Strata owners slam NSW Health ‘confused mess’


With yet another “tightening” of lockdown restrictions for greater Sydney, and once again the specific needs of apartment residents being ignored, the peak group for apartment owners in NSW has come out swinging.

The Owners Corporation Network (OCN) has accused the NSW Health depart of creating a “confused mess” by trying to treat 40-storey high apartment blocks the same as stand-alone houses, and explaining that strata committees can’t manage a pandemic just through by-laws.

“Health NSW needs a clearer strategy for directing and supporting apartment communities,” Karen Stiles, Executive Officer of OCN said.

“The Chief Health Officer, Dr Chant, is rightly concerned about transmission in apartment buildings. Across Sydney these are chock full of residents.” Karen Stiles added.

“But the Public Health Orders treat a 40-storey high rise exactly the same as a free-standing home. That is a mistake. Strata Committees cannot manage a pandemic through by-laws. They are under enormous pressure,” she said.

“The Orders need to address Owners Corporations and Strata Committee directly as well as the individual home owner. And we need to face the fact that strata living is different. Right now, it’s a confused mess.”

“It’s time to be more specific: stop the confusion about cleaning and waste removal; deal directly with facilities, stop random unnecessary worker onsite, and extend the mask mandate to outdoor common property areas. Even in the high risk 12 LGAs, the outdoor mask mandate was excluded for common property. That is nuts”, she said.

“Inconsistent approaches by area health teams has also left Strata Committees not knowing where to direct deep cleaning. In a 500-lot high rise that is real problem,’ Ms Stiles said.

NSW Health was very slow to mandate mask wearing in common areas, even though they had imposed rules for offices and hotels, saying they didn’t “discriminate against strata residents”.

And still they allow renovations in apartment blocks while forcing other residents to stay inside their apartments and put up with the noise, dirt and close contact with unidentified workers.  In Victoria, renovations are banned in any apartment block that has any occupied unit.

“The two-week pause on construction reduced noise, anxiety and the risk of transmission but it quickly reverted to “business as usual” under pressure from business”, Ms Stiles said. “Tradies and domestic cleaners were allowed back in fully occupied residential buildings, untested and unvaccinated.”

“There is no such thing as contactless work in a three-storey walk up or a 40-story block. These standards are lower than an unoccupied building site”, she said.

“Toronto, Canada has issued instructions to Condominium Boards and Victoria deals openly with apartment complexes. But in NSW the “residential premises” provisions are a mess”, she said.

“We need to promote safer behaviour and reduce foot traffic in apartments to reduce the risk of transmission. But this relies on the Public Health Orders. Any strategy needs to understand the way strata and Strata Committees work, the role of Building Managers and Concierge in large buildings and the casualised cleaning workforce,” Ms Stiles said.

According to OCN figures, there are more than 80,000 strata schemes in NSW, housing up to 2 million people. The population is extremely culturally and linguistically diverse and the quality of building management services varies greatly.

The split between tenants and owner occupiers is approximately 60 per cent owner and 40 per cent tenants but many buildings have very high tenancy.

Large schemes can house thousands of people, and be part of a multi-scheme developments with shared facilities that lead to critical impacts on levels of hygiene.

The Land Registry Service data at June 2020 show that the twelve LGAs of concern include more than 18,500 apartment buildings:

  • Bayside (2216)
  • Blacktown (1555)
  • Burwood (344)
  • Campbelltown (1052)
  • Canterbury-Bankstown (3939)
  • Cumberland (2214)
  • Fairfield (1010)
  • Georges River (2304)
  • Liverpool (1090)
  • Parramatta (2436)
  • Strathfield (404)
  • or some suburbs of Penrith.

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One Reply to “Strata owners slam NSW Health ‘confused mess’”

  1. analuk says:

    I really don’t understand why DOH cant treat a high rise as a vertically aligned street just like they treat standard terraced (horizontally aligned) streets of a similar dimension. DUH!

    Am I missing something other than high rise is likely to be more densely populated.

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