- This topic has 13 replies, 6 voices, and was last updated 1 week, 6 days ago by .
22/05/2022 at 8:43 am #63370newbFlatchatter
Hi, I’m a first home buyer owner occupier of a unit in NSW. I joined the committee at my first AGM and started asking questions about finances that didn’t add up.
Both strata manager and at least some of the committee are being very evasive, don’t seem to want to discuss or do anything about it. One outright told me to stop.
Strata manager still won’t provide a correct financial statement with matching receipts (5 months of asking so far) and produced a fake 3 year contract in response to my queries (lucky I had a copy of the original 12 month one that was voted on).
We don’t have a fire safety report or evacuation plan or even smoke alarms and I’m worried this invalidates our insurance. Strata manager told me we don’t need one but the insurance policy PDS seems to say different.
And that money is not being spent on building maintenance, and that we will be fined. It is a 60 year old building. I don’t want to get everyone off side, but may have already.
And I feel stuck between a rock and hard place and not sure what to do. Am I the annoying new person on the committee creating unneccessary stress and disharmony? Or am I doing the right thing? I’m trying to follow the law, do the right thing, and protect myself and owners.
– Since writing this I’ve read on here that Pre 1988 buildings don’t require an Annual fire safety report for compliance (but fire safety is still a good idea). Thank you for providing this forum, it’s very helpful.
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22/05/2022 at 9:28 am #63373Jimmy-TKeymaster
The reality of strata living is that many established buildings just trundle along, with no one able to explain why they do things a certain way except for “we’ve always done it that way”. That doesn’t make it wrong – just hard for new residents to grasp and their neighbours to explain.
You are right to want to know what your scheme’s responsibilities are but there is probably a better way forward than challenging everything that doesn’t seem right.
The fire safety question is a typical issue. Owners in older strata schemes live in fear of a fire safety inspection, in case the local council comes along and orders them to undertake expensive upgrades. However, we tend to forget that there are fire safety measures in place to protect us from the consequences of fires.
Locked fire doors, disconnected automatic door closures, disabled smoke detectors and blocked exits don’t matter until they do – and then they matter a lot.
As for being fined for some failure to abide by strata law – that’s not going to happen. There are no StrataKops prowling around looking for flaws and failures.
The worst that could happen is that an owner or tenant complains about some lapse, takes it to Fair Trading for mediation, then the tribunal (NCAT) where they have orders issued and the committee decides not to obey the orders.
THEN you get fined but there are so many steps along the way at which the committee or owners corporation could put things right that it’s easily avoided.
My advice to you would be not to stop, as a fellow committee member has asked, but dial it down a bit, get more focussed and do it from a position of knowledge rather than challenging everything you don’t understand. Pick an issue, research it as best you can and then, if need be, ask the questions.
You might consider joining the Owners Corporation Network (ocn.org.au) which has a terrific reservoir of accumulated knowledge and where you can directly contact other owners who’ve been through the same issues as you.
Right now, you are challenging people who may have no better idea of what’s going on than you do, and that will scare them.
Be a problem solver rather than a trouble-maker but be aware that identifying a problem where others think none exists puts you from the first category into the second.
I strongly believe there are no strata schemes in Australia that are fully compliant with all their strata laws and regulations. But strata is an organism that evolves to meet the needs of its residents and the community as a whole.
Your first challenge is to get your fellow committee members back onside. I find chocolate muffins and a quiet concession that you may have overstepped the mark work a treat.
Then you can start addressing issues in order of their importance and legal requirements, especially with the new strata Hub coming into effect at the end of next month.
The first cab off the rank could be the 10-year maintenance programme. You should have one but, the way the law works, you don’t even need to set aside funds for the work. That last part should calm a few nerves.
23/05/2022 at 8:57 am #63380CosmoFlatchatter
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newb, I have found in these cicumstances it is best to hold informal talks with other owners. Point out your concerns and see how much support you have.23/05/2022 at 8:57 am #63379
Thank you so much for your frank and sensible advice.
I have dialled it right down and am focused on improving my knowledge.23/05/2022 at 4:17 pm #63397Jimmy-TKeymaster
Good on you! Let us know how it all pans out.23/05/2022 at 4:18 pm #63398
I’m in the process now of trying to do that. I’m normally pretty private live and let live. It was actually other owners/ committee members tentatively and not so tentatively expressing concerns that emboldened me. Before that, and before I saw the first something askew financial report I assumed everything was fine.
Most of our building is tenants and I am the only person who only speaks English. Now that I know our insurance is OK I feel a lot calmer to go at a slower pace and get to know people and what they want, and build trust.
I’m in communication with one owner who doesn’t live in the building and they have a good rapport with another committee member I’m getting to know, who has lived here for a while and knows most of the people.
So, it’s learning the people, the situation, the legislation, and everything strata in NSW, and my self too 😀
I’ll keep you posted. It’s so good to have this forum! (And maybe other people in similar situation can read and get something out of this too).26/05/2022 at 3:13 pm #6342386_strataFlatchatter
I totally empathise with you newb – and this was from someone who had six years of strata under their belt to move into a complex multi-strata development with issues up to its eyeballs. I appreciate and admire your enthusiasm and conscientiousness.
I agree though with Jimmy and others. Unfortunately, I too ruffled feathers through letter writing about finances, insurance and the upkeep of common property which got me nowhere fast. There were $100K+ in overdue levies that were not being followed up by the strata manager. Illicit drug transactions on common property. All sorts of things.
What it took was some patience. Firstly, once I realised I had gone in guns blazing, I sat back and kept myself to myself. These things have a habit of settling down if you go silent for a while, a few months at least. You have ruffled feathers but maybe, just maybe, some on the committee have heard your messages and some of it will sink in over time. Say hello to them as you see them, make small talk, be interested in their dogs, whatever it takes. Just become known as someone constructive who is not out to make trouble. Help them realise that you are someone they want on the committee.
Once you have established some rep, then you can begin to dial things up in a respectful manner. Baby steps at first. Just pick one or two issues and build up your knowledge, make some phone calls yourself to get quotes, go out take pictures of other complexes as might help (I did this when looking at new security systems and signage). No more letter writing or emails or badgering the committee over everything. For the finances, the best way I found to address it was to ask politely at the AGM for a financial auditor to review the accounts (as often as recommended by your SM). It is a pretty weak control to be honest, but it could cause your committee and SM to reflect on their actions. It is a subtle way to bring finances into the fore.
Then you can also volunteer to help the committee with various things that take almost zero effort. For example, if a tradesperson is coming early one morning, you could volunteer to let them into the building or show them where work is required. You become someone they can trust and rely upon. Then over time catalogue issues in the place, things you have found in your travels, and raise them informally with some suggestions. Form a bit of a working group to work through the list and prioritise. It may be some things are on a maintenance plan eventually. But other things might be small potatoes that you can sort out yourselves.
In short, I wish you the very best of luck. Subtlety is key. Once you make your inroads, then you can start to respectfully disrupt things. You will then be seen as a trusted, reliable and constructive community member.27/05/2022 at 6:39 pm #63441
Hi 86, far out! Your situation sounded like an absolute nightmare. And I’ve been reading so many horror stories from others that I think my situation is quite manageable.
From what you’ve said, I think I’m on the right track now, and now I have some perspective I’m a lot less panicked. There’s a lot going on I haven’t elaborated in order to keep it simple. But I lived here a year and was friendly and polite with everyone before I became aware of the situation (a person who’d been on the committee sold their unit, and I think things changed in the 8 months or so between that and the next AGM which was delayed due to covid lockdowns). Initially when people expressed their dissatisfaction I reminded them we weren’t paying much, or gave them a hand to change light bulbs ourselves when strata management wasn’t responding. Generally I got on with everyone. It has been quite a shock realising the state of strata management, that it is endemic.
I think, after considering what Jimmy said, that I shocked and scared people, because I mentioned going to fair trading, not knowing at the time what the consequences of that could be. All my consternation was directed at the SM, not my committee, still yes I probably did worry them. I stopped as soon as the one person asked me to. And fair trading advised me that I need the support of my committee.
Current contract runs till October. We’re considering self management (or degrees of), (one person on our committee has done it successfully previously) so I am thoroughly researching that, and have time to do that and get to know and build trust with the committee that I’m part of. Definitely we’ve got to work together. So, we may work it out 🙂04/06/2022 at 1:19 am #63529
I can’t bring my self to make chocolate muffins yet. I’m disgusted, and still getting my head around it all and trying to see how it can be “ok”. In my book, stealing is stealing and if you can’t be open and straight up about your reasons it’s because you know you’re being dodgy. It’s a complex and frustrating situation. Just about anywhere else in Australia, the consumer guarantee applies and it’s fairly easy to work things out fairly. This is insane. (And I used to be an environmental consultant – that was peachy compared to this situation).
I understand a business needs to be paid appropriately for the service they provide. However if it’s not clear what you’re paying it’s hard to know what is fair to expect in return or to do due diligence or know whether things are being looked after ok or not at all. SM keep a tight rein on everything, hold all the records, are not open, and prevent communication between owners. Very small and opaque committee. I understand too if people feel entitled if they’re putting in while absent investors aren’t involved. It’s very limited, short term and selfish thinking though.
There’s no way to establish if works have been done or to communicate with other owners. The building will have to start falling apart and levies go up before anyone cares.
I’m doing as advised. Being quiet and polite. Educating my self. Observing. Seeing where and ways I could help (eg. I’m going to get some quotes for maintaining part of the building that needs painting, and offer that and see what happens). And try not to be completely disgusted with people and remember they’re just human 😀10/06/2022 at 4:10 pm #63573
So…. a most exciting update! (I need to get a life again, and I will once this strata stuff is sorted)…
I’m nearly at chocolate muffins stage. I followed the advice of people on this forum, toning it down, learning, taking the long view (still something of a roller coaster). And I joined the OCN network, most invaluable. From there I got a tip/ idea about a method to solve an ongoing problem in our building that has been bugging people. When tenants moved out this weekend they left a heap of rubbish and filled all our bins, then we ended up with disgusting rubbish strewn everywhere by birds and wind. So I emailed the strata manager very politely, with photos, and requested that they contact the property manager of that unit, to sort it out asap or send them the bill so clean up could be recovered from tenants bond. (I’m not anti tenant, I’m anti rubbish dumping). And it worked! The property manager got the tenants to come back and clean up their rubbish. And I said thank you to our strata manager. And for once we don’t have to clean up or pay for clean up of non resident owners tenants, which has been an ongoing issue.
I improved my relationship with our strata manager and hopefully showed the committee I can be useful.
Thank you Jimmy, and flat chatters and OCN!
It’s only the beginning, but it’s encouraging.16/06/2022 at 9:34 am #6359786_strataFlatchatter
That is great to hear – you did it all without chocolate muffins too! Keep plugging away!16/06/2022 at 4:06 pm #63612David NgFlatchatter
I improved my relationship with our strata manager and hopefully showed the committee I can be useful.
And you added value to your personal/professional brand, make sure you gently remind your fellow owners when you renominate for the committee.
Oh, and if you want to move to my block I would love to have you working along side me to make the place better. As the chief cook and bottle washer; i.e. responsible for everything, I would love a fellow owner to step up and support me rather than just complain and then step back.16/06/2022 at 4:07 pm #63610Flame Tree (Qld)Flatchatter
Once a year you have the chance to put a Motion up for voting on at your Annual General meeting. Doing so in a simple, concise, actionable Motion will give the other owners a chance to support, or not, the thing you find wanting improvement on.
If that gets passed it must then get done regardless of what the committee has planned and lets owners have their say to the other owners not just the few on the committee. Sometimes committees are just busy and don’t see the things annoying others and a Motion brings everyone’s attention to it.
Sometimes if committee members don’t want to seem exposed I’ve found they fix the issue before it gets to a vote and if so your issue is addressed and your Motion no longer required. Happy days.
If you can’t wait that long, you can write a Motion and put it to the elected committee to vote on whenever they have their next meeting.
Feel confident to do that even though you are on the committee as a way to get the issue raised and for you to own the issue and get quotes and write it up concisely to decide a yes or a no on taking action.
If it’s a no to the Motion you can raise it again with additional information or overcoming what was it’s objectional bit of some/enough other committee members to get it approved and done.
17/06/2022 at 6:27 pm #63674
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Thanks guys. This forum helps to feel not so alone and check in if I’m on the right track, or just a lunatic (or both lol).
@86 well it turned out we actually paid for a cleaner, the tenants removed some of their junk, so partial success. I’ve installed a camera now, not my preference but I need facts for future occurrences.
@david, yes, well I’m still not sure who they are but I think there’s a grapevine here and hopefully that will work. In future I’d like to start a little newsletter, and a communal vegie garden, but I need to sort the current schmozzle first. And o I’d love to work beside a person like that too! It was very tempting to do as my committee member asked me to – “stop! Go to work, come home, go to sleep. Don’t worry about all this!” And yes I assume they’ve been running the ship a long while and would welcome some help. My other committee member told me he has cancer, and that’s why he doesn’t want stress, but also maybe it would help him to know he can pass things on to someone conscientious.
@flametree I think the painting front of building would be a good one for the AGM as it’s probably got at least another 6 months before the wood supporting massive windows starts rotting. I need to research how you put up a motion. Not many owners attend meetings and if committee doesn’t vote for it then it provides a picture to the court if that becomes necessary, can issue an order to perform their function.
And yes, I’m hoping my nudges are giving people time to quietly fix things without having to go nuclear. They only have one formal meeting a year at the AGM.
And that’s a good point, I can always raise it again if it doesn’t get through the first time.
Here’s the thing. I moved in about 18 months ago. Before I bought I paid for a professional strata records search and a building report. The building looked well maintained for a 60 yo building. There was a works plan and healthy fund balance, but only 3 years of records, since newest strata manager. (I don’t think any capital works have been undertaken since new strata manager). I joined the committee after my first blissfully ignorant 12 months in my new place. Our contract says all duties are delegated to strata manager and it was voted at AGM that there are no restricted matters. Within that initial 12 months, our entire capital works fund was quietly (ie I received no notification) transferred by our strata manager to our admin fund. CW fund currently has $2000 in it. Prior to my first AGM I noticed this, and some large expenses. I asked for receipts and was provided some, but a large portion of “plumbing” was still unaccounted for. All costs are listed under admin. Nothing is listed as a capital works expense. Also there are expenses for lot property (relatively minor issue I can resolve going forward). At the AGM they told me it was an accounting mistake during transfer over to their new system, and that they’d correct it and resupply a corrected annual financial statement. This never eventuated. After 5 months I got mixed explanations, and finally some receipts, all for just under $500, all for bathroom leak investigations saying numerous bathrooms need fixing and in at least one case have damaged another units ceiling, and most as yet unremedied. When I asked why did it take so long to provide the receipts and why wasn’t the bathrooms issues mentioned to the committee, not even at AGM, I was sent the first financial report, saying it was the correct one, and got no further explanation. They also sent a pdf of contract for 3 years at higher cost with my signature on it. I said I’ve never seen this before and didn’t sign it. Then I found the original 12 month contract voted on at AGM, in my files and emailed it to my committee. I rang fair trading, who were useless, then began my research. I had 2 owners (one on committee) who seemed interested in self managing. They’ve both backed out. I had the one committee member who told me to shut up and go away. There’s 3 on committee including me. Most owners don’t live here and I don’t know who they are. The few owners that live here barely speak English and I can only speak English. Apparently they don’t want to change strata manager. They are all from the same country and religion and go to the same place of worship as our strata manager. They are a close community. In a good way. The person who told me to stop is a different ethnicity and not part of their community in that way.
Both the other committee members have lived here about 20 years.
Yesterday I spoke to the owner committee member frustrated with the rubbish. He told me yes you’re on the committee/ treasurer, go ahead, contact strata manager, get things done. I think he meant it sincerely.
I don’t know if the leaks are genuine, or whether forged receipts or a shonky deal with plumber.
I just sent a friendly email to my committee requesting an informal meeting to discuss strata law changes, strata hub, and what to do about leaks.
I’m checking up what the Act says about works fund transfers and if I can, will email SM and request that funds be transferred back. I will also request that no further money be spent on lot property.
I will also request a records inspection and see if I can establish owners contacts, and what leaks have been fixed or need fixing. Gathering more facts for sensible actions.
Yes, plugging away 🙂
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