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The First Nail in the Coffin of Democracy

Stephen Goddard, spokesperson for the Owners Corporation Network, which represents strata residents, talks to Jim Wilson, 2GB Drive Time, noting: To suddenly change the democratic process under which people live undermines confidence in the whole strata living paradigm.

When is it unreasonable to ban pets from apartment buildings?

Pro-pet campaigners are pushing to keep alive their bill to prevent apartment buildings from banning animals by proposing to give the NSW government fresh powers to define to what is “unreasonable” in strata bylaws. “Strata communities operate as a democratic decision-making body and the 1.1 million people living in strata in NSW deserve certainty about the laws governing how they can make bylaws for their buildings,” said Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation Kevin Anderson. “As drafted, this amendment would likely not enable a bylaw to be considered reasonable if the property is ill-suited for the keeping of pets, if the pet may be a threat to persons or property, or if an owners corporation has unanimously decided to prohibit the keeping of pets." On the side of strata owners saying they should keep their right to vote to impose pet bans, the peak body, the Owners Corporation Network (OCN), has called on the NSW opposition and cross-bench to withdraw their support for the amendment. “Forget about this being only about pets, if this legislation becomes law, you’re saying the democratic process doesn’t matter,” said OCN spokesperson Stephen Goddard. “It’s OK for anyone to do anything anytime. “This amendment will set a precedent that puts ‘on the table’ everything that strata residents take for granted: rules around noise, to barbecues on balconies and parking … We are not for or against pets. What we oppose is an ill-conceived, rushed amendment that has the potential to create chaos in strata buildings.”
Domain
Sue Williams

Who's Really Got Your Back in Strata?

In times of strife and confusion, it’s good to know who’s got your back. It’s even more important to know who hasn’t. Recently in these pages, I briefly listed the organisations in NSW, Victoria and Queensland operated by and for apartment owners. That prompted a question from South Australia – “what about us?” What indeed? According to this report in The Adelaide Review, service provider rorts are rampant in the city's apartment blocks. This will sound familiar to residents in the eastern states who, because we began our battles early, do have organisations looking after our interests. Predominant among these organisations is the Owners Corporation Network, which has elbowed its way to state government tables where serious discussions about the future of strata in NSW are taking place. Begun 15 years ago in response to the developer defect rorts that are only now being addressed by the government, it can take great credit for NSW residents gaining protections against the rampant spread of short-term holiday letting that has blighted strata living elsewhere in the country. OCN is actively involved in high-level discussions about the future of strata in NSW and has accumulated considerable collective wisdom as members share their experiences and tactics for dealing with problems.
The Australian Financial Review
Jimmy Thomson

'In limbo land': Apartment owners in bind over flammable cladding fix

A drawn out saga over replacing flammable cladding has soured relations between owners of a southern Sydney apartment building and imposed a large financial burden on them. Yet almost 18 months after their local council ordered cladding to be removed, some owners of the Quattro Apartments at Gymea fear the material they plan to use to replace it won't comply in future because the state government is still to decide on suitable products. Apart from the financial toll, the saga has divided residents in the 29-unit building, which was completed five years ago. "We used to have a Christmas party in the back of the building each year and now people don't talk to each other," Mr Mawjee said. "By the government putting the onus on us to make a decision, we have 60 or 80 opinions on this. It has caused a lot of bad blood." The peak body for apartment owners has accused authorities of blame shifting, more than three years after London's Grenfell Tower fire exposed the dangers of flammable cladding. "Local councils accuse the NSW cladding taskforce of hounding them to get cladding replaced. Councils are in turn hounding building owners with fire orders and threats of multimillion-dollar fines," Owners Corporation Network executive officer Karen Stiles said.  

'Nail in the coffin of democracy': It's D-day for Sydney's prize dog fight

It's the dog fight that has captivated Sydney - or at least a small part of it - and this month it will command the attention of the state's peak lawmaking bodies: the Parliament and the Supreme Court. For five years, musician Jo Cooper has battled the strata committee of her apartment block, the Horizon, which stands tall among the terraces of inner-city Darlinghurst. Her quest: to keep her beloved 14-year-old schnauzer Angus, despite the building's bylaws banning pets. With its cast of colourful characters and long-running neighbourhood grudges, Cooper's story has been great fodder for gossip columns. But for apartment owners it is also a landmark case that may yet yield permanent legislative change to the way strata operates in NSW. The threat of its passage has alarmed the Owners Corporation Network, which represents strata owners and residents. For OCN spokesman Stephen Goddard, democracy itself is at stake. "It's the first nail in the coffin of democracy," he says. "To suddenly change the democratic process by which people choose to live undermines confidence in the whole strata living paradigm."
The Sydney Morning Herald
Michael Koziol

NSW puts first four developers on notice

NSW building commissioner David Chandler has put a first group of four developers on notice under sweeping new powers, telling them his office will audit their apartment projects to make sure they conform with the approved plans and will not allow them to settle if they do not comply. The first audits, to be followed by another six next month, follow passing of new laws in June that allow the commissioner to require selected developers to give six months' notice of their planned completion date and undergo a series of monthly inspections leading up to completion. Mr Chandler also said that while the system would influence future behaviour, he had powers to order rectification on residential towers with existing problems. "When the owners do come forward and say “We’ve got problems” I now have powers to go into those buildings, powers to call in the documents that are relevant to the building," he said. "This is the first time we’ve had powers to go into existing buildings up to six years old and, in extreme cases, up to 10 years old." Strata owners' body Owners Corporation Network applauded the change. "For [the commissioner] to be able to arbitrate defects rectification in buildings up to six years old, including an independent scope of works, timeline and sign-off, would be a godsend for those affected owners," OCN executive officer Karen Stiles said. "Until now, owners in multi-storey apartment buildings have rarely notified NSW Fair Trading, seeing that more as handling relatively small dollar disputes in stand-alone buildings and such," Ms Stiles said. "The fact that no reliable complaints records have been kept is also off-putting. So, reluctantly, owners have been dragged down the expensive and exhausting litigation route. The unnecessary burden on owners and the community is incalculable.”
The Australian Financial Review
Michael Bleby

Cladding nightmare could send apartment owners broke

Property owners around the country could end up bankrupt if they fail to come up with the funds for urgent costly works on many apartment complexes to bring them into line with local council fire and safety regulations. Many owners have been asked to pay thousands or more to bring their buildings into line with regulations, with tens of thousands of apartment complexes around the country potentially affected.  Many strata buildings are asking owners to pay a special levy to cover the cost of these works. If owners don’t pay their levy on time, under strata law the outstanding money attracts interest at a rate of 10 per cent a year. “Strata committees do have the discretion to vary this if there is a good case for leniency,” says Karen Stiles, executive officer of the Owners’ Corporation Network (OCN), which represents owners. “But the owners’ corporation also has the right to hand the matter to debt collectors. They can also start bankruptcy proceedings to recover the debt including interest if the money owed reaches $20,000.”
Domain
Alexandra Cain

Flammable cladding on Sydney towers stretches firefighting resources

More than half of the nearly 500 buildings in Sydney that fire authorities immediately send extra crew to in an emergency are clad in potentially flammable material, raising fears firefighting resources are stretched thinner across the city. The data on buildings Fire and Rescue NSW classifies as needing an "upgraded response" comes as owners of high-rise towers remain in a bind over what to replace combustible cladding with. The peak body for apartment owners said it was constantly contacted by people who were "unsure what to do and, often, unable to find reliable experts to assist them". "There is currently no clear advice on compliant products, yet these volunteer committee members are facing council fire orders with strict deadlines for replacement, or hefty fines," Owners Corporation Network executive officer Karen Stiles said. The Victorian government is spending $600 million to fix dangerous cladding. Ms Stiles urged the NSW government to follow and commit money to help people fix buildings clad in risky material, which she said would also act as an economic stimulus. "It must do it now – not tomorrow or next month or next year," she said.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Matt O'Sullivan

Sydney pet owners get shock win in the battle against apartment pet bans

It could soon be near-impossible for any apartment building to vote to keep pets out after a last-minute amendment to an unrelated bill scored a shock win in the NSW Legislative Council just before 10pm on Tuesday night. The move by the Animal Justice Party (AJP) means that, if the bill is passed by the Lower House in September, no strata scheme will be allowed to have a bylaw to ‘unreasonably’ ban animals. And while pet-lovers celebrated, other apartment owners are up in arms over what they see is a hammer blow to their democratic right to decide issues like pets living in their blocks for themselves. “The people who supported this show that they don’t have a clue how strata works,” said strata lawyer Stephen Goddard, the former chair of the apartment-owners’ peak body, the Owners Corporation Network. “This is a terrible example of self-interest being allowed to trample over the collective whole. “A community should have the right to decide for themselves how to run their buildings. This has little to do with pets, and everything to do with the survival of the democratic process.”
Domain
Sue Williams

'Signatures for sale' days are over, warns Sydney's new building commissioner

A week before his new powers come into force, NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler has issued a blunt warning to certifiers of buildings that the days of a small group of them choosing to act as "signatures for sale" are over. Mr Chandler will have the power from September 1 to enter and inspect building sites, prevent the issuing of occupation certificates, call for documents and order work to be stopped. The Association of Accredited Certifiers said all practitioners from builders and designers to tradespeople and certifiers had a responsibility to ensure quality outcomes. "If all practitioners are accountable for the work they produce, this will drive better outcomes for consumers," the association's chief executive, Jill Brookfield, said. The Owners Corporation Network, which is the peak body for apartment owners, welcomed the commissioner's new powers, arguing the government's previous "carrot approach failed dismally". "The new site audits, and the ability to prohibit the issue of an occupation certificate if works are deemed unsatisfactory, will be a powerful motivator for improved practices," the group's executive officer, Karen Stiles, said.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Matt O'Sullivan

The bust in Sydney's building industry is no bloodbath

Drop the word “bloodbath” into your media release and you can pretty much guarantee headlines across the land. But is it true? Is a 27 per cent step-down from the biggest building boom in Sydney’s boom-bust history really a bloodbath? Or is it a long-needed correction, an opportunity to take stock and rethink? Admittedly, from the Busselton Mail to the Boorowa News, most of the papers that ran this week’s "Builders warn of looming housing bloodbath" headline hail from a single stable with a discernible agenda. But their shared premise, which governments routinely support, makes the construction industry some beneficent overlord whose current jitters constitute such imminent danger to us all as to justify billions of dollars in public up-prop. But why? The Australian construction industry is surely among the most ruthless, arrogant and self-concerned industries anywhere this side of the law (a line it has been known to straddle). Public benefit? Pah. Developers have to be dragged to it kicking and screaming and, usually, they’re not, which is why our public realm has all the delight and variety of a prison exercise yard. Yet at first sight of their own blood these same schoolyard bullies drop into self-pity, demanding a head pat from nanny and a kiss better. Billions, please, boo hoo.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Elizabeth Farrelly

Puddle sets off epic dog fight

The day her miniature schnauzer urinated in the lobby of her luxury Sydney apartment block is one of the most traumatic of Jo Cooper’s 30-plus years.  There is never a good time for a dog to wee in a lavish foyer, although Cooper insists it’s not much different to the coffee and salad spillages she has witnessed over five years of living in the award-winning, officially pet-free building.  Jo Cooper figured the best option was to amend the rules. In September 2015, only months after moving in, she tried to have the bylaw changed at an extraordinary general meeting of owners. She lost that bid to change the bylaw.  Later that year she tried again at the AGM to change the rules, but if anything the voice of other residents seemed more resounding, with almost 90 per cent of those who voted opting against changing or repealing the bylaw. “That’s just the nature of our democracy, isn’t it?” says Dickinson, who spent a decade on the owners’ committee. “The majority of the people in the building were happy with the bylaw and wished to maintain it.” Next month, Cooper and her co-residents face off in the NSW Court of Appeal in a case that could have far-reaching ­consequences for strata residents. “I see this [case] as a challenge to the democratic process by which owners choose to live. It just happens to be about a schnauzer,” says solicitor Stephen Goddard, who was chairman of the Owners Corporation Network for 18 years. “These proceedings are challenging the democratic processes by which strata meetings are conducted.”  
The Weekend Australian
Fiona Harari

The European Cities Using the Pandemic As a Cure for Airbnb

As Lisbon rapidly transformed into a tourist destination over the last decade, the number of Airbnb units skyrocketed — driving up the cost of housing, and pushing longtime residents out of the city center. When 2020 started, many neighborhoods were more than one third short-term housing; in the worst-affected part of town, around 55 percent of residential units had been converted to makeshift hostels and hotels. Then the virus came, and all the rentals dried up. Now Lisbon is taking advantage of that situation, in order to push some of these units back into the long-term housing market. The city government is renting empty apartments directly from property owners, and then turning around to rent them to Portuguese workers and students at subsidized rates.
Intelligencer
Vincent Bevins

Cutting red tape should not be 'shorthand for cutting corners', tradies warn

Tradespeople and business groups have warned that standards should not drop in the race to loosen licensing requirements in different states. The federal government said it had reached an agreement with states and territories to allow automatic recognition of tradespeople who hold a licence in one state or territory to do equivalent work in another jurisdiction. Plumbers and electricians are in favour of having nationally consistent standards but warned that plans to remove restrictions on tradies working in other states with different licensing requirements also risked lowering standards that protect public safety. The unions representing plumbers and electricians said different standards across states and territories should be raised to the highest levels demanded in Queensland and Victoria for national consistency and safety.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Anna Patty

Making a Building “Trustworthy” And How to Deliver One

“Trustworthy buildings” are a goal the entire construction industry needs to achieve, according to NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler,. There are several aspects to this, and major payoffs to be had in terms of productivity, accountability and building your own reputation. Awards, online product reviews and your own marketing might not be the best way to assure buyers you build trustworthy buildings. According to Karen Stiles, Executive Officer of Owners Corporation Network, word-of-mouth remains the main endorsement on which buyers can rely. OCN represents the interests and concerns of buyers and owners of residential strata developments. Many of the issues identified by Shergold and Weir, including high rates of building defects and non-compliant product use like flammable cladding, occur in this sector. Stiles said there are three things a buyer should consider when looking to buy: Is the project being developed by a longstanding company with a good reputation? Does the builder have a positive history of well-built apartments? Do members of the strata committees and owners in previous projects give good reports? Those considering off-the-plan purchases may be unable to view a finished example of the product itself. As sales suite collateral may also lack detail around specific fixtures, structural products, certifications and the energy rating of the completed apartment, Stiles suggested visiting some of the developer and builder’s previous projects would be a good strategy for buyers. The bottom line is—a builder’s reputation is only as good as their last project.
Jobsite
Willow Aliento

What Members Say

"The whole strata community owes a huge debt of gratitude to you and the OCN executive. Much appreciated."

Robert, Darlinghurst

"I am very pleased with my membership of OCN, the discussions through sharing emails is very valuable in increasing my knowledge of strata living, the laws and EC responsibilities. I think I am better armed to tread the minefield of the managing agent responsibilities and the necessary action of the EC to monitor the contradictory interests of the agent."

Jim, Wollstonecraft

"I so appreciate being part of the OCN email forum. It provides a great opportunity for sharing ideas and learning"

Ingrid, Neutral Bay

"I must say that I have enjoyed and found consolation in the discussions that have been part of the email chain (forum). I did attend one general meeting and found that it was informative and the people "running the show" were knowledgeable and dedicated to the tasks that had taken on. In short, well done. You and the committee have and continue to support the Strata Community in a very professional manner."

Greg, Parramatta

"Nothing is easy in Strata World and we have been in building defects “mode” for some years – hopefully almost at an end but that process has been most demanding and difficult but again – greatly helped by the experience and wise counsel of other members of OCN."

Pat, St Leonards

"Keep up the good work, as many (if not most) strata schemes need your help, advice and representation at all levels of government."

Jann and John, St Ives

"I belong to OCN because of its professionalism.  I have found the meetings I have been to extremely well presented, to the point, and of course very topical and informative. Speakers on the whole certainly know their topic.  My role of Secretary last year was certainly assisted with the coverage regarding TPG & other subjects. Member newsletters are also of benefit as the topics are specific to strata matters."

Graham, East Balmain

I have enjoyed attending the quarterly OCN meetings and the exchange of emails between other Executive Committee Members and think OCN is playing an increasingly important role as a voice for strata dwellers and representing us at Government level. I wish the organisation continuing success in the future."

Pauline, Kings Cross

"The [forum] response to my question was amazing and really useful.  The OCN community is wonderful so thanks."

Jenny, Killara

"I would like to thank you all for the important effort that you are all putting in to look after apartment owners and tenants. It is so valuable and you are heroes. I would not have been able to deal with my duties as a strata chairman without your advice and assistance." 

Angela, Mascot

"The OCN is invaluable – many thanks."

Bill, Surry Hills

"OCN is proving invaluable"

Sue, Neutral Bay

"Thanks to all at OCN for your continuing efforts to keep us up to date with current strata information and advice...it has been very helpful to us"

Kate, Coogee

"When my wife & I first encountered a problematic Executive Committee I heard that OCN was a great help (from a Strata manager whom I knew) so we both joined and have gratefully used the on-line information sources. We continued to happily rely on OCN’s assistance when we progressed to Committee status & later as Chair & Secretary of our Committee. I still use OCN in my current role as Treasurer."

Peter, Chiswick

"Thanks to OCN for being such a rich resource of trustworthy information about strata matters."

Peter, Chiswick

"I wanted to extend my personal thanks for the very informative & interesting event today. The OCN team did an outstanding job in the organisation of this event & I enjoyed it thoroughly. The quality of speakers, the flow of conversation & interaction from the attendees - first class …& of course, the amazing Jimmy T - always a delight."

Sue, Epping

"OCN does a great job in providing a really valuable service to Strata owners."

Lois, Wollongong

"I am sure my appreciation of your good works is echoed by many in the Stratasphere. Keep up the good work."

John, Elizabeth Bay

"The OCN is probably one of the best, most informed and most informative groups I have been involved with."

Alan, Maryville

"Once again, being able to discuss such things through this forum, helps clear the mind, puts things into perspective and helps one to understand their rights and to form a strategy if needs be. As a simple EC member trying to do what is in the best interests of lot owners, I truly value OCN and am grateful."

Pamela, Point Lookout