This week a massive review of NSW strata laws landed in Parliament and it’s given us a lot to talk about … perhaps a little too much.
As you will see from this story, there are proposals about educating committees, defining what their members do and making it easier to sack individual members.
There are suggested rewrites for the rules on pets and assistance animals, so that you don’t force vision-impaired residents to carry their guide dogs across common property.
There are many much-needed regulations concerning building managers plus plans to allow Fair Trading to run cases at NCAT. That may turn out to be the most radical suggestion of them all, as there is also a proposal to make not maintaining common property a punishable offence with penalties attached.
Our comments came as the review was hot off the internet, so they’re fresh, even if we were not quite able to get to all 139 of the proposals. But at least we didn’t run out of things to talk about.
Also in the podcast, Sue outlines how to find the perfect apartment to rent, or even buy.
And we discover how Jimmy was guilty of a classic mistaken identity at the Strata Community Association shindig.
And, allowing ourselves a small moment of self-congratulation, our total listener figures just ticked over 25,000 in the past week. I looks like more people are finding the most recent podcasts then tuning in to previous links for more. Thanks for your support.
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
So, we didn’t get thrown out of the SCA event the other night!
No, that was good, and they actually quite welcomed us, didn’t they?
They mentioned us.
They did; they welcomed us…
Yes, alongside David Chandler.
Yes, I ‘booed’ our name, just to get some balance. I knew that half the strata managers there wanted to boo.
Well, it was funny, because one of them reminded you of a speech that you made a few years ago. Do you remember that?
Yes, the conference.
And he remembered your first line…
Which was “I am your worst nightmare. I’m a disgruntled owner, with a newspaper column.”
So, you obviously made quite an impression on him, because I think that was about 15 years ago, and he’s still hates you today.
Probably! We’ve got a lot to get through today. We have the review of all the suggested changes to the Strata Management Act, that are going to be tabled. Well, by the time you hear this, it will have been tabled.
We’ve been waiting a long time for this.
It’s a year. It’s a year since they closed submissions.
I don’t know how much longer it will be, before they actually make a decision. Possibly another year.
Oh, no! Surely not!
There are 139 recommendations.
Wow! I wonder how many letters they had from people?
I don’t know. Maybe, they just had one long one. I think they got a lot of responses, because this is the five-year review of the 2015 Act.
Did they accept any of your suggestions?
Not that I could see, but anyway, we’ll talk about that later. And, we’ll talk about an article you wrote, about how to find the best place to rent. And, we might have a chat about what the SCA event was all about. I’m Jimmy Thomson, I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review.
And I’m Sue Williams and I write about property for Domain.
And this is the Flat Chat Wrap.
139 recommendations, in the review.
And, we’re going to go through every single one of them, now. No, we’re not!
We might split this over a couple of weeks, because there’s a lot of interesting stuff in there. Now, these are recommendations, so they still have to be… They have been distilled down from people writing to Fair Trading, and the customer services department. Those recommendations come from all sorts of people; from owners, to tenants, to building managers, strata, managers, lawyers… Everybody’s put their tuppence-worth in there. Some of the suggestions are tidying up the loose ends in the law, some of them are dealing with changes to the way we live that have occurred, and the law is kind of out-of-date (things like delivery of notices electronically and stuff like that). Some of them are fixing problems with the law, so, 139. The first 37 are about the Strata Schemes Development Act, which is basically the enabling legislation, that allows them to create rules in the Strata Schemes Management Act. There’s a couple of interesting minor changes in there. One of the things is, they want to change the size of committees, from (I think), 9 to 15, or something like that.
Oh, my goodness!
That’s the maximum size, they’re talking about.
Well, you can understand that, because there are some strata schemes which are absolutely massive now and I know the one in Pyrmont, for instance; they have so many different buildings in the same strata’s… over-arching strata.
Yes, that’s right. The same strata management scheme. They don’t have enough places for a representative from each of the buildings, so that’s probably a good idea.
Actually, that’s clarified it. I wondered why that was in the Development Act, and what they’re talking about is the overarching community management.
Yes, so that would help with Jacksons Landing.
Because there you had more than 9 buildings, but only 9 seats on the committee.
For most committees; for most buildings, you wouldn’t want more than 9 people, really. It’s hard enough, finding 9 people to agree with each other, but 15!
As we know, the Strata Management Act allows each strata scheme to set the number of committee members, so it’s not like it’s compulsory to have 15. Okay, some of the things in the Act… ‘Establishing partnership with key stakeholders. A targeted programme of support and education for strata residents.’ So, they want to educate us.
So, who’s going to do the educating?
Are they going to provide funds for that?
I think they kind of have to. I mean, SCA and the Strata Community Association, have been running training schemes for residents and owners for years now, and have kind of been using that, to recruit new members to their owner’s section, which is kind of dodgy, a little bit. A bit sneaky.
Well, yes, because the Owners Corporation Network is really the representative of owners, really and they run education programmes, for themselves. I mean, I know in a couple of weeks time, they’re running a conference, aren’t they, and you’re the MC, and I’m talking as well, about using the media, when you’re in a strata scheme. I think David Chandler is coming and speaking, as well.
He is. He’s going to be there all day; he’s going to make a speech, and he’s going to be on a panel. The OCN should be the people doing the training. They (obviously), would appreciate being helped by SCA, because the strata managers have a lot of experience of the realities of where the community meets the law, kind of thing. Between them, they should be able to structure training courses, right from the very beginning. I don’t know if they’d be compulsory; I’d certainly make it compulsory for anybody who was buying into a strata scheme for the first time, to attend a course about what it means, when they go to their first AGM.
Yes, that will be handy.
They want to codify additional duties and obligations for strata committee members, in the Management Act, so what they’re saying is, if you’re on a committee, this is what you’re expected to do.
But, we know that kind of stuff, don’t we really?
It’s not spelled out clearly and I think they should actually say to strata committee members, if you get yourself elected, and then you just don’t turn up for half the meetings, you’re not doing your job. Even though you’re not getting paid, what you’re doing is filling a seat.
That somebody else, who’s much more engaged, could sit in.
You know, in other jurisdictions, if you don’t turn up for two or three meetings in a row, without having the permission of the committee, they can vote you off.
Which is a good idea.
It’s a great idea. Talking about voting people off the committee… They want to lower the threshold, so that at a general meeting, just a simple majority can vote members off a committee, rather than a special resolution, which I think is (again), a good idea.You don’t need a special resolution to get elected; it is just a simple majority. So, a simple majority should be able to knock you off, as well. In view of being kicked off the committee; they want to introduce provisions for strata committee members to be prohibited from going back on the committee for a specific time, after they’ve been knocked off. Theoretically, you can get voted off the committee and then you turn up with a lot of mates with proxies, at the next AGM and get yourself voted back on, just months after you’ve been kicked off. So, what they’re saying is, if you’ve been kicked off the committee, you should be off for a year, or whatever.
I don’t know. That’s quite hard, isn’t it, because that could be manipulated. You might have a bad executive committee, who may be in cahoots with a developer or somebody; they kick off some somebody from the strata committee, who’s actually on the side of the owners…
I don’t think the committee can do it, I think it has to be a general meeting. But even so, they could manipulate general meetings in such a way, that people get themselves kicked off the committee,
Then if they stage a revolt and overturn that strata committee, they wouldn’t be allowed back on.
Right, so we’re not in favour of this.
No, so that’s one black mark, for that one.
It says, define the office bearer roles, especially the chairperson, more clearly in the Act. I think, as we’ve said, many, many times, the only office bearer whose job is defined in the Act, is the secretary. It says in the Act, you get to call the meetings, you do the minutes, blah, blah, blah. The chairman is ‘you chair the meetings,’ end of story.
That’s right, because I think people like to take the chairperson position, because they think that’s the powerful one, but it’s not actually. It’s the secretary that holds most of the power.
It should be.
Should be, absolutely.
Unless you’ve got somebody who holds both. Oh, here it is; ‘increase of maximum size of committees, for community land schemes, from 9 to 15 members. Allow for subcommittees,’ so say you’ve formed subcommittees, that’s allowed in the legislation elsewhere.
That’s always a good idea, I think.
It suggested that instead of meeting procedures being in the Management Act, it should be in the regulations, but ‘review and refine the current requirements, to improve clarity.’ Looking at the meeting procedures, it’s so complicated and confusing and they could actually (as I have suggested, which has been ignored), have standing orders for committees. They have obligatory motions, for general meetings, but for committees, it should say ‘you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to vote in this way. The chairman or chairperson has to limit the amount of time that people can talk.’ I mean, it’s a simple rule, which is, somebody who’s made a contribution, can’t speak again on that issue, until everybody who wants to speak on it, has had their shot and it stops a meeting from being dominated by the loudest voice. Now, if they say something, and somebody else says something in response, and nobody else picks it up, then yes, of course, they can speak again. These standing orders don’t exist in New South Wales and they should. Maybe that will be part of the refinement of meeting procedures. They’re talking about extending the minimum notice period for annual general meetings, from 7 to 14 days. I’ve forgotten, it was that short.
It’s good to have two weeks to prepare for a meeting, rather than one week.
There’s a lot of other stuff in this. They are sneaking towards ruling on email addresses. There’s about four recommendations about records and who’s available, and potentially introduce limited exemptions to record access, where there are significant privacy or legal concerns. So, without saying as much, they seem to be caving in to pressure from some people, to allow email addresses to be kept secret. In New South Wales, unlike other jurisdictions, if you’ve got an email address (and who hasn’t these days), you’ve got to supply it. It’s got to go on the roll and the roll has to be made available to other owners. It sounds like they’re edging towards a situation where they’re going to say ‘you’ve got to show people what’s on the roll, but not the email addresses,’ which I think would be a hugely retrograde step, but I know that a lot of strata managers don’t want owners to have each other’s email addresses.
With these recommendations, are they asking people to comment on them? Do we have a chance to go back and say “this is good, this is bad?”
No, this will have been tabled, by the time people are listening to this and it will be debated and discussed and be sent off to another committee, who will come back with recommendations, that will come up for discussion and voting.
So, if there are any that you really strongly disagree with, you will get in touch with your your MP and say “look, you need to say this, on this debate?”
Yes, this is not the end of the discussion, but it’s certainly created the agenda for future discussions. There’s a whole bunch of stuff about notifying the strata scheme about what apartments are tenanted and allowing tenants to provide their own notice to owners corporations. If your landlord hasn’t registered you as a tenant, for whatever reason, you can register yourself, which I think is great. There’s stuff about education, about tenancy-related obligations and putting notices electronically and that’s just the first 60, of the ones we’re looking at. Other areas that they’ve got into… There’s renovations and what is a minor renovation and what isn’t; they want that defined. The common property memorandum (who’s responsible for what thing), which is handy, until it’s not, because there’s big gaps in it; it’s a bit of a mess. That needs to be looked at again. There is a suggestion that that becomes part of the model bylaws for new buildings, because at the moment, it’s kind of like a suggestion; you’ve got to pass a bylaw to adopt it. There’s a lot of stuff about building managers, their contracts, their duties and their obligations and responsibilities. There’s a thing about assistance animals as pets in there and we’ll dig into that, maybe in a later podcast. There’s one there that says that ‘bylaws cannot of exist that prevent assistance animals from doing their job.’ I think well, what kind of bylaw would that be? I’m thinking if there’s a bylaw that says if you have a dog, you’ve got to carry it across common property and if that is a guide dog, it’s not going to work, if they have to carry that dog across a lobby that the dog is supposed to be leading them through.
Or maybe, somebody who’s visually impaired would go to the gym for a workout, but they would say no dogs allowed in the gym?
There’s two or three suggestions in there, about clarifying the rules on pets. That’s another story, that isn’t going to go away for a while. Defects in maintenance; there’s a suggestion that strata schemes should be compelled to undertake maintenance. It’s not just a general… There is a category there that says ‘you are required to maintain and repair.’ There’s a suggestion that owners should be able to go to the Tribunal and NCAT and say “you must start repairing, now.”
Well, that’s great.
But, there’s also a suggestion that RAB Act, the one that David Chandler…
Yes, they call it the ‘RAB ACT,’ but I’m not really sure what it stands for.
Check the show notes and we will have found out what the RAB Act stands for. They’re saying that Fair Trading should be able to go into a strata scheme… That’s an existing strata scheme that requires maintenance and say “okay, guys, you’ve got to start fixing this.” The same way they do with developers in new buildings, they’re saying that they should be able to do that with Owners Corporations in old buildings.
That’s really important, because we’ve seen so many Owners Corporations drag their heels; go to NCAT, then go back to NCAT… Nothing happens, for a long, long period of time. That’s great for people in buildings, which are not new anymore.
And the other suggestion is that fines and penalties be increased…
From NCAT, yes, and cost awards in disputes and things like that, so that people can’t do the kind of thing you were talking about and just ignore the Act. When they do, they get hammered for it. A couple of interesting things at the end of the notes; they say there’s been a suggestion there should be a Property Services Commissioner. At the time of writing, the Commissioner had not yet been appointed. Well, he has now.
And we met him the other night.
We met him, and a very nice man he is too (and looked slightly hunted).
He hasn’t actually started yet; I think he starts in January. I think he was a bit overwhelmed that so many people were approaching him and saying “what are you going to do?” Poor man!
They said that there were complaints that Fair Trading’s mediation service took too long, but they said that they fixed that, with the adoption of telephone and video conferencing mediation sessions; maybe. They’re saying that the Fair Trading’s enforcement powers should be strengthened (which I agree with), and they should have a greater role in either obtaining certain orders from the Tribunal. That means that rather than you or I going, we want to take our Owners Corporation to the Tribunal, or another neighbour to the Tribunal, Fair Trading should be able to go “hang on, we’ll run with this, because this person needs assistance.” So, it’s a good suggestion. They’ve decided to ignore it. It says ‘a review has recommended a major new role for Fair Trading, to assist in the resolution of building defects and enforce compliance.’
Well, that’s what David Chandler has been talking about, hasn’t he? He’s been trying to urge people with defects to go straight to Fair Trading, and saying that Fair Trading has a new system in place, to help people.
Now, I think they’re saying that they’ve gone beyond that and they’re saying they’ll pick up the cudgels, which is great. The last sentence says ‘the review considers this as an area of strata living, most in need of stronger regulatory intervention, and where it would be most appropriate.’ So yeah, we’re not going to take your cases on other stuff; they’re not saying that, I’m saying that. They’re saying ‘we’re going to concentrate on defects; we’re not going to do the barking dog thing for you.’ It’s a start.
Okay. Well, it’s good that they’re doing the defects anyway, because that’s the area that causes most pain for people.
It will be really interesting to see what happens the first time Fair Trading’s lawyers rock up to NCAT and get slapped down by another department, with which they have very little connection. All right, that is a lot. Now, we’re probably going to come back and visit this, sometime. There will be a kind of summary of this, as usual, on the show notes, and there will be a link to the whole document, so that you can pick it apart in the comfort of your own home.
And you can get a discussion going on the Flat Chat forum as well.
Absolutely. It will be replete with this, quite soon, I’m sure. When we come back, we’re going to look at how to find the perfect pad to rent.
Sue Williams, in your other job, you’ve written an article for The Sydney Morning Herald Domain, about the best place (or the best way), to find out somewhere to rent. And by that, you mean as a tenant, rather than an investor?
What are the big notes on this?
Well, I think we always talk about location being so important, but for renters these days, it’s quite interesting, because rents have been quite soft in many areas, so sometimes, I think renters are going to be able to afford to rent in areas which they’ve never been able to afford to rent in before. That’s often the CBD, so that’s Sydney CBD, that’s Melbourne CBD, that’s Adelaide; some of those areas, rents have been falling. Whereas, other areas, like in the Eastern Suburbs and the Inner West of Sydney, and in the North West of Melbourne, rents have been increasing. You can actually look at areas that you’ve never looked at before. You might get a great view of the Harbour or you might get a great view of the Yarra River. Or, you can consider renting a place further out, because now we can all work remotely, really, so you should consider different locations, as well.
So, people can choose between living closer to the city centre. They’ve got the same budgeted amount for rent and they can choose between living closer to the city centre, or moving somewhere bigger, farther away. So, a bigger, nicer, flat.
Yes, and often for the same amount, so depending on what you really want. Also, you’re always looking at whether you want to live in a boutique building, with maybe fewer amenities, or a really big building with maybe, a pool and a gym. Some of them have a spa and a yoga room, these days. I was writing about an apartment building the other day that has a music room. It has a piano there, and it has different instruments, so people can go in there. Many of the new buildings now, also have theatre rooms, so movie theatres, where you can book them, and then go and watch a great movie with your mates.
Karaoke rooms, anywhere?
Not yet; it’s probably quite a good idea, really!
I might have started something!
But also, most people say, one of the things you really should do before you rent an apartment, is to read the bylaws of the building. Strata Answers, one of our sponsors; I talked to them about that and Tonja Gibson (one of the main founders of Strata Answers), says, that’s so important, because you need to know whether the building allows pets. I mean, obviously you need permission from your landlord too, but you need to know whether the building allows them, before you even consider it. She recommends, you should also check to see if there’s any remediation work planned for the building, that might affect you. You don’t want to rent in a building and suddenly, there’s all this work going on, to fix some defects that you never really knew about and suddenly, your balcony is being used as a repository for all the tools and the equipment. We know someone that that happened to. She says the tone of a building can be really important. You might love seeing kids playing in a central courtyard. Some of these complexes now actually have playgrounds and that might be fantastic for you, listening to kids screaming and laughing and crying and stuff.
I can’t imagine how that possibly would be, but I’ll take your word for it!
Some people like that, and some people might really hate it. Some buildings might be friendly; there might be a gardening club, or a book club, or a wine appreciation society there. Others might…everyone keeps themselves to themselves; just different tastes. You’ll also be looking at if you need parking, does it come with a car space. You might have a mate who wants to sublet with you, so you might do a flatshare. Often the ideal thing is to have two bedrooms, but also two bathrooms. You might not want to share a bathroom as well. You want to know if the apartment is well maintained. Have a look around; if you can see there’s lots of marks and lots of grubby old carpets and marks on the walls and it just doesn’t look very cared for, it might be an indication that your landlord is not going to be a great landlord for you, as well. I also talked to Deb Francis, who runs the concierge service, A Class Concierge, and she was saying, why not, when you go to a building that you’re thinking of renting an apartment in, have a chat to the building manager or a concierge (if there is one), and ask them if there’s been any complaints against neighbours, where you’re likely to be living. That’s actually a really good idea, as well. She said also check if it’s close to the lobby, or any common facilities like the gym, or the pool, or the barbecue area, because we also know somebody who rents an apartment which is very close to the gym of a building and he constantly is disturbed by the ‘clanking’ of heavy weights.
And the ‘thumping’ of people dropping them.
Yes, and the music that they play, when they’re in the gym. Things like that, you don’t really think about. Also, some of the buildings have big courtyards, which is part of the apartment and we know people who’ve rented those, and are constantly disturbed by people flicking cigarette butts off their apartments, from higher up. We know a woman for whom, one day her kitchen went really dark, and she couldn’t understand why it was so dark. She went outside and there was this massive, gigantic teddy bear, that had fallen down from a higher apartment and it was spread-eagled across her windows. She said it frightened her half-to-death, when she saw it. Somebody found a cat in their courtyard, that had fallen down from a building higher up. It was fine, but have a think about whether you really want a courtyard, because sometimes, that can be quite difficult.
Getting back to the children thing; I remember, ages ago, somebody wrote to us saying they’d bought an apartment in a block that had a swimming pool in the middle; a communal swimming pool. They found out that the Owners Corporation had decided to fill it in and replace it with a garden, because the majority of people in the Owners Corporation couldn’t stand the sound of children screaming and laughing, echoing up in this enclosed area and I kind of get that
Yes, sure. It has just suddenly struck me, Jimmy, talking about this; these are rules which should be looked at for people buying apartments, as well. It’s not just people renting apartments.
Yes, these all apply.
You want to know whether your apartment is right next to a lift and the lift ‘dings’ when it comes, because that can drive people mad.
It used to be in this building, because they put in cheap industrial bells, rather than hotel-style ones.
And many of them were vandalised as a result. Also, check position of external lights. We have a friend and in her apartment; recently, the council put in different lighting in the streetlights outside and one of them shone directly into her lounge room and it was so bright, it illuminated everything at night, and she found it really quite hard to sleep, because some of the light spilled into her bedroom as well. It took her a long time to contact the council and Transport New South Wales, which has responsibility for streetlights, to get them to change. I think they didn’t change the light, but they put a kind of…
Like a baffle behind it. A screen, a reflector type thing, which is all it takes.
Yes, so it doesn’t go directly into her place.
But her problem was dealing with two institutions, neither of which was interested in doing anything about anything.
That’s right. But you know, if you’re buying an apartment, it’s really good to go out at night and have a look, before you buy and check to see if there are no lights…
I would say if you’re buying an apartment these days, if there’s a restaurant or a pub nearby, go out, go and have a drink, have a meal; have a wander around, wander past at night. Have a good listen. You’ll get a sense of what it’s like at nighttime and the life outside and around the apartment. Okay, that is really interesting. You can read the article online on Flat Chat and all those tips and more from Sue. When we come back, we’re briefly going to chat about the Strata Community Association event.
The SCA, they had their AGM; they had a book launch. They had the celebration of their professional standards status being approved. Somebody told me that they basically (because of COVID) had four events that had all been delayed at various times, and they held them all at the one time.
Sure, so it’s like all within a conference kind of thing, instead.
But it was a nice event, actually. It was quite good, except I made a classic error. I always stand next to the kitchen and we were as far away from the kitchen as possible.
So we didn’t get any food for a while.
All we could see is people descending on the food plates, like locusts.
But that wasn’t the only mistake you made, Jimmy. I was talking to the newly-appointed Property Services Commissioner and I turned around and Jimmy started approaching. I said “oh, hi! Meet John Minns.” I don’t think you heard me, because it was so noisy and the person who had written the book was a guy called John Coleman and I think you thought that was him. You said to him “congratulations on your book,” and he looked really confused. You said to him something like “I’ll be going through it with a fine-tooth comb, to see if there are any mistakes in there,” and he looked really frightened, until I intervened and said “Jimmy, no, you idiot! This is the Property Services Commissioner.” Then you kind of apologised, and we had a nice chat. But yes, he’d obviously kind of thought “I’ll have to avoid that man, later on.”
Well, they always end up having that thought, anyway.
Actually, the book about strata, From the Ground Up, looked really interesting and the author made a great speech. He was saying, there’s murder, there’s intrigue, there’s riots… There’s all sorts of things in this book. When he started off, he thought maybe, strata services are going to be really quite dull. But in fact, as anyone who lives in strata knows, it’s kind of like a drama, a soap opera or a sitcom, every day.
Yes, it can be and we try to have as much fun with it, as we possibly can. Thank you, Sue It’s been a long weekend and you did two different book festival things in a row, one of them in Wagga and the other one up in Lake Macquarie.
So this weekend, I’ve been Sue Williams’ official driver.
Thank you, Jimmy.
I’m still waiting for the hat. Christmas is around the corner. You can check up on all this stuff on the Flat Chat website, flatchat.com.au There will be more stuff, I’m sure, in the forum, about some of the recommendations, that are being made to changes in New South Wales strata law. Thanks, Sue.
I thank you all for listening. 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 favourite 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.