Stuff strata reform – give us a revolution!

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So, 2024 is here and, while it may promise to be the Year of the Flat in some quarters, I’m more interested in strata revolution than resolutions.

What do I want, apart from strata professionals acting professionally, politicians keeping more promises than they break and fewer people who don’t care and don’t want to share moving into apartment buildings?

I’d love to see a fast-track dispute resolution system that keeps ordinary people out of our Tribunals, especially when they’re only there because one or other party didn’t understand the law and its implications.

Right now in the Flat Chat Forum there’s a reader who believes he has been penalised through a special levy for voting against a proposed by-law.

In fact, the rejection of the by-law was overturned at a Tribunal, and the poor old bloke – he is a pensioner – has to pay his share of the costs awarded as well as the expenses accrued by strata scheme defending the case while the winning owner pays nothing.

That might be small beer for owners in a block of several hundred units but it’s a lot more when there are only three or four owners with whom to share the costs.

It would be nice to start the year to find the strata commissioner is experimenting with a fast-track dispute resolution system.  Come up with a plan and give it a try, I dare ya!.

Also not visible on the strata horizon is any sign that the states are making efforts to standardise even the terminology of their various strata laws.

What we know as strata committee in NSW and Victoria is called the body corporate committee in Queensland and the NT, the management committee in South Australia, the strata council in WA, the committee of management in Tasmania and the executive committee in the ACT.

And don’t get me started on the huge differences in strata law from state to state – that will be resolved  when the states are dissolved and Australia becomes a republic – i.e. never.

Where on our politicians “to do” lists are processes by which failures by strata professionals to abide by the law or even provide a competent service, are penalised by fines and loss of licences?

Look, there are plenty of good, more than competent strata managers around. But no strata manager has yet been struck off for being really bad at their job – and even their colleagues will admit that there are one or two who should have handed in their badges years ago.

Instead strata owners have to spend their time, money and emotional energy pursuing them through tribunals but then see the same clowns turn up at another scheme, ruining a whole different bunch of people’s lives.

When you think about it, the government needs to build more homes but they want us, the homeowners and investors, to take all the risk.

But the biggest, most impossible item on my New Year wish-list, would be the creation of an agency where strata owners can go and plead their case about defects and the government will bankroll and guarantee their legal action so that typical David and Goliath battles become more evenly matched – King Kong versus Godzilla, if you like.

NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler’s “Project Intervene” which helps owners in new buildings to wrangle their defects claims is brilliantly conceived.  Too brilliant, truth be told – last time I looked it was over-subscribed and not taking any more business.

We can only live in hope for what the New Year will bring. Change is good and strata never sleeps. Have a good one.

This column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.

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  • #72134
    Jimmy-T
    Keymaster

      So, 2024 is here and, while it may promise to be the Year of the Flat in some quarters, I’m more interested in strata revolution than resolutions. Wha
      [See the full post at: Stuff strata reform – give us a revolution!]

      The opinions offered in these Forum posts and replies are not intended to be taken as legal advice. Readers with serious issues should consult experienced strata lawyers.
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    • #72177
      The Hood
      Flatchatter

        I like this piece for some of its no holds barred shaming of the State for its dysfunctional system. Specifically I like the criticism of the failure of the State to take responsibility for the alleged professional the State licence.
        The odd person has had a licence revoked only to get a fresh one a few years later and continue on there merry way fleecing owners corporations for a not yet competent service.
        Strata Managers; so often in business for the money and too often not fit for purpose.
        Anyone with some strata savvy or who has been around long enough knows it is true. Liberal and Labor governments have come and gone yet here we are with the perennial problem both created and neither can (will) fix.
        You get what you vote for. The fix lies in moving away from the two party system hence we are still talking about this perennial problem and will die still talking about it because it is not going to go away under a two party system.

        The issues with the resolution mechanism are I feel best resolved by making the system inquisitorial rather than adversary. David can not battle Goliath in such an environment and I for one am sick to death of seeing costs order because some inept Member got something wrong and one party had to escalate the matter to resolve the mistake thus in too many cases leaving one party picking up the tab for the States initial failure. The State needs to take responsibility for its mistakes and that happens in an inquisitorial system, it doesn’t happen in an adversarial one.
        Sick of seeing legal representation at NCAT as well. It should be only in the most extra ordinary cases that legal representation is allowed. The objects of NCAT include dealing with matters with as little formality as possible. I think NCAT hopelessly fail that objective; CAT Act 3(d) –  any claim that NCAT is meeting that criteria is pure fantasy.

        Standardize the terminology. The labeling of the committee, oh please. There are over 250 uses of the word “must” in the Act and there is about half a dozen meanings depending on which must one is looking at. It is an absolute dogs breakfast created by the higher Courts in this State and it makes the ‘Strata Act’ incomprehensible to all but those who like to make these fun little distinctions between this must, that must and the other must. It is garbage because most the musts in the Act have been reduced to meaning should because there is no consequence for failing to must. Cognate words is a section in the Interpretation Act which distills down to saying that a word has the same meaning if used on many occasions. Until must becomes a cognate term the Act is an incomprehensible wish list For 2024 I would like to see legislation that actually means what it says.

        Take s 238 for example. No strata committee member has ever been removed (no reported case) and so am I supposed to believe the problems that led to the section just magically went away or is it more the case the alleged solution was just window dressing and there was no real product.
        Smart money is that David Chandler will leave the job and the bread and butter issues in strata will still be there.
        Sure we can expect to see some Rob Sitch Utopin style announcements but he will not fix strata because it is broken at a different level to what he will be looking at. Strata Commissioner – great pay packet, nice announcement for the Government and all that but I will gladly come back when he is gone and remind everyone it was just a shallow facade.

        I live in what is clearly a dysfunctional strata plan (with an agent) and the State do not seem to care.
        In 2024 I am so looking forward to the new provision that empowers the Commissioner of FT to request NCAT order management.
        Looking forward to it for two reasons. One is the hope it is actually useful to solve the issues in my SP, the other is I need the laugh that comes from it being another s 238 facade. I will get one of those outcomes so something to look forward to.

        I like it when the keymaster takes the SHAME stick to the system.
        Don’t agree with a lot of the keymaster solutions but still when it comes to the use of the shame stick there should be much more of it.

        #72185
        Jimmy-T
        Keymaster
        Chat-starter

          I like it when the keymaster takes the SHAME stick to the system. Don’t agree with a lot of the keymaster solutions but still when it comes to the use of the shame stick there should be much more of it.

          Appreciated. We tend to be on the same page more often than not – and it’s always fun and games when we’re not.

          The opinions offered in these Forum posts and replies are not intended to be taken as legal advice. Readers with serious issues should consult experienced strata lawyers.
          #72188
          Ziggy
          Flatchatter

            I tell you where we need a revolution: a dramatic change in strata lawyers’ fees. They’re opportunistic and  expensive. Recent experience also involved my writing their proposals. Owners Corporations should not be forced to fork out excessive amounts of money with little evidence that their case will be successful.

            The revolution: the OC pays lawyers only if they win.

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