Trapped in a 50-floor block with no working intercom

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It was once Australia’s tallest and most luxurious apartment building, but residents of the Sydney CBD’s Park Regis today live in less-than-splendid isolation.

With the access intercom system having been out of action for going on five years, and the owners corp going to great lengths to avoid having to fix it, visitors have to phone residents to tell them they’ve arrived – and then their hosts must take the lift down as many as 50 floors to let them in.

Also, no deliveries or services can gain access to the foyer of the 192-apartment block and residents fear what might happen if a solo occupant of a flat had a medical emergency but couldn’t let paramedics up to their floor, writes Sue Williams in the Sydney Morning Herald.

“It’s an absolutely ridiculous situation to be in,” said 26th-floor resident, retired business analyst Clare Lyon, 68, who bought her apartment six years ago.

“I recently had COVID and my husband and I had to self-isolate in our apartment. But then it was almost impossible to have anything delivered.

“In the end, I had to phone the hotel downstairs, and ask them to allow deliveries to come to them, and ask them to bring them up.”

“The last time, they said they were too busy but I asked if they might prefer me to come down with COVID and potentially infect everyone. It wasn’t nice threatening people, but I had no alternative. They delivered them then.”

The Park Regis, which has a hotel on the first 15 floors and 35 storeys of units above, was opened by the NSW Premier Robert Askin in 1968 and is still Australia’s tallest brick infilled building.

Back then, as the tallest apartment building in the southern hemisphere, it was seen as the ‘skyscraper’ that first kicked off high-rise living.

It attracted the cream of Sydney high society, including dancer Sir Robert Helpmann, World War II hero Major-General Sir George and Lady Wootten and bookmaker Tom Powell, who were let in, in those days, by concierge wearing top hats and tails.

But the row over the long-time broken entry system, and the Owners Corporation’s failure to repair it, has already gone to NSW Fair Trading for mediation, and now looks likely to end up at the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT).

Chair of the strata committee, lawyer Peter Wayne, says there’s been a special by-law agreed to absolve the owners corporation from having to fix that common property service.

However, doubt has been cast on the validity of the by-law as it may contravene terms of the Strata Schemes Development Act – the law that governs the setting up of strata schemes – as it includes provisions that guarantee access to individual apartments.

Meanwhile the NSW Strata Schemes Management Act requires owners corporations to maintain and repair common property. 

There is a loophole that allows owners to collectively decide not to do so, by a special resolution of 75 percent of votes at a general meeting, but that’s only provided the decision “will not affect the safety of any building, structure or common property in the strata scheme or detract from the appearance of any property in the strata scheme.”

Some residents are arguing that lack of immediate access in an emergency, such as a fire or a solo resident suffering a heart attack, means that safety has been compromised by the lack of a working intercom system.

“At the moment, what happens if there’s an emergency, like someone having a heart attack?” Ms Lyon said.  “No one would be able to get in to help them.”

They might even argue that having a sign stuck over the intercom plate on the ground floor, telling visitors and passers-by that the intercom doesn’t work, detracts from the building’s appearance

Angry residents claim that the building’s owners corporation is dominated by absentee investors, some of whom who own multiple apartments and whose desire to keep levies down takes precedence over the amenities and comfort of people who actually live there.

“Our strata levies haven’t gone up for years, and even went down one year, but we have to make sure we up-keep such a great old building,” Ms Lyon said.

Meanwhile Ms Lyon told the SMH that she obtained quotes of around $140,000 for repairs, with the bill possibly higher if new cabling has to go through the floors which would then have to be re-fireproofed.

At the lower price, this would be less than an average of $1000 per apartment although the total bill would be considerably more for owners of multiple apartments or larger units paying higher levies.

“The building is quite complicated,” strata chairman Peter Wayne told the Herald.

“We’ve called in Chubb and Yates to have a look but they’ve said, unfortunately, because of the age of the building, and the lack of cabling, they wouldn’t be able to guarantee that the intercom [if fixed] would interface with the lifts.

“We share the lifts with the hotel, so that could knock it out of business.”

Mr Wayne said the hotel has 20 per cent of the votes in the building, so they could also effectively block any motion at an AGM to spend money on the intercom system.

However, that possibility was dismissed by Richard Doyle, director at StayWell Group which operates the hotel, who told the SMH the cost of the intercom was payable by the residential apartments only, and that the hotel abstained when the matter was last considered by the building.

Resident-owners are now pursuing a number of options, including their current application for orders from NCAT to compel the owners corporation have the work done, while having the by-law transferring responsibility to individual owners struck down as being legally incompetent.

As a last resort, they have been advised, they could apply to have a compulsory strata manager imposed by the tribunal, who could take over all the duties of the owners corporation until such time as major issues with common property were resolved.

You can read Sue Williams’ original story in full here.  Additional commentary in this report by Jimmy Thomson.

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