In the latest Flat Chat Wrap, listeners (and readers) get a preview of this week’s Fin Review column which will examine the issue of access to other owners’ email addresses.
Do secretaries’ and strata managers’ oft-stated desire to maintain owners’ privacy sometimes stem from not wanting ordinary owners to communicate?
How do you balance the benefits of open communication with the risk of being bombarded by abusive messages from serial pests.
And is it even legal to withhold email addresses that are on the records of strata schemes?
Also on the podcast, we look at the drift back to offices from working from home, and ask if where we work will ever fully return to pre-pandemic patterns.
And Sue gets a sneak preview of the upmarket renovation of the controversial Sirius building, which was once the public housing block with the best outlook in the world.
That’s all in this week’s Flat Chat Wrap.
If you enjoyed listening to this podcast (or reading the transcript), please share it with your friends using the social media buttons on this page.
TRANSCRIPT IN FULL
Do you get a lot of emails that you really don’t want, Sue?
Quite a lot, Jimmy, quite a lot.
One or two a day?
Maybe about 30.
Today, we’re going to talk about something that’s been discussed on the Flat Chat forum, which is, should your strata manager or your secretary, give out all the email addresses for everyone in the building? We’re also going to talk about working from home, as people might be facing a conflict of whether or not they want to do that anymore. And, we’re going to talk about your visit to the Sirius building.
Yes, probably one of Sydney’s most high-profile apartment buildings.
It is. I’m Jimmy Thomson, I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review.
And I’m Sue Williams. I write about property for Domain.
And this is the Flat Chat Wrap.
You think everybody in an apartment block should be able to see everybody else’s email addresses, is that right?
Yes, it is, because I think we have to be transparent and it can be so frustrating, trying to get in touch with neighbors, or there’s a big issue, and you can’t actually communicate with anybody else, so I think it’s really important. I mean, I think the people who say we shouldn’t give out our email mail addresses are always saying “oh, yes, we’ll get 100 emails from all these people we don’t want,” but in reality, you get very few emails from other people in the building. You might get just a few every year, about issues that they feel are really important and I think it’s important to try and keep in touch with your community, about those kind of issues, really.
So just to clarify, the law in most states says that owners in an Owners Corporation, are entitled to see all documents that relate to the Owners Corporation. In New South Wales, you are required by strata law, if you have an email address, to register it with the Owners Corporation. There is no requirement for that in Victoria and the law says that the owners are entitled to see anything that’s on the register, which is the physical addresses of people. Often, those physical addresses are actually the addresses of their agents, or their registered business. So, there’s a very good chance you could be sending letters to people and they don’t get there.
That’s right, because often, buildings won’t allow you just to put a letter in somebody’s mailbox; you actually have to post it, which seems ridiculous, if you’re trying to get in touch with the person next door or something, that you have to go to the post office, buy a stamp, print out a letter, post it, wait for the post, which is a bit uncertain these days; it takes ages.
And there’s also the fact that the people that you want to contact, may not actually be at that address, because it’s tenanted. So, you have the difficulty of trying to get in touch with people. You have in Melbourne, a lot of strata managing agents will say yes, we have a record of people’s email addresses, because the strata managers want to be able to use email to communicate with owners, because it’s so much more efficient, and cheaper. But, they will say we have a record of the email addresses, but it belongs to us; it doesn’t belong to the Owners Corporation. That’s the excuse they use, for not handing out email addresses.
And they also say it’s a privacy issue. I mean, that always covers everything. ‘It’s a privacy issue.’ Oh, my goodness!
And that’s ironic, because basically, privacy laws don’t apply to strata schemes, unless they have a turnover of more than $3 million a year.
Right! I didn’t realize that!
There’s quite a notorious case in West Australia, where a woman wanted to get in touch with her fellow owners to complain about the strata manager and the committee. The strata manager refused to give her the email address. She challenged it in court and their argument was ultimately (and it went to a very high level), that they were concerned that she would use the email addresses to promote a commercial enterprise.
I think it was the Supreme Court of the Court of Appeal in WA said, you cannot restrict people for things that they might do. It’s like saying, we’re not gonna allow you to park your car here, because you might bash into another car when you’re parking it. I mean, there is a possibility that that might happen, but you can’t stop people from parking, because of something they might do. This woman was eventually allowed to write emails to everybody in the Owners Corporation and I think she managed to get the committee changed and the strata manager changed, partly because they’d been costing the building a fortune, in defending this thing about emails.
Because that can be a real source of power. You know, if a chairperson, or a secretary, or a strata manager, has access to all the emails, they can contact people, but nobody else can and that becomes a real problem, because communication is always just one -way.
Yes and because a lot of people in strata; strata owners, especially investors, don’t want to hear about conflict. So, if they get one email from the strata manager saying ‘this person has become a problem, and you will be getting emails from them, just ignore them,’ then, they will. Now, here’s the other side of the argument; the persistent irritating, obnoxious, litigious…
Yes, but you can just block them, can’t you? You get a couple of emails from them; you decide you don’t want to hear from them again, and you block them. Simple.
Right, but a lot of people don’t have that level of knowledge, about how their email system works.
But they have kids, or they have access to children and the children can show them.
If you were a strata manager, and somebody in your building that you knew to be a nuisance…You knew this, because they’re calling you up every day, and taking up arcane interpretations of strata law, and demanding that you prosecute somebody, who’s not doing any harm and on a basis that is false, but because they keep saying “you’ve got to do something about this; this is a problem, this is an issue,” you know they’re going to be a problem. And, they say to you “I want everybody’s email addresses…” Okay, you’re the strata manager; what are you going to do?
I’m going to give them all the email addresses and I may write to everybody first and say “we’ve just had a request from a resident, for everybody’s email addresses. We’ve supplied them. You may be being contacted about a certain issue. If you’d like to read more about this issue it’s been debated in the minutes.” You could send links to those minutes. Basically, you’ve kind of warned people, without saying “oh, this person is mad,” or “this person is really irritating,” or “she’ll fill up your email box with spittle.”
But I think it’s kind of like a fair warning, without kind of explicitly saying that this person shouldn’t be contacting you. Then I think you’ve done your due diligence, really. People can either choose to read the emails; they’d probably read the first couple of emails, and if they decide they don’t like the content, then they’ll just move on.
Okay, I’m an owner, and I get your email and I say “I don’t need this in my life. I’ve got enough crap in my life to deal with, without somebody else’s neurosis. Please, do not give out my email address, ever again.”
I’m afraid, I’m not able to not give out your email address.
Here’s the thing… I mean, we know from long experience, there’s what’s right and wrong, in strata and there’s what’s legal and illegal and they don’t always match up. I know one very senior strata manager; when I pointed out to him that, under the terms of the law in New South Wales, if people asked to see all the email addresses, they must be given them. He said “well, I just wouldn’t do it. It’s caused so many problems. It would irritate and anger so many owners.” For most people, their email addresses are private communication. It’s different for us, because we’ve each got about four different email addresses, for work and stuff like that. But your private email address, which is the one that would be listed… You go on your emails in the morning to see if a relative has sent you a message or something.
Yes, but if you have four emails from that person over a year, I mean, what’s the harm? UYou just ignore it; you just delete it.
I’m talking about four a week, or four a day and we have both experienced this. I mean, let’s not be coy about this. We have both experienced the email nutter, who just cannot let a topic go and just keeps repeating and repeating and coming back with either the same information, or more information, to the point where even if you’re sympathetic with their cause, you think ‘I don’t have the time or the energy to deal with all this.’ So most; not most people but many people, would feel the same way about even the possibility of that happening.
Yes, we both get regular correspondence from certain people, and we’d rather not get it, but I just kind of think it’s their right and it’s easy to either ignore it, or to delete it. I think that’s just one of those things you have to cope with, really. I’d much rather that, than to live in a building and things are going completely wrong and it’s being covered up by maybe a corrupt committee or something, and I have no access to information about it, because I don’t receive anything from the other residents who live there, who know better than me.
It’s interesting that there is strata management software, that has a list of all the owners in any scheme. It has the owners and their addresses and their telephone numbers and their email addresses…There’s a button that you can press, and it covers up the email addresses, so that if somebody comes into the office and says “I want to see the strata roll,” the strata manager can go “yeah, there you go… ‘Click,’ well you can’t see the email addresses, because I’ve switched them off.” Obviously, the thinking in strata management land is, we should not be handing out email addresses. The thinking for people like you is, you most certainly should, especially if the law says you have to make all records available to the owners, if they ask for them.
I’d much rather have people emailing me, than phoning me.
Yeah, absolutely. I think there should be some system; it’s kind of like an opt-in thing, where each strata scheme should have its own email bank, and you can send an email to that email bank, and it will then go out to every owner who’s subscribed to the email bank. If people don’t want to get any emails from anybody, they can unsubscribe. You could do that; it would be easy to do.
You could have a WhatsApp group, and you just put everybody on the WhatsApp group and then ask if they want to go off the WhatsApp group and they can.
It took me about three years to get onto WhatsApp. It was only when I realized that people were saying things about me, behind my back, that I got on. But you know, not everybody is as technically savvy as we are… Do you consider yourself to be technically savvy? No, you don’t. I can assure you, you are 10 times smarter, when it comes to things like emails and websites and all that stuff, than most people; even journalists.
Really? I find that very hard to believe!
I get a lot of people writing to the website and I used to be very strict. Like, if people didn’t log in, didn’t register, didn’t jump through all the hoops there was, to post stuff on the forum, then it didn’t get on the forum. I realized, I was excluding a lot of people. It tends to be people who just go look; it’s not part of their lives. They might go on Facebook, they might go on Twitter, but that’s a click, you know, it’s a button. To actually sit there and register on a website and then log in every time you want to make a contribution; it’s not part of a lot of people’s way of thinking. I had to change my way of thinking and say ‘look, if you can’t do this, or if you haven’t done this, or if you have trouble doing it, just send me an email and I will do it for you.”
That’s nice; that’s a good idea.
Well, it means that there’s a whole bunch of people who were not being represented; who didn’t have a voice.
Especially maybe, empty-nesters or downsizer’s, going into apartment buildings or even retirement people, going into apartment buildings. They might not have the same kind of level of technological education that we’ve had.
I think this is something the government has kind of neglected in many ways, the importance of communication within communities. They just need to find a way of making it easier for those people who do want to be contacted, to be contacted, and people who want to get in touch with everyone (legitimately), to do so and just filter out some of the noise, I think, would be a good thing. Talking about filtering out noise…When we come back, we’re going to be talking about working from home. That’s after this.
Sue, you had a big article in Domain magazine, about working from home?
Yeah, absolutely, because we’ve all been working from home during the pandemic, but now, most of us are facing the decision about whether to go back to the office, or how long to spend at home every week. It seems that most of us are determined to spend maybe, two or three days at home, to avoid the commute and we can get an awful lot done, because it’s so quiet and we don’t have all those water cooler conversations. Then we can go to the office maybe, two or three times a week and do our socializing, do our conference sessions, talk to our workmates, collaborate on creative projects; those kinds of things. It just does seem that working from home is here to stay and that’s really changing the nature of the apartments we’re looking at, the real estate agents say.
You know, the market says now, apartments that have a space for a study (maybe some extra space), or a nook, or a little area that you convert into a study; they’re commanding much higher prices, than other apartments. People are doing really interesting things; you know, they might have a really big pantry and they’re turning that into a study. They’re putting shelving in there and a desk and then that’s their working from home area, or they might have a cupboard under the stairs, or an area under a stairway, if they’ve got two-level apartment. They might have a communal room, within their apartment building and they’re now equipping some of those with desks, so people can go down to those rooms, and work quietly in those rooms, as well, when they don’t have enough room at home.
Now, we both worked in offices where, there’s something to be said for the buzz; the hive of activity around you, the sense of energy around you. There’s also something to be said for not sitting next to somebody who shouts in a loud voice all the time, especially when they’re on the phone, which is most of the time. Is it a question of personal taste, or is everybody trying to find a balance?
I think people are trying to find a balance and offices at the same time, are changing too. You know, the need to be socially distanced means that there’s not really much hot -desking going on anymore and that was a huge thing, up to a few years ago. I used to hate the hot-desking. It was an awful, terrible system, really. You didn’t have any space to call your own. I mean, you had a locker and you put your stuff in there every night, and you had to tidy up every night and then, you’d come back next day and find another space… Get in really early, or get in late and you kind of got the space by the toilet, really. So, offices are changing now, as well. I think most people are doing their quiet work time at home and they’re saving the jobs where they have to talk to their colleagues and everybody gives an opinion and makes a contribution towards a task; those are the things they’re going back to work for. Those have been done in areas around a big desk; you know, where you can fit 10 people around a desk, and that’s what’s happening there. So, offices are changing and our homes are changing, as well and we’re kind of moving, hopefully, eventually seamlessly, between the two.
Is there a difference in the expectation of what people are doing now when they’re at work, compared to when they’re working at home?
Well, yes. When I first asked to be able to work from home; because I was working for a newspaper, five days a week, I said “oh, could I do a couple of days at home?” They said no, because we can’t see you physically working. When, eventually, they agreed to allow me to experiment in that way, they were pleasantly surprised by how much work I would produce. I think in exactly the same way, during the pandemic, bosses have been really amazed by how much work people have been doing, but the downside for people is that, like us, we can’t get away from work.
You know, people are working much, much longer hours, because they can see the tasks that need to be done and in an office, they would kind of pack up and leave and then just go back to their home, to another life. But, because they’re at home all the time, they think “I’ll just do another hour after dinner; I’ll just do another hour here. I’ll get up earlier in the morning and do a bit more here.” People feel like their work is expanding, to fill their time and that’s going to be an issue in the future, I think.
The buzzword when we all started working from home (because we had to, because of the pandemic), was the ‘bump meeting.’ I must admit, that I was taken by that idea (that I’d never really thought about before), that sometimes, you need to talk to somebody about something, but if you arrange a meeting to talk about it, then it…
Becomes a formal process.
It becomes an issue. Whereas, if you just wait until you bump into them in the tea room while you’re making a coffee and say ‘oh, by the way, are you concerned about Jeff and his work?’ You know, that kind of thing?
It’s a much more casual process, and it doesn’t elevate it immediately to a crisis situation and also, you can bump into people and you kind of think “oh, that’s somebody from the IT department… I might just ask them about this.” They can say “oh, well, have you considered doing this?” and you think “well, no, I’ve never considered that.”
Turn it off and turn it back on again.
Well, I happened to say to somebody one day, that my PC wasn’t working properly, so I was going to have to get a PC. She said to me (she was a bit younger), “everybody now uses their laptops as their PC’s.” I always say “well, a laptop has a small screen; it has a small keyboard.” She said “no, you just use your laptop; you have a big screen that you plug into your laptop, and you have a proper sized keyboard, but you just use your laptop and then, when you go into work, or you go to another meeting, you just unclip your laptop, and you take it with you.” That has been revolutionary, really!
Absolutely, because I saw you doing it, while I set it up for you. I saw how well it worked and I immediately did it for myself, as well.
That’s right and if I hadn’t have bumped into her, I would never have actually thought of it being an issue. I would have just gone out and bought a new PC and that would have been it. I would have been forever chained to the Middle Ages.
At this point, we should have an advert for JB Hi-Fi, in here, because I’m sure there are people listening to this, going “ooh, we could do that.” I have heard people say recently that they think that quite soon, people will just go back to working normally in their offices.
I don’t think they will. I think some people will still work one or two days, or maybe even three days, from home, because it’s just so convenient. There are so many people who commute quite a long way to work, so they’re saving a lot of hours and a lot of money every week, by not going every day. That time is becoming much more productive for the company, as well. I think work will never be the same again. People, now that they can go back into the office, a lot of people are going back, especially young people, I mean, they’re the ones who’ve been missing out on having their mentors around and seeing the company culture and seeing how other people do tasks and learning from them. But for other people, the convenience of doing some work from home; I mean, unless you’ve got young children at home, then there’s no convenience at all.
But, I think working from home is here to stay and people are adapting their apartments and they’re adapting their houses, as well. They’re kind of moving to bigger apartments, or looking for bigger spaces, or better designed apartments that have areas where you can actually work, where maybe a couple can work at different ends of the apartment. Bedrooms are maybe a bit bigger, so you can fit a desk in the corner, as well. People are looking at their apartments and thinking “yes, what can I do now, to adapt this to my new working life?”
Right. When we come back, Sue’s going to tell us all about her visit to what was, one of the best positioned social housing projects in Australia, if not the world, which is about to become luxury apartments, that we could never afford, that’s for sure. That’s after this.
Sue, the Sirius building.
Now, can you describe it for people, who may have heard the name, or may not have heard the name, but they would know what it is and what it looks like?
Yes, it’s a 1970’s, brutalist building. It’s kind of dark, grey, ugly concrete and it’s a series of; it looks like a Tetra kind of…
Tetris, thank you! It’s a series of boxes, stacked on top of each other. It has one of the best positions (as you so rightly said), in the world, really; right on Sydney Harbour, opposite the Opera House, in the Rocks. It was built in the 70’s for social housing by architect Tao Gofers, and some people love its brutalist look, some people hate it. It was recently sold off to a private developer; the public housing tenants were moved out after a big campaign to keep it as public housing, failed. Other people tried to have it Heritage Listed; that failed, as well.
There were a couple of design competitions for architects, to see what could be improved about the building and how it could be adapted into this luxury residential apartment building and the architects who won were BVN, who are really good architects, and they agreed to retain the shape of the building. They’ve made some additions and they’re doing extra little pods; these kind of stackable boxes on different areas of the building, but they’re clearly delineated in copper color. It’s quite clear, which is going to be the new bits of the building and which is going to be the old bits.
The new bits still fit in with the design of the rest of the building?
Absolutely, so the design doesn’t really change at all. The really interesting thing is, that, the Sirius building; we all knew it, but when you when you go down onto the street (the street that fronts it), all you can see really is the entrance to the car park. It just looks so ugly; it’s just horrible, on one of these wonderful streets in the Rocks. That’s all been reconfigured; the carpark is being moved around the entrance and now, it’s going to have a really active ground plan. There’s going to be retail, there’s going to be a cafe, it’s going to really open up into the community. And also, there was a laneway through the building originally and when the building was built, that was shut off. That’s going to be restored, so that laneway is going to be reopened again. It’s kind of a bit of a maze around there.
When I went to visit it, I’d never actually been there before and you can see above you, because it’s on a ridge; it’s quite high up, but you can’t actually work out how to get there. You go through this maze of laneways and stairs and steps and it took me ages to get there. I’d gone there about an hour early and I arrived 10 minutes late, which won’t surprise you, Jimmy, because I’ve got such a terrible sense of direction. But it was just so frustrating, because you could see it and you couldn’t get to it. I think this is going to make it much clearer.
They’re going to restore some of the pocket parks around there, as well. It’s a really interesting area, as you know, The Rocks. There’s historic foundations of former houses there and they’ve set them up as the houses just behind the building, so you can see where the kitchen would have been and the lounge room; the dining area…It’s going to be all opened up and they’re going to do lots of landscaping there, as well.
One of the best views of the Sirius building I think, is when you come over the Harbour Bridge and you can see it from there, and then on the Cahill Expressway, you can just see the top. They’re going to do lots of planting on the roofs. There was some planting there, but it died over the years, but now it’s going to be a completely green roof. It’s going to be a fantastic view, that, when you come over, you’re going to see this great building, and they’re going to kind of scrub it, so it’s going to be a lot lighter, so it will look more attractive and then, all the greenery, dripping down the sides.
There’s been a lot of bad publicity about the Sirius building, because of the public housing tenants being shifted out. Many people felt that it’s great to have public housing, right in the middle of Sydney, and in such a great position. But, it’s been sold off, so there’s not much can be done about that now. But at least the people of Sydney; this is kind of giving back to them in some way.
I think the building is going to look so much better. You’re quite right; we couldn’t afford to go in there. One of the penthouses has sold for $35 million. It’s just 79 apartments, when it’s all reconfigured, because some of the apartments go through the whole building, and some of them are on split level, that kind of thing. It’s only going to be 76 apartments, but the architects were saying they’d met a lot of the people who were buying, or thinking of buying and many of them were absolutely passionate about the design of the building and just wanted to be part of the fabric of Sydney, really. Inside, there’s this great communal room called the Philip Room.
It’s really interesting. That’s where the building; they used to have dances, they’ve got a dance floor there and they used to have some meals there, as well. They’ve got this really vivid red carpet, which has geometric shapes all over it; really kind of blinding, really. But that was kind of a reflection of the geometric shape of the building itself, so they’re going to get rid of the carpet, but they’re going to keep that room as a communal room, which is nice. It’s got a terrace outside. They’re going to have a rug, a toned-down version of the patterns in the carpet, which will be much more palatable for many people. It’s nice that they’re keeping some of those things. They’re keeping some of the artwork from the original building; they’re keeping some of the carpentry. Probably at the end of the process, it’s going to be a great addition to the Sydney cityscape.
But, we won’t be able to afford to… We probably don’t even we know anyone who could afford to live there.
We will be able to walk along the paths behind it and in front of it and through it and we will have a close-up view of the building and be able to see a really interesting, iconic piece of architecture and we’re going to have a cup of coffee in the cafe at the same time.
Great idea! You’ve just made me think I’d quite like to have a cup of coffee and a cake, to celebrate, right now. Thanks, Sue, that’s terrific. Thanks for going and investigating the Sirius for us.
It’s a pleasure. It was fascinating, really.
And thank you all for listening. We’ll talk to you again soon. Bye.
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 podcast, Google podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your favorite podcatcher. 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.