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On May21, I ran a column in the Flat Chat section of Domain about an elderly man whose flat was unfit for habitation and he was incapable of looking after himself after a fall. Limitations on space required the original email and responses from strata professionals to be edited. Here they are in full.
The scene: Owner is about 80 years old, no relatives, doctor visits once a week. (He is leaving his unit to the doctor in his will!) Owner is grossly overweight, drinks excessively and it is an understatement to say that cleanliness leaves much to be desired. The whole building smells when he opens the door. This happens when is supply of alcohol is delivered.
His condition and the state of his unit has been on the books for 11 years. During that time, he has consistently refused help from all agencies contacted to help him.
Tradesmen refuse to go to his unit. He has set fire to the unit, and the building, twice in the last couple of years, requiring the services of Fire Engines. He has flooded his unit once.
Last weekend, he fell against the door, and broke both his legs and his arm. Police had to remove a fly screen from the back window of his unit, to get access. He has been taken to hospital.
The state of the unit defies description. For a start, there is faeces everywhere.
The unit presents a hazard to the health of everyone in the building. We would like to have the unit cleaned by specialist cleaners (our managing agent has access to these.)
So far, we have not got permission from theowner and we are told that we need this. The council has declared the unit unfit to live in. The Police do not seem to help.
Legal advice is that we go to the CTTT which will take 8 – 10 weeks. I have years of experience to demonstrate how useless they are. The Strata Manager, (who is FANTASTIC) is going to try and talk to the Police again.
What would be your advice? Where do we go? Surely there must be other buildings with a problem like this. What have they done? Do you have to leave the unit, a health hazard, by any description, for months and months and months?
I personally like the owner ..he’s a nice man. I feel very sorry that his life is ending this way. Wouldn’t it be sad (for the doctor) if the unit had to be sold to pay for him in a nursing home?!!
THIS IS WHAT SOME STRATA PROFESSIONALS HAD TO SAY
Jim McDonald of StrataChoice: This is all too common and I have dealt with many of these issues including one building that had the slab weakened due to putrifying rubbish that a mentally ill owner had hoarded – the rubbish was 6ft high in every room and was seeping a corrosive liquid into the unit below (a child’s bedroom).
The state of the unit was a health and OH&S issue – pests, disease & damage to the CP. The issue of the man and his health is really outwith the help of the Residents, the SMA and the OC. In the case of the one I had – the OC decided not bother getting CTTT Orders as their view the Order would have taken too long to obtain, given the issue was seen as an Emergency – with residents being evacuated they decided to have contractors to go in an clear the unit.
Getting an interim Order to go in and clean should be fairly simple and quick for a Solicitor to attend to.
Colin Grace of Grace Lawyers: I have had a few of these over the years and it is so hard to deal with. What I did in one case is got the Office of The Protective Commissioner involved who can make an assessment and take over his affairs (Not sure what they are called now). They try to wriggle out of it because the OC is not a relative but we did have them involved. We also went to CTTT but although we got orders they couldn’t really do anything. We could have enforced the CTTT orders and cleaned the unit up, sought reimbursement etc etc but that didn’t help the lady (in my case).
David Ferguson, President of Institute of Strata Titles Management: Really sad one that. He clearly cannot look after himself and all efforts should be directed to make him ward of the state, hospitalized and rent for the unit used to pay for his care (I think the office is called the NSW guardian and Trustee).
David Morris, strata manager and former President of Institute of Strata Titles Management: An innovative strata manager might find an emergency risk to the commonproperty, and invoke their emergency powers to enter the unit toprotect the common property. Such threats might include, damage to the concrete slab from leaking, from refuse, likelihood to permeate the slab and the services (eelcetrial) within it ( a bit of a stretch in the case it is on t the ground floor without a basement garage as no units below, damage to the drainage system etc. I’m sure there is something that someone familiar with the building could find. The real issue is are the OC looking to recoup the $. If so they have a bigger issue than if they just want to cure the problem.
Michael Teys of Teys lawyers: No need to go anywhere near the CTTT on this one . The lot owner has breached the SSMA by leaving his lot in this state which is interfering with the way others use their lots and the common property. The OC has the power to enter the lot and do work ( ie clean the lot) and can send the bill to the owner concerned. I would recommend the entry be made in conjunction with the police and or health authorities but if they wimp out as they sometimes do in these cases , then go in anyway and take a solicitor with you to record and document the event. You do not need a CTTT order to make this happen. The most relevant sections of the Act are are 63 (4) and 65 (1) (a).
Brian Wood of the Owners Corporation Network: Jimmy, my life seems to have been sheltered from anything to do with anything like this. But it does seem a case where the EC should (a) have an audit trail of correspondence ready for a potential court case should it come to that, and (b) go for it as an emergency and get the place cleaned up as a protection to other owners who live near poor John, and fight any battle that might come after.
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