is for people who give the agent their proxy. When i saw that notice i wondered what happens if an amendment occurs – there is no instructuion.

    Can you give me an idea of how the postal vote concept operates, particularly if the physical meeting amends a motion. A motion can morph a fair distance and still maintain its fundamental essence but the morph may be enough for some people to go from yes to no or vice-versa.

    If the whole meeting was simply voting for the motions as submitted then everything is a simple yes or no. If there are issue by issue postal votes then where does it leave the concept of amenedments.

    How does postal voting work if the amendments are still to be allowed?

    AvatarBillen Ben

    JimmyT said:

    Oblige owners corporations to enforce their own by-laws and demand executive committee office bearers  in large buildings either get strata law training or pay professionals to do the job for them.

    And replace the CTTT with something that actually works.

    I have been pushing compulsory management for large strata. Training will not help if the Executive Committee (EC) do not wish to implement what they learn.

    This is not a case involving my Strata Plan (SP) but it shows how the collective can think that autonomy means “do as we please”.
    “The Owners Corporation is not a “free spirit” to do anything that comes into the collective heads of the lot owners.”
    J Smith Senior Member CTTT Lawson & Clarke v Owners Corporation SP 61788 (Strata & Community Schemes) [2011] NSWCTTT 270 (27 June 2011)

    At the very minimum the finances should be taken out of the hands of self managed large SP's as well as notices for meetings and minutes of meetings. AGM's should be Chaired by an external party with no connection to anyone at the SP, if that is possible.

    I live in a large SP and we idiotically pay, via honorariums, so-called “volunteers” to do these tasks at a cost far greater than it is to have a good agency do the same tasks.  I love seeing a motion for management that costs $8500 defeated so we can pay imbeciles $11000 in honorariums, support and equipment to do the same job very poorly. It is brilliant.

    The volunteers care little for compliance while an agent is, to a degree, compelled to be compliant. The volunteers wish to walk into a EC meeting and do as little as possible, except rain grief on those they do not like, and then go home and forget everything until next meeting. There really is no genuine commitment to the job.

    Large SP's are 0.6% of all SP's; how many of the 0.6% large stratas are actually well managed by volunteers? I estimate next to none, if not none.

    Annual OH&S reports should be made compulsory, a valuation every two years (not 5), fire safety inspections and plans, 10 year plans done by qualified people etc etc. Every important compulsory requirements needs to carry penalty points for any failure and it needs to be enforced — that takes CTTT out of the picture given they do not function.

    If management is not compulsory then an extensive list of compulsory requirements that are to be carried out by a manager should exist and the left overs can be for those who still care to be on an EC to sit around and discuss over wine and cheese. No bull; our EC members get appearance (attendance) money and the meetings have food budgets.

    All that EC's in large SP’s should be allowed to do is sit around and posture; which is what they tend to do anyway. If full compulsory management is not implemented then let the Kings and Queens of their little kingdoms keep their thrones but make sure that the real work gets done properly. Training will not guarantee that things get done, penalty points will.

    As for CTTT … their strata division cannot be removed from their portfolio fast enough and the Minister and his Premier should both be besieged by the strata public to get on with it.


    Billen Ben said:

    How does postal voting work if the amendments are still to be allowed?

    Hopefully someone will correct me if I'm wrong but right now in NSW, you can instruct (or limit) the way your proxy votes by stating it on the proxy form.

    However, even if you have clearly told your proxy holder that you want them to vote in a certain way and it's not on the form, they can vote whichever way they think is best.  And that, I think, would cover amendments. I would think that amendments that substantially altered the nature of the core vote would not be permitted by the chair, in any case (and may have to be on the agenda, too, if I'm right).

    If that is the case, then all items on an agenda would have a yes or no option on the proxy form.  The flaw in this is that people are making up their minds before they hear all the arguments and that isn't a good thing.  Better, I'd say, to find someone you know and trust and give them a free hand on some issues but designate a clear voting option on matters you feel strongly about.

    I'd be interested to hear how this works in jurisdictions that have different rules on proxies – Queensland, for instance.

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