Podcast: Is this why Dave says he’s no messiah?

Ryan-Chandler.jpg

Elsewhere in this post

If there is one person in the strata sphere who’d say Building Commissioner David Chandler is not the Strata Messiah, it would be the commissioner himself.

As we discuss on this week‘s podcast, he cringes at every mention of himself as some sort of saviour, constantly deflecting all the abundant praise he gets onto his team.

They no doubt deserve all the kudos they can collect, but Jimmy wonders if the BC is, even just subconsciously, trying to avoid a similar fate to another NSW Commish.

He means one who went from messiah to pariah – at least in the eyes of the media – Police Commissioner Peter Ryan.

Sue was Peter Ryan’s biographer and saw at close hand how he was adored by the public while vested interests and viciously hostile media figures brought him down.

You can’t help but wonder if David Chandler might face similar challenges if his enemies in the building industry -dodgy developers and shoddy certifiers – find a compliant shock jock, some internet trolls and a tiny chink in his armour, real or imagined.


LISTEN HERE


Before that, we unpack what we learned from the OCN ‘Strata Matters’ Seminar. The fact that there’s a lot of angry people out there is only part of it.

Later, Sue digs into the story she wrote about the strata scheme that’s planning to impose pet behaviour bonds of $2000 per animal – something a senior Fair Trading official described as a clear attempt to get round strata laws allowing pets.

And she recalls the harrowing story of the mother, grandparents and baby who were forced  to move back into a dangerously mouldy flat because of NCAT delays and bungling.

There’s all that and more in the Flat Chat Wrap.

TRANSCRIPT IN FULL

Jimmy  00:00

It’s been a big week for us here, at Flat Chat.

Sue  00:02

It certainly has!

Jimmy  00:03

We had the OCN seminar, which I emceed, and there was a couple of stories that came out of that, that appeared in the papers. You’ve had a couple of stories; you’ve had a pet story?

Sue  00:13

That’s right, and an NCAT story.

Jimmy  00:17

An NCAT defects story. Lots to get through; we’d better get on with it. I’m Jimmy Thomson, I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review.

Sue  00:25

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

Jimmy  00:28

And the Sydney Morning Herald.

Sue  00:29

And the Sydney Morning Herald, yes!

Jimmy  00:31

 Increasingly.

Sue  00:32

Yes. I don’t know what has happened, but I think the Sydney Morning Herald has taken over a lot of the Domain stuff, so I think a lot of property stories are now appearing in print and the Sydney Morning Herald first, before they appear in Domain.

Jimmy  00:45

So, you’re back in the Herald?  That’s great! Alright, this is the Flat Chat Wrap.

[MUSIC]

Jimmy

There’s a lot to get through, from the seminar. It was four hours of (often), heated discussion. The Building Commissioner was there; he and a big crew from Fair Trading, some interested strata owners, some angry strata owners, and even you turned up and did a piece about the media. But even your question session got hijacked by people, who are just angry; just very, very, very angry and, you can understand why.

Sue  01:36

Yes, there’s a lot to be angry about, with the situation with defects in apartments. As David Chandler was talking… He was talking about the measures he’s going to ensure that apartments being built now, won’t have defects in the future. But also, a lot of people there were from apartments that are more than 10 years old and that were having real problems. He did say at one point, didn’t he, that when the new apartments are done, he’s going to be looking at Legacy apartments, after that.

Jimmy  02:04

Yes, but in a very different way and I wonder if for the people in those (so-called), ‘Legacy apartments,’ it makes it feel even worse, that something is being done, now, but it’s too late for them. Because what’s going to happen in the new legislation, is that owners corporations will be forced to fix their defects and repair and maintain the buildings, and you wonder why would they not do that? Well, typically in a building that’s dominated by investors, as long as they’re getting the rent in (and this is a huge generalization, and I apologize to all the responsible investors out there), but generally speaking, as long as they’re getting the rent, and the levies are kept low, they don’t have to live in the conditions and they’re happy to let things trundle on, until it gets serious.

Sue  03:00

And it’s really difficult, because when you have defects; like problems with the membrane (so, waterproofing), there’s probably only going to be maybe a small percentage of apartments in a whole building, which are affected, and so the owners of those apartments kind of become demonized in some ways, by everybody else, because everyone else doesn’t want to pay special levies, because often they’re going to be very expensive to repair. That makes it hard for people who have legitimate grievances, because they’re being singled out by all the other residents and that happens regularly, too.

Jimmy  03:31

You know, “why are you causing so much trouble? Why are you costing us money?” They’re going to be even more demonized, when the new laws come in. It was interesting that David Chandler was saying, he can only accept representation from committees; from strata committees… You know, people who are still under warranty, who come to his department and say “we’ve got a problem with defects; the developer and the builder aren’t fixing them.” He was saying, well, if the committee does it, that’s fine; they’ll look into it, but they can’t do that for individuals. There was a lot of raised eyebrows at that, because we know that you can get a committee that one way or another, is dominated by the developer, and maybe even the builder, who are not going to go and complain about themselves. So it’s an avenue that’s a loophole, that they probably need to look at sometime in the future. As I think I said, approximately 150 times at that meeting, you should not let perfect be the enemy of good.

Sue  04:33

That’s right and maybe, there’s a chance for strata managers to step up, when they see problems in buildings and when executive committees aren’t doing anything; strata committees aren’t doing anything…. Maybe, they could step up and report buildings to Fair Trading and say “there’s a problem here, and it’s not being resolved.”

Jimmy  04:50

There’s a possible other avenue for individual owners; the new SCA (Strata Community Association), Code of Conduct. Basically it saysk, if you know there’s a problem, you have to report it and that could be a case where individual owners could go to SCA and say “your member knows about these problems; why aren’t they doing anything about it?” That then knocks on, would the the strata manager then apply to Fair Trading and say “look, I think there’s an issue in this building, that you should be looking at.”

Sue  05:23

And it’s a very good point, because with the Code of Ethics, you kind of think, well, maybe strata managers would never do that, because they don’t want to get offside with the strata committee, who sign the contract for them, every year. But then again, with the Code of Ethics, maybe that overrides those kind of considerations; those  financial imperatives?

Jimmy  05:41

I think we’re all hanging out to see how the SCA Code of Ethics works, because there’s never been a strata manager sacked for being crap at their job, or at least, deregistered or disciplined by SCA, or Fair Trading, as far as I know. That was an interesting point, for me, anyway. We were talking about ‘phoenixing’ developers and these are people who set up a company, develop a building and immediately go into receivership, so that they are no longer personally liable, for the defects and the debts; whatever might accrue, and move on and set up another company and do it again and again. I said to David Chandler, that’s so obviously a deliberate fraud; how come none of these people are in jail? It got a huge round of applause; people really connected with that.

Sue  06:32

Because that guy from Fair Trading also made the point, didn’t he? He was saying that “we’re coming after phoenixing developers,” so that was a bit of a revelation, I thought.

Jimmy  06:43

I think it was David Chandler himself, that said that he’s called people into his office and said “were’nt you the directors of such and such a company, that’s now in receivership?” They go “yeah, but that’s a different company; it’s got nothing to do with me.” He’s saying “yeah, it has got something to do with you and this is what it has to do with you. If you don’t go back and fix those defects, in the previous building, you’ve got buckley’s chance of getting approval for the new building.”  I mean, I don’t know. There are thousands of developers in New South Wales; I don’t think he can have every one of them, trotting through his office to be spanked.

Sue  07:23

But when the word gets out, maybe people will be a bit more wary about becoming developers and they will realize that there’s a much higher standard of behavior, suddenly demanded. So maybe, they’ll think twice, or maybe, they’ll clean up their act?

Jimmy  07:39

The story that came out of this…The big story Matt O’Sullivan had in the Sydney Morning Herald, was about the rating system. I think when people heard about the rating system, they thought it was going to be like TripAdvisor. You’d go online and say “this developer is really crap. I give them one star.” It’s not going to be that. It’s going to be that they will apply to Fair Trading, and to the Building Commissioner’s office, to have a rating applied to their project. They will send people along and have a look; check it out and say “yeah, look, this is four star or five star.” Then, they can advertise on that basis. They were saying that they’re hoping to have 100 developers, on the ratings list. Now, obviously, if you’ve got five Dave Chandler stars; five Dave’s, on your advertising, and the guy across the road…

Sue  08:35

Five raves!

Jimmy  08:38

But, the guy across the road has none, you’re going to be wondering, ‘should I pay less for that one, that doesn’t have a rating, or more for the one that does have a rating, and most sensible people will pay a premium for the security, as long as it’s not ridiculously expensive. But, it’s a long process to get to that and I wonder, how many developers are lining up? It’s a risk.

Sue  09:04

Because it’s a voluntary thing, isn’t it? They just put themselves forward, to be rated. The big developers, the reputable developers, like LendLease, Mirvac, Frasers and Crown group; they’ll come forward and they’ll probably get (you’d imagine), quite a lot of stars. For the other developers, as you say, it is a risk, so how many developers will really come forward? But then, you know, you talk to developers about their product and they’re often incredibly enthusiastic about it and terribly confident, because I guess, most of the problems come through squeezing subcontractors. Maybe, they just don’t realize that there are going to be problems in their building, until they’re caught out?

Jimmy  09:46

Yes. I think the problem we had in this building initially, was because the original developer sold the development to an overseas firm. They immediately pulled cash out of the development and then started squeezing the subcontractors and the subcontractors (from what I gather); they weren’t just not working hard… They were deliberately doing stuff; throwing rubbish down into the wall cavity, which cause terrible damp problems and leaks and things, whenever it rained.

Sue  10:14

Because, they were angry at the developers.

Jimmy  10:16

Because they weren’t getting paid.

Sue  10:17

But really, it wasn’t the developers who suffered, it was the people who bought the apartments.

Jimmy  10:21

Yes, it certainly wasn’t the developers who suffered, unfortunately.

Sue  10:26

So developers may come forward, thinking that they’re all going to get five stars. In fact, when the building is looked at, they might only get two stars, perhaps, but because they’re all confident, they may come forward.

Jimmy  10:37

Yes and that’s the other thing that came out of that story… Apparently, some of the banks; when developers go to them for finance to start the project, some of the banks are looking at them and going “hang on, weren’t you the same people that have defaulted on this defects list? You know, where’s your star rating, for your last few buildings?” That kind of thing. So, change is coming.

Sue  11:01

And it’s great to see the industry being cleaned up. Look, there may be loopholes, but they may be closed at a later date, when they become obvious to other people, as well. It’s great to see so much movement in the sector. It’s been an astonishing year, really.

Jimmy  11:17

It has. Now, when we come back, we’re going to talk about David Chandler and the cult of personality; that’s after this.

[MUSIC]

Jimmy

I think David Chandler groaned very loudly, when you said “walking around with David Chandler, was like walking around with Jesus.”

Sue  11:41

Well, it’s kind of true! I mean, I’ve been with him on a building site and all the developers and all the building contractors; everybody involved, all leapt to their feet, when he came on. It was almost as if they’d put out a red carpet for him, and all silently crossed themselves.

Jimmy  11:59

Ironically, or possibly, not… At the meeting, he was getting a lot of adulation and he kept saying “it’s not me; it’s my team. I’m creating a culture; I have to leave a culture behind me. I’ve put the people in place who will continue this work, when I’m done,” which is kind of also, a bit Jesus-y, but never mind. He’s very keen to deflect all the praise away from himself and that’s a good thing and it’s a good thing for his team. I also wonder if he is aware of the possibility of that backfiring on the whole process. I’m thinking about Peter Ryan, the former Police Commissioner of NSW, of whom you wrote his biography. I remember when you were working on that, walking around with Peter Ryan, was like walking around with a Messiah. He couldn’t go to a restaurant and go to the toilet, without people rushing up and grabbing his hand, saying “thank you so much, for all the fabulous things you’re doing.”

Sue  13:05

For cleaning up the New South Wales Police Force, because I guess at that time, it was considered the most corrupt police force in the world; that was the title it had. He was coming in as almost a white knight from elsewhere, to clean up the police service.

Jimmy  13:20

And of course, that caused resentment within the police service, because there were the baddies, who were not being allowed to be baddies anymore and there were the senior police officers who were going “well, how come this English bloke is coming in? Don’t we have people here who can do that?” Of course, the reason they chose somebody from outside, was because he was untainted by any of the stuff that had happened before. But, there was that level of resentment and all it took was a couple of people who became very active and very noisy, and one (very famous) shock jock’s support and that shock jock being Alan Jones. He campaigned long and hard, against Peter Ryan; aided and abetted by an academic and a former police officer. Eventually, he went from Messiah status, to being almost driven out of the city on a rail.

Sue  14:15

At one point he found that he was more popular than the Premier, Bob Carr, who was a very popular Premier in his time. He’s still retained his popularity and even after he left office, many people still liked him, very much. But publicly, he was really castigated for some mistakes that he may have made and for his attitude towards the police service, that kind of thing. So yeah, it’s difficult. I mean, you’re drawing parallels with David Chandler… Yeah, interesting.

Jimmy  14:41

You know, Peter Ryan couldn’t turn a trick at the end, as far as the media were concerned. I remember Miranda Devine in The Daily Telegraph saying ‘why was he spending so much time on Olympic security, when young girls were being gang-raped by the Skaf gang,’ and you think, two very different issues. What, he should have been patrolling the parks at night with his torch, rather than looking after, what turned out to be the safest Olympics, ever?  Once the media had turned against him (and you know, Miranda Devine and Alan Jones are pretty much cut from the same cloth politically)…Once they turned against them, he could do no right, really, apart from the public, which could see the police force was getting better. Yes. It’s like at the beginning of Peter Ryan’s tenure; a friend of ours had his house burgled when he was on holiday at Christmas. A friend of his said to him “oh, did you tell the police that you were going away?” This friend of ours said “no, I didn’t.” He said “oh, okay. So it wasn’t them, then.” It showed the level of distrust of the police force, at that time.

I think the difference between Peter and David; I mean, there’s lots and lots of differences, obviously, but Peter at the beginning, courted publicity. David uses the media very well, but I don’t think he particularly courts personal publicity. He’s always trying to deflect attention. I mean, he’s always saying “it was the government who’s given me these extraordinary powers, because they realized that there was something wrong.’ Now, he’s talking about his team and he’s got a deputy who’s doing a lot of stuff and also, he’s telling people now, to report their problems to Fair Trading, because he’s saying “we’ve got a new structure in place, which we’ll see a solution expedited.” He’s really not particularly comfortable, basking in that kind of publicity and adulation, as you said. Maybe, it was wrong of me to call him Jesus, but it is fantastic, since he arrived, you know! People have been drawn to him and the successes that he’s had.

Sue  16:53

And his no-nonsense persona and the way he’s not afraid to speak his mind. I mean, I still think that’s the quote of the year,  telling ASIC to put their man-pants on! Big boy pants! That’s such a fantastic phrase!

Jimmy  17:13

He cringes every time somebody mentions it.

Sue  17:17

He got in a bit of trouble about that.

Jimmy  17:18

But that’s what his response was, when I said, why aren’t people in jail… He said, one of their next things is to go to (ASIC is Federal), Canberra and sit on ASIC and say to them “these are obvious frauds. Why are you not doing anything about them? It’s so obvious; all the evidence is there.”

Sue  17:42

So will Federal law have to be changed, for that to happen?

Jimmy  17:44

No, I don’t think so.

Sue  17:46

Or, they just get more active and apply the law.

Jimmy  17:47

They just apply it to those people.

Sue  17:51

Well, that will be really interesting in the New Year, to see happening.

Jimmy  17:55

We’ll see if he has any effect there. It’s all very political, though. One of the things he said (which I found very interesting), was that they’d been recruiting. You know, obviously, they needed a team. He said, in the early days, everybody and their brothers, were turning up, wanting jobs and then it turned out, they just wanted civil service jobs. They just wanted to work for the New South Wales government,  because of the security of tenure, the pension and all that. So he said there was quite a considerable churn in the early days, as some of them were found wanting.

Then, as what they were setting out to do became apparent, rather than just a committee that had been set up to ‘faff’ around and make nice noises and send out nice brochures, they’re actually getting things done. Then, a whole different bunch of people started applying and he said, last time they did a round of jobs, they needed 12 positions filled. They got about 100 applications. For 20 of them, his HR people said “these are the best applicants we’ve had for jobs, ever. These people are just head and shoulders above and the toughest thing we’re going to have to do is whittle those 20 down, to 12.” What they’ve done is said “okay, you nearly made it; stay in touch, because if a vacancy pops up, you’ll be one of the first ones straight in.”

Sue  19:23

Isn’t it amazing, that this is all happening under a Liberal government, in New South Wales? That never fails to amaze me; who in the past, have been very keen to stay on -side with the developers, because, you know, obviously, good developers really help the economy, really boost the economy’s spending. We need more homes for people. It’s interesting that they’ve been prepared to do this.

Jimmy  19:45

You shouldn’t forget though that Labor have previous, in this regard, as well. One of their last ever Fair Trading ministers was known for being a terrific fundraiser. That was her great skill and there’s no question, that some of her funds were coming from developers. So you know, Labor or not clean skins in this regard. They may be, now.

Sue  20:10

And who introduced self-certification?

Jimmy  20:12

Labor.

Sue  20:14

So both sides shoulder a lot of responsibility, for this situation. It’s great, now this has perhaps, been resolved, in some way?

Jimmy  20:22

Well, it’s changing. When we come back, Sue, you’re going to tell us about a pet story.

[MUSIC]

Jimmy

We love a pet story on Flat Chat! Among the many stories of yours that are now appearing in print, in the Sydney Morning Herald, there was a story the other week about pets and pet bonds, what was that all about?

Sue  20:50

Well, you know this new legislation we’ve had, that says you can’t prevent somebody from keeping a pet in an apartment, unless there are certain reasons and things? There’s a couple who bought their little boy a dog over COVID. A beautiful dog; a Staffy. Their building is now pet-friendly, having not been pet-friendly in the past. But they were told that their executive committee of their building is now considering imposing a bond for all pets, of $2,000. Which is incredible! I mean, we had a case at NCAT before, with a building (that had previously been pet unfriendly), imposing a $300 bond and that was passed by NCAT. They said that was reasonable for the administration of approval for a pet. But $2,000 is just incredible.

Jimmy  21:47

Trying to get around the law.

Sue  21:48

That’s right and apparently, there are a number of buildings, which are considering a similar size for a pet bond and some that have actually imposed that size of a pet bond, as well. They’re trying to just circumvent the legislation, to try and keep their buildings free of pets, because, you know, that’s a big sum of money.

Jimmy  22:06

I mean, that would be $4,000 for us, for our cats. Anybody want to buy a cat?

Sue  22:15

I was talking to a strata manager the other day, and he was saying, well, the thing is, with that size of pet bonds, if a pet does something wrong on common property, like perhaps, it defecates on common property, then a strata committee can say “okay, we’re taking your pet bond, because we’re having to pay to get that cleaned up.” Then, they have to pay another pet bond, so they always have to have the $2,000 in reserve. Then, what is damaged common property? Is it shitting on common property? Maybe, to some people, it is.

Jimmy  22:47

It’s not permanent, you would hope?

Sue  22:48

Well no, that’s right, but some people could interpret it that way; take the $2,000 and then, they’ve got to come up with another $2,000.

Jimmy  22:56

I’m not sure about the details of that case, that you’re referring to; the $300 that was challenged and upheld by NCAT, but you’d think if people are charging $2,000, then that is obviously punitive. The Fair Trading people at the seminar were saying “look, this is an obvious attempt to circumvent the law.” On those grounds alone, they should be bounced. It’ll be interesting to see what NCAT says, you know, that somebody can go in there and say “the law applies, that we are allowed to have pets that may not be unreasonably refused and there’s a bylaw that allows that;” then this is just trying to get around the bylaw. 

Sure, but as we know, NCAT is a kind of interesting Tribunal. You never quite know what the result is going to be and lots of people have said to me, that $2,000 bond will never get through NCAT. But then with NCAT, you’re never quite sure.  Let’s not forget the Joe Cooper case. It went to NCAT and NCAT said “yep, she’s right, the dog should be allowed.” The NCAT appeals board (which was three very senior members of NCAT), said “no, no, no, no. The bylaw is okay; it stands.” She has to get rid of her dog. She went to the Court of Appeals, and they said “no, the original decision by NCAT was right.” When people say with NCAT, there’s always the backstop of the Appeals Board, you think “it didn’t really work in that case.”

Sue  24:24

That’s right. Maybe it’s true that NCAT is under-resourced, for the amount of work it has. I mean, I did another story this week, about a woman who’s living with her elderly parents and her daughter, and they’re living in an apartment which has had terrible water leaks over the years and has caused awful damage within their apartment and black mold and rotten floorboards; all that kind of thing. She talked to her strata committee and they didn’t do anything for a long time, so she went to Fair Trading and she didn’t get much of a response there.

Jimmy  24:57

Fair Trading can’t make a ruling; all they can do is organise a mediation.

Sue  25:00

That’s right and then she went to NCAT. She said at first it worked really, really well and NCAT did a mediation between her and the Owners Corporation. They agreed that she and her parents and her daughter should move out of the apartment for three months, into rented accommodation that they agreed to pay for and during that time, the work would be done and then she could move back in. NCAT oversaw that mediation, and said “well, in the meantime, we’ll produce a final result, that will say exactly what work has to be done.”

Jimmy  25:34

Issue orders, basically.

Sue  25:35

Yes. So, the family all moved out, into rented accommodation and then at the end of the three months, they still hadn’t heard from NCAT, about the final orders for the work, so they were forced to move back into the damp and moldy flat, again. Her father’s not very well and the child kept coughing and stuff, so it’s not a really good place to be living. She was saying “well, I just haven’t heard from NCAT and I phoned them, and I’ve emailed them and heard nothing.” I phoned in NCAT and they came back to me and said “oh, we can’t comment on individual cases.” The very next day, they sent her an email saying ‘your case has been dismissed.’ After all that mediation and getting people to pay for her to go somewhere else. It makes your heart break, really.

This young woman, fabulous woman; her parents are from somewhere else, so English isn’t their first language. They hardly speak any English, so she has power of attorney over their affairs and she has been representing them, because they own the apartment.  Suddenly, NCAT comes back and says the case has been dismissed, because you are not the owner of the apartment. It’s your parents who are the owners. She said  “but I’ve always said I have Power of Attorney, so I was representing them. The Owners Corporation knew that and accepted that. How come suddenly it’s brought up at the last minute, that I’m not allowed to represent them, after a year of going through these procedures?”

Jimmy  27:08

Some paper shuffler at NCAT; some pen-pusher, some desk jockey in the Attorney General’s Office, has gone “oh, we’ve stuffed up here. Let’s find an excuse, so that we can’t be blamed for this.”

Sue  27:23

Because they spent so long coming back with a final decision and then this immediate, quick decision. It’s interesting, because the story came out and it was one of the highest rating story’s of property for the week and as we saw, NCAT just called her. She was despairing, because you’d have to go through the whole case, all over again,  to appeal it and they’ve said they’ll expedite the case, now. So hopefully, she’ll get some satisfaction.

Jimmy  27:52

So if anybody from NCAT is listening, and I found out at the seminar that apparently, people from Fair Trading, listen. Not because they feel they’re gonna learn anything from us, but they want to know what we’re on about. What’s he on about, this week? What abusive emails from owners, do we need to look forward to? So if anyone from NCAT is listening, get your act together! You’re destroying people’s lives! It might be a bit embarrassing for you to say “oh, this case should have been dealt with sooner,” and “oh, it’s going to spoil my morning coffee, that I’m going to get rude phone calls.” Get a grip and get on with it! And on that happy note, thanks, Sue. That was a really interesting one, today. And thank you all for listening. 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.

One Reply to “Podcast: Is this why Dave says he’s no messiah?”

  1. TonyC says:

    Sue & Jimmy – You have picked out the highlights of a fascinating OCN Symposium.
    You discuss ratings – one of the recommendations made in the NSW Strata Review as a ratings system so that buyers could compare off-the-plan purchases based on the developer”s rating. As you say, reputable developers will obtain a rating, and so will developers who need finance. But the rating system is voluntary, and developers who don’t wish to participate will continue to cut corners and phoenix. My suggestion is that developers should be required to have a rating , and state their rating in the Contract for Sale (in the Section 66ZM Statement).

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