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News

New laws better protect off-the-plan buyers

NSW home buyers purchasing residential properties off-the-plan will benefit from stronger protections under new laws endorsed by Parliament last night. The changes to the Conveyancing Act affect disclosures, cooling off periods, holding of deposits and sunset clauses. “Buying off-the-plan has become more popular among first home buyers in recent years. While it works well in most cases, we’ve all heard the horror stories when things go wrong,” Finance Minister Victor Dominello said. "The new laws will bolster existing protections for buyers, by establishing minimum disclosure standards and ensuring that developers are held accountable for delivering what they promised at the time of purchase." The reforms follow a public consultation and are supported by stakeholders including the Owners Corporation Network and the Law Society of NSW.
Mirage News

Surry Hills developer ordered to pay legal costs after losing bid to tear up contracts

A developer who failed in a court action to wrest apartments back from off-the-plan buyers so they could be resold at higher prices has had indemnity costs for the landmark case awarded against him. In a final blow to the builder-developer who finished the quarter-built boutique project in Surry Hills, and then lost a bid to cancel sales to 12 buyers, the NSW Supreme Court has now awarded all costs against him. Lawyer Stephen Goddard, a spokesman for apartment-owners peak body, the Owners Corporation Network, said he felt this was a landmark decision for property buyers. “It’s a watershed moment for consumer protection,” he said. “It’s uplifting to see the NSW Parliament understanding the need for greater consumer protection in the strata space.  This process has affirmed that buyers should have more confidence in the future in choosing to buy into strata and making it their lifestyle of choice.”
Domain
Sue Williams

Who you gonna call? Stratabusters have solutions to apartment problems

It doesn't matter how long you've lived in strata or whether you are a resident or a committee member, sooner or later you are going to need to ask for advice. So where do you go? Interestingly, there is a growing number of places you can get the advice you need at low or no cost.  Some are issue-specific, like BmBGuard which will tell you if there are illegal short term lets in your building, or contultants like Strata Answers and Strata-Worx. Or you can call on the Owners Corporation Nettwork, the peak body for strata owners where membership gives you or your building access to advice and policy making at the highest level.
The Australian Financial Review
Jimmy Thomson

When bad by-laws are bullies’ blunt weapons

There are a million ways to get things wrong in strata, especially when it comes to devising the by-laws with which we try to moderate or even control the behaviour of our neighbours. These sins of commission and omission fall into three main categories: the ignorant, the arrogant and the vindictive. We are talking about a block that on the one hand is pushing through a special levy to cover a shortage of funds and on the other is proposing to pay committee members tens of thousands of dollars for their efforts over the last year. Something seriously wrong here … but with their strata managers on-side and strata lawyers turning a blind eye (except when they are paid to pursue bogus claims), who is going to step in and say “enough!”?
Flat-Chat
Jimmy Thomson

Four months, one rectification order: ACT's building crackdown

The ACT government's much-vaunted building regulatory taskforce has issued just one rectification notice to a Canberra construction firm since it began operating in July. But the larger audit team has cut down a backlog of construction complaints, and issued more stop work notices in its first four months, at 10, than the zero issued in the first six months of 2018. Owners Corporation Network president Gary Petherbridge said while he understood some things were happening, much of the government's reforms had had little effect. He said in the 10 years he had been advocating for improvements to building quality regulation, he had heard a lot of rhetoric from the government about changes, but seen little evidence quality had improved in that time.
The Canberra Times
Daniel Burdon

New laws award extra protection to off-the-plan buyers

It looked like it would be a stunning apartment in a fabulous complex, with its own running track, swimming pool and tennis court.  But, when first-home buyer Paul Pierpoint went to inspect the finished unit he bought off the plan, he was shocked. In place of the glamorous promised facilities was a bare concrete slab, and it turned out the developer hadn’t even submitted a DA for the eye-catching enhancements.  Inside the apartment, things were even worse. Such nightmare off-the-plan scenarios could become a thing of the past with a new bill introduced into the NSW Parliament, and expected to pass in November. "People buying apartments off the plan previously had less consumer protection than they would have had buying a toaster,” said Owners Corporation Network spokesperson Stephen Goddard.
Domain
Sue Williams

Developers Banned from Rorting Unit Owners

Thousands living in strata units could have their power bills reduced with the state government to ban developers from locking entire blocks into long-term energy contracts.
The Daily Telegraph
Linda Silmalis and Ben Pike

Cracks showing as Fair Trading loses friends

Fair Trading, the unheralded and little-loved corner of the NSW department of Innovation and Better Regulation has always had its resources stretched to breaking point. It’s a vital service cursed by crazy variations in its responsibilities, ranging from dodgy retailers to real estate agents, from building regulations and broken toasters to, of course, strata. Now it seems the strain of the two headline issues of the past two years – Airbnb and flammable cladding – have taken their toll. I was hugely impressed earlier this year when Minister Kean stayed behind for an hour after introducing an Owners Corporation Network (OCN) seminar, standing in the foyer, answering questions from (mostly) angry strata owners. But there’s only so much one man can do. His portfolio covers something like 80-plus different pieces of legislation.
Flat-Chat
Jimmy Thomson

Untrained amateurs running million-dollar strata budgets - and your lives

They oversee annual budgets of millions of dollars, make decisions that have profound influence on the lives of hundreds of people, pursue policies that could have devastating effects on the value of your investments and most do it with zero training in any of the significant skills required for a modicum of certainty or authority. I'm talking about strata committees, as they're known in NSW and Victoria, executive committees in Queensland and the ACT, management committees in South Australia and Tasmania, strata councils in WA and just "the committee" in NT. Surely they get professional help? In fact, about half of the strata schemes in NSW – mostly the smaller, older buildings – don't have a strata manager, and the proportion may be even higher elsewhere.  Owners' organisations like the Owners Corporation Network as well as City of Sydney Council run seminars for strata residents.  However, these tend to be highly focused on specific issues – like pets, parking, noise and defects – and rarely if ever address the basics of how to run an efficient committee. So what do we do to bridge the knowledge gap? 
The Australian Financial Review
Jimmy Thomson

Hyecorp uses "granny" strata renewal protections in Macquarie Park

Loopholes have emerged in NSW's new strata renewal laws as developers thwart the sale of old properties, defeating the protections intended for vulnerable homeowners. The owners of 42 units in one of the earliest amalgamated sites sold under the new laws in Macquarie Park, Sydney, have fought a two-year battle with the owner of three units, Sydney developer Hyecorp, which refused to sell.
The Australian Financial Review
Su-Lin Tan

NSW Supreme Court rules against sunset clawbacks in landmark win for buyers

Off-the-plan buyers today won a massive victory in a landmark Supreme Court judgment and major test of new legislation to protect property purchasers. A developer had taken a group of buyers of a new building in Surry Hills to court to argue it was entitled to rescind their contracts because problems with the development had pushed the completion beyond a sunset clause date. The buyers argued the developer was merely trying to cancel their contracts so he could resell the apartments for higher prices in the rising market. Justice Rowan Darke on Wednesday ruled the developer had not acted justly or equitably in trying to rescind the contracts. He dismissed the bid to tear up the contracts, and awarded costs against him.
Domain
Sue Williams

Airbnb liability: What happens if someone dies or is injured during their stay?

Workplace Health and Safety is investigating the death of a four-year-old boy who was injured in a swing set accident while staying at an Airbnb in Queensland's Sunshine Coast hinterland at the weekend.  A seven-year-old girl also suffered a broken arm. Workplace Health and Safety said it was looking into the death because it happened at an Airbnb — which is classified as a business. The little boy's death has raised questions about who's liable when things go wrong at an Airbnb, and what consumers can do to protect themselves from legal traps. 
ABC News
Lily Nothling

The fight back: dealing with the rental headaches from short-term letting

Hiring out your apartment for a night or two has been seen by many people as a harmless way of earning extra cash. But the ugly side of the short-term letting industry has grown commensurately with its popularity, and now there are also a swathe of businesses offering advice on how to kick illegal short-term letters out of buildings. One service dedicated solely to policing blocks for unauthorised lets, and advising owners on how to shut them down has grown 25 per cent month-on-month  in both customer numbers and revenue since its official launch in late January.
Domain
Sue Williams

Consider the human cost of higher rates for units

Changes in rates and taxes for units have impacted negatively on owners and renters, particularly those in lower priced properties. There are numerous examples where strata properties are charged higher rates than similar valued houses although the house may use up to four times more land. These arrangements are unfair. In February 2018, the ACT Legislative Assembly agreed to a public accounts committee inquiry into the way rates and taxes are calculated for strata properties. This emerged, in part, from a petition sponsored by the Owners Corporation Network, supported by strata managers, asking the assembly to return to the previous system of calculating rates and land tax. Almost 5800 Canberrans supported this petition. The inquiry is nearing an end. It received 97 submissions and heard from many unit owners.
The Canberra Times
Gary Petherbridge