Podcast: See you soon … on your CCTV screens

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Elsewhere in this post

Exactly who gets to view the recording from your strata scheme’s CCTV cameras?  That’s a topic that’s been keeping us occupied on the Flat Chat Forum and now gets an additional airing on the podcast.

Can your strata scheme limit viewings to the strata manager or committee members? Aren’t there privacy issues involved?  And what about those who want to look at the recordings for nefarious purposes.

In a podcast in which it sounds like Jimmy is going for a world record in the use of the word “nefarious” we pick the pixels out of the strata laws surrounding CCTV and come up with a conclusion that many apartment residents may find alarming.


LISTEN HERE


But before that, we look at the potential benefits of the creation of a new high-powered committee to come up with a plan to reintroduce construction insurance for new apartment blocks.

And we look at the impact on apartments of NSW opening up to tourism just when a new registry of short-term rental accommodation – like Airbnb and Stayz – comes into force.

In the discussion we speculate about what defines a “principal place of residence” and whether that would allow savvy owners and tenants to by-pass by-laws by only renting their flats at weekends.

At first, Planning NSW defined “principal place of residence” as “the place where a person usually lives, and so most of their possessions and clothes would be there and usually their mail would be sent there also.”

We see that as a loophole through which you could drive a luggage trolley but since we recorded the podcast, NSW Planning has revised its view, as you can read in this story.

We still think anti-STRA strata schemes will struggle with chancers who will break the rules until such times as they are caught. Maybe they should install CCTV.

TRANSCRIPT IN FULL

Jimmy  00:00

We’ve got a real mixture of topics this week. We’ve got the pretty major breakthrough on insurance; construction insurance for apartment blocks. We’ve got the Airbnb register, that you’ve got to be on, if you want to rent property on Airbnb.

Sue  00:20

Wow, is that finally coming in?

Jimmy  00:23

November 1st; people have got to be registered on it by. I don’t know what happens if they’re not on it after that; maybe, somebody comes around and…

Sue  00:31

That’s incredible, because I never thought it was actually going to finally happen. It seemed to be kind of shelved, so many times.

Jimmy  00:38

But then, you know, Airbnb or short-term letting, kind of ceased to exist for a while, because of COVID. And then, there’s a weird story that’s come up through the forum, about CCTV, and who gets to view strata CCTV. I’m Jimmy Thomson, I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review.

Sue  01:05

And I’m Sue Williams and I write about property for Domain.

Jimmy  01:08

This is the Flat Chat Wrap.

[MUSIC]

Jimmy

So, the big news; there is a panel being set up, to establish a basis for insurance on apartment block construction.

Sue  01:34

This is fantastic! I mean, this is really big news, because it’s been 18 years since any building over three storeys high, has been able to get home insurance…Home warranty insurance.

Jimmy  01:49

Yeah. Because they kept falling down.

Sue  01:51

Well, that’s right.

Jimmy  01:51

They had so many defects and we’ve just had a survey out, that said just about half the new apartment blocks in New South Wales have defects. At least half, because it’s become apparent that people are discovering defects in their buildings and just hide them; just don’t want to report them, because they end up having to pay for them, because the developers just disappear. So, all that’s going to change.

Sue  02:20

It is. I mean, this is the result of the government. Give them their due; appointing the Building Commissioner two years ago and he’s been working quite hard to try and clean up the industry.  I think they’re talking about this as the final plank in the series of reforms, because he seems to be doing so well, with lots of orders on buildings, which aren’t constructed well.

Jimmy  02:20

Yeah, they now feel more confident, about asking insurers to provide warranty.

Sue  02:38

Well, that’s right, because he’s also introduced this thing where all developers now have to put in their plans and any change of plans they’re putting in, so if you buy a one bedroom apartment, it doesn’t turn out to be a studio, or you buy something you’ve thought was three bedrooms, and it’s suddenly miniscule, like a broom cupboard. They can plot the DNA of every building from the beginning to the end, so therefore, there’s not so much room for developers (well, bad developers), to kind of wriggle. Now, the insurance industry feels confident enough in the raft of new buildings, to be able to propose insurance. This is insurance that developers will have to buy and if they’re a bad developer, with a bad track record, then insurers are going to refuse to insure them.

Jimmy  03:33

Because this is one of the issues that’s going to be thrashed out by this panel; will the insurance be compulsory, or will it be optional?

Sue  03:43

That’s right and if it’s compulsory, then maybe, the bad developers will have to pay more for the insurance, than the good developers. If it’s not compulsory, then when those buildings are up for sale; when the apartments off the plan are put up for launch, the buyer will say, well, this building, maybe the apartment is a little bit more expensive, but it’s backed by insurance, which means that if there are any defects uncovered, they’re going to be fixed. Or, should I buy a cheaper apartment, in a building that I don’t know very much about, which doesn’t have insurance?

Jimmy  04:15

And who’s going to do that, really? Who’s going to do that?  I mean, you might get some sort of crazy investors, who think, I’m gonna take a punt on this, but if the developer can’t get the insurance…

Sue  04:28

I don’t know that any investors are that crazy.

Jimmy  04:30

It is compulsory, in a way.

Sue  04:33

Yeah, that’s right. So hopefully, it will really drive the dodgy developers and the bad builders out of the market, completely.

Jimmy  04:40

Out of New South Wales. They’ll all go to Victoria and Queensland.

Sue  04:44

Well, I talked to the Minister, Kevin Anderson, about this and I said “will they all go elsewhere?” He said “oh, no, no, no. We don’t want to chuck our rubbish to other states,” but then I don’t know how they’re going to prevent that, really. Maybe, the other states will follow New South Wales lead and start doing this stuff themselves, especially if these awful developers go to their states and start building terrible buildings.

Jimmy  05:06

Well, you know, we heard this week also, that half the buildings in Victoria are supposed to have defects. I’m not sure about the survey that was done, but it wouldn’t surprise me. The thing about Victoria and Queensland; in New South Wales, it’s been a process. We brought in the Building Commissioner, and then they gave him laws to back up his work and they changed the laws, so that builders are liable for 10 years. They have a duty of care to the owners of the apartments, rather than the developers. Then, David Chandler started identifying bad buildings and telling them if they didn’t fix the buildings, they weren’t going to get an Occupation Certificate. So, that’s all part of a process that now leads him to the point where he’s able to go to the big insurers, and say, okay, guys, we’ve done our bit. Now, how about you back up the work that’s been done? Do your evaluation; find out how much it’s likely to cost you, if any of the buildings do turn out to be faulty, but we’ve done our best to make sure that won’t happen.

Sue  06:22

Because, insurance is all about assessment of risk and if risk is minimalized, then insurance should be pretty easy to supply.

Jimmy  06:30

Yeah. I mean, it’s kind of like, as you get older, your car insurance goes down, because you’re less likely to have an accident. It’s true, you know; the highest rates are for young people, because they’re the most likely to have accidents.

Sue  06:44

Yeah, absolutely. So now, the ministerial advisory panel has been appointed and we know that the owner’s representative, the OCN, is on that, they have a seat at the table. There are developers there, as well. I mean, you kind of have to assume it’s mostly the good developers who are there, because they’re quite keen to get the insurance

Jimmy  07:02

Well, the names that jump out are Meriton, who are probably the biggest.

Sue  07:06

Yep, that’s right. Frazers, I think are there and also, the Strata Community Australia, the Strata Community Association. 

Jimmy  07:15

Chris Duggan, trying to keep him off a committee, I’d say. He’s Mr. Committee, but he works hard and he’s done well, with SEN, and they’re now about to have their professional accreditation, whatever that is.

Sue  07:31

Yep, absolutely. The chairperson has just been appointed as well and he’s a former president of the Insurance Council of Australia and I had a chat to him this week and interestingly, he owns two apartments, so he’s really into apartments. He bought one as an investment and he’s just bought another one, to downsize into, from his family home. So he’ll have a real interest and understanding of strata issues.

Jimmy  07:58

So the jurors will come in; people will have more confidence in the buildings. The other aspect of this (that often is neglected), is that if builders fix the defects during the building process, it’s about a 10th of the cost of having to come and fix them, afterwards.

Sue  08:19

So it will really be in their interest to get them fixed, because a. they won’t get away with shortcuts, because the Building Commissioner will come and inspect it and b. they don’t want to end up having to pay out on their insurance. So, it’s just great news all the way around and I think it’s fantastic. You know, it’s probably 20 years since we bought an apartment; it had huge problems and we’ve kind of been campaigning ever since, for the industry to be tightened up.  I got quite emotional, when I heard about this to be honest, because it just felt like the final stage in a long, long battle.  I kind of thought back to the time when, as a journalist, I wrote my first story about defects and the newspaper was really nervous about the story, because they had advertisers who were developers and it caused an enormous fuss.

Jimmy  09:10

You had (without naming names), a journalist in that newspaper, who had a friend who was a developer and she called the developer and said “there’s this awful story going in,” and the developer called the editor and said “if that story goes in, I’m gonna pull all my advertisements.”

Sue  09:34

That’s right, so it was a horrible time and that’s really when I ended up leaving a newspaper job, because I didn’t want to work full-time for a company.

Jimmy  09:42

That would cave in so easily, to financial pressure.

Sue  09:46

It was a very emotional, difficult time, back then, so now it just feels like things are finally working out for the poor, downtrodden apartment buyer. Hopefully, they’re going to get now, what they’ve actually paid for and apartment living is going to be a great place. I mean, many of us live in apartments; many of us love it. I wouldn’t live in a house again.

Jimmy  10:08

I just thought of the other side of this;  once apartment living becomes more popular, then there’s going to be more demand and the prices are gonna go up.

Sue  10:19

No there’ll be more building, Jimmy, so there’ll be more supply, because there’ll be more demand. And, we’ll have lots of really great apartment buildings, around the place. I think it will be fantastic. I’m doing a story about lots of older people now, who would’ve traditionally have gone into sort of little villas in retirement villages, now going to apartment buildings, especially done for them; luxurious retirement villages, but vertical ones. It’s just every age group now; it’s families going to apartments, it’s singles, professional couples; it’s older people and I think everybody’s enjoying the lure of low- maintenance living and what a great lifestyle it can offer.

Jimmy  11:04

Right, okay.

Sue  11:06

Sorry, do I sound a bit…

Jimmy  11:07

 Like you’re selling?

Sue  11:08

I do a bit, don’t I? I just love apartment living and I just want apartment living to be as good as it possibly can be. Suddenly, there’s hope on the horizon that it might be.

Jimmy  11:19

But it’s funny, you know, one of the mindset changes over recent years; like they’re building… I think they were building a new school in Ultimo (roundabout there) and you realize that it’s a medium to high-rise building?

Sue  11:35

That’s right.

Jimmy  11:36

There’s no reason why, if you can have high-rise dwellings and high-rise offices, that you can’t have high-rise schools, as well.

Sue  11:44

Yes and in Green Square, they’re going to be building a high-rise school and the lower floors are all going to be able to be used by the community, as well. If you’ve got a netball court, well, the community can come in after hours and use it, too. So it can be shared facilities as well, which makes an awful lot of sense.

Jimmy  12:01

Yeah, absolutely. Terrific! Well, good news is a good, good way to start the podcast. When we come back, we’re going to be talking about (well, it might be good news for some people, and not such good news for other people); the Airbnb registry, which coincides with the state being opened up for travel. That’s after this.

[MUSIC]

Jimmy

So two things… at least two things, are going to happen on November 1st. One of them is that we’re all going to be able to travel a bit more, within the state.

Sue  12:40

Oh, yes, we can travel out to the regions, in New South Wales.

Jimmy  12:43

In New South Wales.

Sue  12:44

And Victoria?

Jimmy  12:45

I don’t know. I think they’re still wrangling that one.

Sue  12:48

But they’re opening up gradually, as well. So, maybe, they’re a week behind us or something.

Jimmy  12:54

Pretty soon, we’re going to be in that situation, where you’re going to be able to fly to Bali, but not to Perth, for a holiday.

Sue  13:00

Well, it looks like Perth is off-limits, until maybe, Easter next year, they’re talking about. It’s quite incredible.

Jimmy  13:07

And, foreign tourists are going to be able to come here, provided they’re double-vaxxed and have passed the COVID test on their way out. Which brings us to the other thing that’s happening on November 1st,  which is the New South Wales short-term holiday letting registry coming in, finally. In fact, you’ve got to be registered, if you’re going to rent your property, legally. The Code of Conduct fire safety regulations won’t come in until Easter next year and they’re thinking the delay on that is, people haven’t been able to get to their rental properties to put in all the signage and things like that. They’re doing the thing that you have to have in hotels; if you’re renting bedrooms, then the bedroom door has to have an exit map on the bedroom door.

Sue  14:01

Oh, okay, sure.

Jimmy  14:02

On each bedroom door.

Sue  14:03

 Even if you’re just in a little house?

Jimmy  14:05

Even if you’re just in a little house, but especially if you’re in an apartment.

Sue  14:09

Okay, because those people might not realize if there was a fire or something, you can’t use the lifts. You’ve got to walk down the fire stairs…

Jimmy  14:15

They don’t know where the fire stairs are.

Sue  14:17

I remember, we had a house-sitter once, in our apartment, looking after our cats and she left one day and she went (for some bizarre reason), down the fire stairs and she got trapped inside the fire stairs, because she couldn’t get out again. She didn’t speak much English and it was just an horrendous experience.

Jimmy  14:35

She’d gone down; she’d gone all the way to the bottom and missed the exit door, which, you know, in a fire, the doors are gonna open, when you press the bar. It’s gonna open for you. It was a good example of how people are unfamiliar. They could get trapped, quite easily.

Sue  14:54

That’s why I mentioned it, Jimmy.

Jimmy  14:55

Right, so, I was agreeing with you, Sue! This registry comes in on November 1st and all the local authorities; their laws on short-term letting are wiped, on November 1st. Here in City of Sydney, up until then, you could live in a building that was given planning approval on the basis that short-term letting was not allowed. That goes; that just gets completely wiped and it’s replaced by the short-term letting laws, which allow stratas schemes within Greater Sydney, to have a bylaw that says you cannot have short-term letting.

Sue  15:36

Wow! So suddenly, lots of buildings that maybe don’t have a bylaw like that, might be looking to put one in?

Jimmy  15:42

But, there are loopholes. One of them is, if you’re doing short-term letting in your principal place of residence, it is neither applicable to have the bylaws, or the limit on the number of nights, because in Greater Sydney, it’s 180 nights a year limit, but outside (apart from Byron Bay), it’s open-slather. If you’re renting in your principal place of residence, that doesn’t apply. The bylaws do not apply. Now, what is a principal place of residence?

Sue  16:14

Is the intention of that, that if you’re living somewhere, you can rent out, like, one room, because you’re actually present all the time, so there’s not going to be a problem, because you’re there? But really, a principal place of residence might mean, as you said, that people might live there for four days a week, and then just rent out the place, go away and stay at home, or something,

Jimmy  16:36

Or, go and stay with their partner and go and stay with their family, at the weekend.

Sue  16:41

And then actually, just rent the whole place out, so the neighbors have got the problem.

Jimmy  16:45

And you know, weekends are the peak times, for short-term letting. That’s when people come to go to football matches and things like that. So, the peril is there. I contacted Fair Trading (or was it Planning, because it’s one of these weird things that falls between the two), and said “what is your legal definition of principal place of residence?” They said, it’s basically where somebody sleeps more often than they don’t sleep there and leaves their clothes there and their personal items. That’s a principal place of residence.

Sue  17:22

So, if you leave a couple of dresses somewhere?

Jimmy  17:25

Yeah, you lock a cupboard, with all your kit in it and do that four nights a week. I mean, you imagine somebody whose; maybe their family have got a farm, or they’ve got friends who live by the sea…

Sue  17:40

We have friends who went to stay on their boat.

Jimmy  17:43

Yes. So, what they do is they lock up their clothes in a cupboard or whatever, but they come in on a Monday; Monday morning, or even Monday evening, after they’ve been to work. They sleep Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday nights. After work on Friday, they go to their other place and the Airbnb people come in, and that is still their principal place of residence. It’s also still, that their neighbors have to put up with different people every weekend, coming into the property. Maybe that’s an extreme case, or an unusual case. I think when buildings start putting in bylaws and trying to enforce them, people will find ways around it. I think the idea was (and it obviously came from the big rental agencies), that this is part of their ‘sharing’ thing. You know, like, Airbnb started with people ‘sharing’ their house, and then evolved very quickly into basically, a holiday rental or commercial. This is to try and maintain that idea that people can share their home. It’s not sharing. It’s only sharing if you’re there. It’s only sharing if you’re there and saying to people ‘hey, how would you like to come to my favorite cafe and my favorite pub,’ and the rest of it. It’s just a commercial operation. And the thing is, that these regulations here in New South Wales, will be the most stringent in the whole of Australia. So I think we need to get it right, but I think that there’s little chance it will get changed for a while, until it becomes a serious problem.

Sue  19:23

Okay, so that’s one we should keep our eye on, then.

Jimmy  19:26

I mean, how do you check? How do you say to the; who do you complain to? Well, there’s the registry, but who do you complain to, to say ‘hey, I don’t think this person’s leaving their clothes in the house; in the flat.’

Sue  19:39

Hmm. There should be a short-term letting ‘busters’ agency.

Jimmy  19:45

I offer my services, to be the head of that agency; to knock on people’s doors at three o’clock in the morning and say, “you’re not really living here, we know!” When we come back, we’re going to talk about a strange, quirky part of strata law (which is all over Australia, from what we can tell), and it’s upsetting quite a lot of people. It’s who gets to watch the video from your CCTV system. That’s after this.

[MUSIC]

Jimmy

So, a lot of strata schemes have CCTV, for good reason.

Sue  20:24

 Like, in their lobby?

Jimmy  20:25

Yep and around a swimming pool and the reason for that could be security, or actually, just as a kind of deterrent, on people behaving improperly. I mean, in the swimming pool case, you could have, like our swimming pool… there’s signs up, saying ‘don’t bring glassware,’ because people want to go down with their champagne and whatnot, and have a drink at the side of the pool, which is fine, but if they drop a bottle or glasses into the swimming pool, the whole swimming pool has to be drained, so they can make sure there’s no glass left. So, the swimming pool’s out of action for two or three days. What’s wrong with plastic glasses? People; they don’t see the sign, until they get there, you know, and they’ve got their little basket full of crystal glasses, and they go ‘oh, I can’t be bothered going up, or I don’t have plastic glasses,’ whatever. Or, it could be somebody slips on a tile, or you know, whose fault was it; all that stuff. There are valid reasons for having CCTV. Then there’s the question of who gets to view it, because a lot of schemes will say only the strata manager, or only the committee get to view and you kind of go, that’s reasonable… They’ve been given responsibility. It turns out that, in most states, the documents held by the strata scheme, must be made available to all the owners.

Sue  21:49

Oh, so that includes the film?

Jimmy  21:51

It’s a document. It’s a document, and we’ve on the forum; we’ve had one strata manager write to us and say, yeah, we had this situation, where an owner insisted on their right to view video footage, and we couldn’t prevent them. Then, it turned out that that person was wanting to see that for nefarious reasons. They were spying on somebody and then it goes into a whole other area of the Privacy Act, because you can film anybody, anywhere, doing anything, as long as you’re not recording their speech without their permission, but one of the exclusions is, if you’re doing that for nefarious purposes. So, you have this strange thing, where the law says you have to let people see the video, but there’s very good reasons for not making that open-slather. I mean, in New South Wales, you pay $32, or something, to see documents, but one of the people who alerted us to this, is from the Unit Owners Association of Queensland. They put it out in their newsletter and there, it’s $18. So, they mocked up this sign saying ‘this area is under CCTV scrutiny, if you want to watch the recordings, pay $18.’ They took part in a seminar just last week, with two strata experts that I did the debate with and they were saying yeah, it’s true. You’ve got to let people see the footage and they said, well, should you put up a sign, saying that you can have access to the footage? They said, well, it’s not legally required, but it would be the diligent thing to do. So, it kind of opens up the whole business. It would be very smart for any scheme that has CCTV, to have a bylaw that says, you are able to view  CCTV, under certain circumstances. So, they can’t stop you legally, but what they can say is okay, for instance, you’ve got to fill in a form; you’ve got to say what your reasons for doing it are and what you intend to do with the information.

Sue  23:59

And maybe, you have to go to the strata manager’s office to see it?

Jimmy  24:02

That would be a given, because you have to do that for documents, anyway.

Sue  24:06

Because another building quite close by; a resident asked to see the CCTV footage that she thought she might be on and there was kind of a row about it and in the end, they said okay, and then she asked to see the CCTV footage all the time, at the front desk, which caused enormous problems, I think, for the concierge, because it took up so much time and energy and it was difficult and it was argumentative. So that’s a real problem, too.

Jimmy  24:32

When some people want a video link to their computer or their TV… I think, if you have a bylaw that says yes, you can see what’s on the CCTV, under controlled circumstances. I think that’s valid, because remember, there was a case in our building, where there was a court case and the results of the case were sealed, which meant they were not available to the public, but there were owners in the building who were able to go and say, we are entitled to see that, because we, as owners in the building, were party (effectively), to that court case. So, they were able to see a sealed document. I think they went to the strata manager’s office, and they had to sit there with the strata manager, sitting beside them, so that they didn’t copy it, to make sure that nobody else outside could see it. I think that’s valid; that’s relevant. You can say, okay, you can see the CCTV footage under controlled circumstances and these are the circumstances. You might even ask; say, it’s a swimming pool, we need to get a police check… That you are  an appropriate person to be viewing this footage.

Sue  25:44

Fair enough.  Especially, if there’s kids in the building, or something.

Jimmy  25:48

But I think you’ve got to have some control, rather than no control, or people can just turn up and say, I want to see the last 48 hours of CCTV footage and, you know, pass the popcorn.

Sue  26:03

Gosh, it’s the new world isn’t it, really?

Jimmy  26:06

Yeah. I mean, this is one of the problems. I mean, strata laws were devised 50 years ago; more than 50 years ago and there wasn’t any such thing as CCTV, certainly not to the extent there is now. But I’ve heard of cases (since we started discussing this on the forum), where people have said ‘I want to see the CCTV to prove that that accident wasn’t caused by me,’ or whatever and they’ve been told no, only the strata manager or the committee members can see that. That’s not true; that’s against the law.

Sue  26:37

And that’s not right, either.

Jimmy  26:40

Sue, thank you very much. Another podcast in the can.

Sue  26:44

Thank you, Jimmy. It’s always interesting, talking to you.

Jimmy  26:46

And thank you all for listening. We’ll talk to you again next week. Bye. Bye.

[MUSIC]

Jimmy

Thanks for listening to the Flat Chat Wrap podcast. You’ll find links to the stories and other references on our website, flatchat.com.au. And if you haven’t already done so, you can subscribe to this podcast completely free on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your favorite pod catcher. Just search for Flat Chat Wrap with a W, click on subscribe, and you’ll get this podcast every week without even trying. Thanks again. Talk to you again next week.

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