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  • #66445
    Jimmy-T
    Keymaster

      How bad are things in Victorian strata? As you will read in this article, the removal of flammable cladding is revealing building structures that are
      [See the full post at: Victoria: A shambolic state of strata chaos]

      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.
    Viewing 15 replies - 1 through 15 (of 16 total)
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    • #66461
      Austman
      Flatchatter

        The poster seems to primary want Strata Police.  Or some authority that will investigate their issues and take appropriate intervening action.

        But there are no Strata Police.  The only authority that can enforce strata law in VIC is the legal system.  That’s the Tribunals and the Courts.

        All of the rest are just advice bodies or mediation bodies that have no actual authority.

        It’s nothing new. It’s been that way since the start of strata.

        While I sympathise with the poster, there comes a time when one has to decide:  Seek professional legal advice and or take the matter to the Tribunal.

        Looking for an authority to intervene in your issues is not going to happen.  There aren’t any except for the legal system.

        The most you can get is advice and non-binding, non-compulsory mediation.

        • This reply was modified 1 year, 4 months ago by .
        #66480
        Jimmy-T
        Keymaster
        Chat-starter

          The poster seems to primary want Strata Police. Or some authority that will investigate their issues and take appropriate intervening action.

          I think you’re being a bit harsh.  The strata resident is just asking that the professionals and the governing bodies do what they are supposed to do.

          The only authority that can enforce strata law in VIC is the legal system. That’s the Tribunals and the Courts.

          But if the mandatory mediation bodies are underfunded and overburdened and refusing to take strata disputes, who do you turn to?

          All of the rest are just advice bodies or mediation bodies that have no actual authority.

          No, but they are part of the process the applicants are urged to take before they get to a tribunal.

          It’s nothing new. It’s been that way since the start of strata.

          That is exactly the excuse we used to hear before the Owners Corporation Network was formed in NSW but they persevered and got crucial laws changed to protect apartment owners (some of which have been quietly taken up in Victoria.) In the 20 or so years since I started writing about strata, changes to NSW strata laws have included:

          • Limits on the number of proxy votes one owner can hold, improving democracy and accountability
          • Bans on developers demanding purchasers’ proxy votes as part of the sales agreement (ditto)
          • Limits on developers running down the clock on sunset clauses
          • Limits on developers controlling the major decisions on their blocks after the units had been sold
          • Limits on the contract lengths for strata managers in new buildings (one year at first, then a maximum of three at a time)
          • Limits on and regulation of short-term rentals in apartment blocks
          • Education campaigns for strata owners on their rights and responsibilities
          • Lower voting thresholds for capital works that improve sustainability
          • A Building Commissioner who works closely with representatives of strata owners to drive shonky developers out of the business (and maybe into Victoria where the laws are less rigidly enforced).

          There’s a lot more but I wonder how much, if any of it would have occurred if NSW strata owners had accepted the status quo and hadn’t started holding politicians to account for their decisions (or lack thereof).

          I think any system that allows a cabal of owners to legally meet in secret to make decisions that are enabled by self-serving professionals to the detriment of the blocks they are supposed to be managing and protecting – and then for their owners to have no effective means of calling them to account – is deeply, deeply flawed, whether it has always been that way or not.

          While I sympathise with the poster, there comes a time when one has to decide: Seek professional legal advice and or take the matter to the Tribunal. Looking for an authority to intervene in your issues is not going to happen.

          Yes, you are right, we have to police our own strata schemes and take our committees, managers and developers to court or the Tribunal if need be.  But when the barriers to that are insurmountable and the Tribunal decision-making is highly unpredictable, taking action is too daunting for most people and nothing will ever change.

          Establishing simple criteria for what constitutes unacceptable actions in strata, and simple remedies for when the rules are broken is the only intervention required from the powers that be.  Everything else would follow from that.

           

           

           

           

          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.
          #66507
          Austman
          Flatchatter

            Being a strata owner in NSW, ACT, VIC and for a short while QLD, I’d say that IME as both a chair and committee member for many decisions, it is VIC that has the best overall system.

            But it’s for sure far from perfect.

            Every couple of years or so submissions are called for by CAV re OC Act amendments.

            The states do observe each other and often adopt what seems to be a working improvement from other states.  As you would know, many so called improvements turn out to be not so great when actually implemented.

            It’s true that strata committees need not send out notices and minutes of formal committee meetings outside the committee.  But  calling them “secret” is a bit over the top.  The notices and minutes form part of the OC records. And many committees will send them out to all owners anyway.  I always do.

            in reality, the huge amount of committee decisions in my OCs are made quickly and by email vote. That way we get relatively minor, every day matters promptly addressed.  To make all those decisions formal with notices, minutes and any lot owner participation is totally impractical.  And OCs can set limits on what a committee can decide if they wish to.

            If the government is going to give any authority actual power to regulate  stratas it needs to legislate that. I suppose it might happen one day.   But until it does, there are no strata police and mediation etc is voluntary.

             

             

            #66510
            Jimmy-T
            Keymaster
            Chat-starter

              I respect your opinion, but I am far from convinced.  It seems to me that Victorian apartment owners are more excluded from decision-making than they are in NSW and that just makes it easier for small groups of self-interested owners to make decisions that affect the long-term value of properties.

              The ABC report on the “rotting” buildings exposed by the flammable cladding remediation is, I suspect, the tip of the iceberg.  I am pretty sure many of these will be buildings where defects were not pursued and repairs were not undertaken while the owners were told that the main objective was to keep fees down.

              It’s only recently that Victorian strata committees didn’t require a special resolution to initiate legal action.  I wonder how many suits against developers were avoided because they had enough votes in their pockets to block any action.

              As for your scenario of decisions being delayed by owners being informed through the distribution of minutes and agendas, that may well happen in NSW (although the advance notice of meetings is barely a week).  But even if it does happen, surely that’s better than committees meeting in “secret” – I don’t know how else to describe people meeting where outsiders can’t observe them – and then refusing to share their deliberations with other owners.

              The proof is in the pudding and if Victorian strata isn’t about to be revealed as having huge systemic problems, I will cover my favourite hat in chocolate sauce and eat it.

              You might be interested in this week’s podcast when I post it on Tuesday – you get an honourable mention – but I suspect you will hate it.

              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.
              #66521
              Austman
              Flatchatter

                I am pretty sure many of these will be buildings where defects were not pursued and repairs were not undertaken while the owners were told that the main objective was to keep fees down.

                Considering I’ve actually owned an apartment in such a building in VIC since it was newly built, I perhaps have some actual knowledge on the matter better than most.

                Sure, I’ve seen that once the cladding has been removed, other issues under the cladding  might have been exposed.  I doubt however that anyone in the OC or the OC committee knew about those issues.   I certainly know we didn’t in our building of 200 lots.

                For sure there are national building standards issues. The flammable cladding issue is an big example of that.   But the warranty protection for ALL new builds, not just stratas – houses as well, has been totally awful.

                When my stratas in VIC have contemplated legal action on building warranty issues, there’s never been a campaign to “keep fees low”.  There’s been warnings that such actions can be hugely expensive.    With some typical costings supplied.   Costs that might not be recovered at VCAT.

                It’s only recently that Victorian strata committees didn’t require a special resolution to initiate legal action.

                That’s not really correct either.  It’s not that the strata committees (or the OC) couldn’t take legal action.  It was where that legal action could be undertaken without a Special Resolution.   They were pretty much limited to VCAT without the Special Resolution.   Now they can take matters to certain courts.  And be awarded costs if they win.   And be awarded costs against them if they lose of course!

                For an OC, even going to VCAT can be expensive.  An OC almost 100% of the time needs to be legally represented.   That’s costly.   And it needs to be considered.

                meeting in “secret” – I don’t know how else to describe people meeting where outsiders can’t observe them – and then refusing to share their deliberations with other owners.

                And that’s not quite right either.  Minutes of committee meetings must be published.  Even email decisions have an email record.  They all form part of the OC records.

                I’ll be resigning from my committee chair positions of 40 years of service if committee day-to-day decisions all need such formality.   Where on earth would anyone get the time to do it all?

                Major committee decisions are another matter.   But a committee can be limited by the OC on how major those decisions can be.    Committees can get booted every 12 months.  Owners can run for the committee.  It’s all pretty democratic but like with any democracy, groups of like minded individuals (owners in an OC) can sometimes dominate.  Democracy in action.

                I agree that in VIC, formal committee meeting minutes for major decisions should be sent out to all owners.

                I do that.

                • This reply was modified 1 year, 4 months ago by .
                #66523
                Jimmy-T
                Keymaster
                Chat-starter

                  Just to be clear, the comments that I have made are not based on what strata owners in Victoria and only strata owners in Victoria do – it’s based on 20 years of writing about strata in NSW  and elsewhere in Australia and getting feedback from all over the country.

                  Victoria is not unique in having strata committees that will do anything to keep levies (fees) down or will keep owners in the dark about their decisions or neglect to maintain common property.  Far from it.  My point is that the situation has been ripe for exploitation and Victoria would be unique if no one was exploiting it.

                  I don’t doubt that you didn’t experience any of that in your strata schemes – I haven’t in mine – but other people have and do.  Just look at the letter – the one you criticised for wanting “strata cops” to come and fix the problem.  That is a very different experience to the one you had.  It doesn’t invalidate your experience and yours doesn’t make theirs any less believable.

                  And as for the committee decisions and minutes – that’s all fine if the committees obey the law.  But what happens when they don’t?  Call the non-existent strata cops? Or maybe pressure the government and ask them to make the law work for everyone.

                  That’s what we did in NSW and it’s now paying off.

                  For the record, my position is that strata schemes may have ignored basic maintenance and that led to leaks and internal deterioration.  People make small decisions with big consequences and as long as the owners think everything is OK, they tend not to want to spend more than they have to.

                  You description of the barriers to legal action is pretty much what I said – there’s no disagreement there.  If anything, if reinforces my point.

                  With your experience in strata you will know that only a small number of people want to even attend AGMs, let alone stand for strata committees.  People who do join committees do so for a number of reasons – some to serve the community, some to protect their investment and some to take that a stage further and make sure not a cent is spent that doesn’t obviously need to be spent.

                  Our correspondent wrote about a long-term maintenance plan that had no budget and therefore had never had any money spent on maintenance.  The Committee refused to communicate with them and they were fobbed off with excuses and complaints about their inquiries.

                  When the committee and strata managers hide information from owners,  a consequence is that owners don’t know what’s going on (obviously). Why then would the vote them off?

                  Unless you get involved, you don’t know how much is being hidden or misrepresented. And why would an average person who doesn’t realise they are being led up the garden path, get involved until the damage has been done?

                  That was our correspondent’s reality and she is not alone.  She and others in her situation don’t need strata cops – they need one of the many agencies that are supposed to protect apartment owners and residents – when a problem is brought to them – just to do their jobs.

                  As I said before – these issues are not unique to Victoria – what’s different is that it seems the Victorian authorities and many owners have zero interest in addressing them.

                  And as for my earlier comments about journalist putting these issues in the too-hard basket, I’ve written to a colleague at the Age offering them a cracking story and haven’t even an acknowledgement.

                  That’s how low a priority strata is in Victoria – it’s too hard and nobody cares.

                   

                  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.
                  #66571
                  CBD3000
                  Flatchatter

                    Another interesting VIC problem which appeared on residents forum “We Live Here” a few months ago.  They reported that 10 of the City buildings with curtain glass cladding have flammable cladding behind the glass.

                    They claim that one building has had 26 insurance companies refuse cover and that an astonishing (maybe a bit unbelievable) 50,000 square metres of flammable cladding exist and replacement cost could be $150 million.

                    Haven’t heard anything more on this. I guess that the only way to find out would be to get a Section 32 for all likely buildings.

                    #66565
                    StopfordKid
                    Flatchatter

                      If the problems being experienced by the author of this letter are widespread amongst the ownership group in their property then why don’t all of the unhappy/aggrieved lot owners group together, call a special general meeting, replace the committee then proceed to replace the OC managers? Then they can start to run the committee in the way that they expect it to be run and put the proper levels of governance and controls in place. “Get involved”.

                      #66578
                      Jimmy-T
                      Keymaster
                      Chat-starter

                        why don’t all of the unhappy/aggrieved lot owners group together, call a special general meeting, replace the committee then proceed to replace the OC managers

                        If only it were so easy.  I can’t say if this is the case in this instance but, going by multiple experiences elsewhere, and not just in Victoria, if you have a tight cabal of owners running the strata committee, aided and abetted by complicit strata managers, they will do whatever it takes to prevent non-resident owners from finding out what’s going on, including refusing to hand over email addresses (usually on spurious “privacy” grounds) to people who want to change things.

                        This is exacerbated in Victorian buildings that have a higher-than-average number of short-term holiday lets in a mix of rentals (which tend to be more than 50 percent of the lots, in any case).

                        The investor owners don’t know what’s happening and therefore don’t care.  The committee cabal controls the messages going out – “everything’s fine except for a few ratbag residents trying to stir things up” – and the investor owners simply don’t get involved.

                        If there are rental agents in the mix, the investors are even less likely to know what’s happening and the threshold for calling an extraordinary general meeting can never be reached.

                        This might sound like a paranoid conspiracy theory but, trust me, it’s happening right now in strata schemes across Australia.  It’s just that we are seeing the effects – neglect, bad management and deteriorating buildings – vividly illustrated in Victoria.

                        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.
                        • This reply was modified 1 year, 4 months ago by .
                        #66717
                        Austman
                        Flatchatter

                          I’ve had a good read and re-read of the particular issue, including the ABC report, and still can’t still why OC committees and Strata Managers are responsible for the conditions discovered only when the flammable cladding was removed.  It seems it was a complete surprise to everyone.

                          How can an OC, an OC committee or an SM be responsible for something they couldn’t reasonably or even possibly be aware of?

                          This particular issue seems to me to be an extension of the whole flammable cladding issue: A systematic failure of the whole building construction industry.  Not only was the cladding wrong, so was its installation.

                          I agree there’s plenty of room for criticising how OCs, OC committees and SMs address building maintenance issues.   Australia wide.    But they have to be at least aware of the issue.

                           

                           

                          #66721
                          Jimmy-T
                          Keymaster
                          Chat-starter

                            How can an OC, an OC committee or an SM be responsible for something they couldn’t reasonably or even possibly be aware of?

                            I find it hard to believe that no strata committee, manager or owners were aware of serious leaks at any point in the history of these buildings.

                            Of course, they could not have known the extent of the issue and how much the fabric of the buildings had deteriorated – but for it to have been so bad as to cause this rotting from the inside, there must have been evidence of leaks that at some point have been ignored covered up (literally) out of convenience and a desire not to spend too much on repairs.

                            One of the developers cited in the story has a proven record of poor building practices but no one raised the alarm when the problems became evident.

                            Wilful neglect is not a uniquely Victorian issue – far from it – but the Victorian system seems to be stacked against owners who want to take action against “do nothing” committees and managers.

                            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.
                            #66803
                            SteveM
                            Flatchatter

                              From working on Victorian and NSW combustible cladding building projects I can safely say that Victoria has adopted a more proactive approach than NSW. There are bold claims made by the NSW Building Commissioner in reference to Project Remediate when it could really be renamed Project Reclad based on what I’ve seen coming out of the investigation reporting phase and what is being done at the design stage. Fire experts aren’t even a significant part of the design process, or really at all in some cases, and facade engineers are being asked to sign-off on suspect and questionable existing construction details that don’t meet compliance. Very odd for a project that is all about fire safety compliance. But, to be fair, we had fires in Victoria that may have spurred things on for the State Government to react more decisively.

                              In terms of buying an apartment building as an investment I would lean towards Victoria over NSW as it seems to have faired better with the defects coming out of the latest construction boom. Again, to be fair, NSW probably felt the construction boom the hardest. So, the comparisons are probably not that straightforward to make unless you have access to reliable data held by the respective regulatory authorities of the relevant states.

                              Though some of NSW’s bigger structural failures in recent years are less likely to occur in Victoria due to tighter peer review processes. NSW seems to be very late to fixing their game, and it may even be too late for a lot of owners. It does not seem likely that the fallout from the construction boom has been realised yet.

                              #66816
                              Jimmy-T
                              Keymaster
                              Chat-starter

                                I still suspect that the reason there seem to be fewer problems with defects in Victoria is due to lack of transparencey – owners can’t even attend strata committee meetings, stata managers bring their own building managers and, until recently, strata schemes needed a special resolution to initiate legal action. And there’s also the fact that there are a lot more residential strata schemes in NSW and, as you said, more buildings were thrown up in a rush in NSW.

                                But as for which one is better than the other – I don’t think that’s relevant.  Each state has its own problems and as long as base our thinking on false equivalences – something of which I have probably been guilty, too –  progress will be hard.  Each also has its own solutions and that’s what we should be looking at.

                                But in regard to the cladding issue, the post from CBD3000 doesn’t paint a rosy picture of the situation in Victoria.

                                 

                                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.
                                • This reply was modified 1 year, 4 months ago by .
                                #66852
                                SteveM
                                Flatchatter

                                  But as for which one is better than the other – I don’t think that’s relevant. Each state has its own problems and as long as base our thinking on false equivalences – something of which I have probably been guilty, too – progress will be hard. Each also has its own solutions and that’s what we should be looking at.

                                  Largely agree that a lot of that dialogue can be irrelevant or pointless. Painting a picture of entire jurisdictions based on anecdotes about individual buildings isn’t particularly useful. They can be useful if the context and framework that led to the failure is known, and highlighted. Though for any owner advocacy groups it could be very relevant. Australia does not have strong owner (and resident) representation.

                                  There probably isn’t any advocacy group in Australia that has a membership in the tens of thousands otherwise this would be well known or stated somewhere. This is a problem as there are >3million strata/community titled properties and >300 thousand strata schemes across the country.

                                  Industry lobby groups and carefully selected government executives have the tables tilted against owners (and residents) all across Australia, as well as other parts of the world. Advocacy groups should cherry-pick the best initiatives from different jurisdictions and focus on highlighting the disparities rather than shying away from them.

                                   

                                  #66856
                                  Jimmy-T
                                  Keymaster
                                  Chat-starter

                                    Painting a picture of entire jurisdictions based on anecdotes about individual buildings isn’t particularly useful. They can be useful if the context and framework that led to the failure is known, and highlighted.

                                    This is a hugely relevant point. Years ago I did a story about one major and highly regarded developer who was demanding proxy votes from owners as a condition of purchase of their units.

                                    They then used their proxies to run the scheme exactly as they wanted, including sacking the entire committee of a block that objected to the “private” marina outside their building being turned into a commercial enterprise. The new committee wrote to the local council and planning department saying the block was now fully in favour of the development.

                                    When the story was published, then planning minister Frank Sartor changed the law to prevent contractual demands for proxies (soon after taken up by Victoria), citing community unease and media reports. That would have been me because no one else was writing about strata back then.

                                    More recently, we exposed a developer who had deliberately delayed the finish to an apartment block so that he could rescind the contracts under a sunset clause.  The purchasers could either get their deposits back or pay another couple of hundred thousand to secure the purchase (it was a very hot market at the time).

                                    The then (and now again) Fair Trading minister Victor Dominello changed the law overnight to make it so that the developer had to get approval from the Supreme Court if they wanted to invoke the sunset clause. The developer tried it that way and was sent a way with a flea in his ear.

                                    In both cases, the stories were about single instances but they illustrated a larger or wider problem. Random anecdotes are often just little local difficulties, but when a number of them expose the same flaws in the system, they are worth telling and re-telling until someone pays attention.

                                    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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