Apartment owners in NSW have called on the state government to issue clear and unambiguous guidelines for the re-opening of communal strata facilities as the state moves towards loosening covid-related restrictions in public facilities.
A spokesperson for the Owners Corporation Network (OCN) says that while announcement that local council pools would open on Monday, September 27, was very welcome, this only referred to public pools.
‘Strata committees will get increasing requests and demands for the reopening of common strata facilities,” Karen Stiles OCN Executive Officer says.
“The Premier needs to make a clear and unequivocal statement that, as NSW moves towards 70 – 80% vaccination, new Public Health Orders to allow people back into higher-risk shared facilities will also apply to residential apartment complexes,” she says.
The problem has been a lack of clear direction regarding strata facilities, with some schemes unnecessarily shutting down all their common areas, others imposing strict controls on numbers and behaviour and others making minimal changes, in the absence of clear orders specifically related to strata schemes
“It is common for larger schemes to have outdoor and indoor swimming pools, gyms, spas and saunas. These complexes serve hundreds and sometimes thousands of people,” Ms Stiles says.
“Closing facilities has been contentious and Owners Corporations have limited powers. They need the legal authority to act, and that really needs to come from Public Health Orders. It is unfair to leave them on uncertain ground,” she adds.
The confusion has been exacerbated by Health advisories which had no legal basis and therefore no force.
In late August, NSW Chief Health officer Dr Kerry Chant wrote to strata managers asking them to update strata rolls – the mandatory list of all owners and residents in a block – to assist contact tracers.
She also advised that shared common facilities such as gymnasiums, lounges and (bizarrely) theatres should be closed. But the advisory letter had no legal effect and did not assist Strata Committees overcome the limits of their legal authority, says OCN.
There were also doubts about how many schemes had strata managers who would have the ability or level of engagement to update the strata rolls.
Generally speaking, strata committees have been left to interpret such rules as there are, often trying to apply regulations intended for public facilities, or over-reaching to err on the side of safety, or doing nothing in the absence of clear enforceable orders.
“In Greater Sydney, Strata Committees face criticism and demands for access, which have caused delays in closing facilities,’ says Ms Stiles.
‘Some facilities have remained open or re-opened with voluntary QR codes, cleaning, reduced capacity limits, mask wearing and monitoring through CCTV.
“We now have to face the issue of unvaccinated residents and visitors in complex facilities. This needs careful thought and the time for NSW to develop a workable policy is now,” she said.
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