What you need to know about living in an apartment

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What you need to know about living in an apartment

July 1, 2017 11:11PM

JASON Butler, 36, has lived on one of the top floors of a 19-storey building in Sydney suburb Wolli Creek for six years, but said he would much rather be on ground level in his own home.

He was attracted to high-rise living partly because of the price and its proximity to Sydney CBD and public transport. Mr Butler said he enjoys the views, the fact that he doesn’t have to worry about maintenance of common areas (as a renter) and the sense of community.

But there are many things he doesn’t like about being an apartment dweller.

Mr Butler has had to walk up more than 15 flights of stairs twice in the past 18 months and was recently stuck in a lift with four other people for 45 minutes.

At other times when he has returned to his building to find the lifts out again, he has chosen to go out for a meal or do something else instead for a couple of hours rather than climb the stairs.

“Walking up the stairs is not a big issue — unless you arrive home from work in a suit and are carrying a few bags of groceries,” Mr Butler told news.com.au.

The breakdowns are so frequent Mr Butler has even put visitor suitcases in the car the night before they were due to leave — just in case the lift was broken on the day.

“Getting down so many stairs with luggage is not an easy task,” he said.

“The lift problems definitely impact quality of life.”

 
Jason Butler lives in a high-rise in Sydney.

Jason Butler lives in a high-rise in Sydney.Source:Supplied

An abandoned car sits in a visitor spot. Picture: Jason Butler

An abandoned car sits in a visitor spot. Picture: Jason ButlerSource:Supplied

As house prices continue to rise many like Mr Butler will have to remain content with apartment living. For some the reality of life in a high-rise can come as a shock.

Here are some of the factors to consider before you aim sky-high.

High rise apartments in Melbourne.

High rise apartments in Melbourne.Source:News Corp Australia

WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT ...

High-rise living can become unbearable if elevators aren’t working and this could become an issue if blackouts become more frequent.

Those premium top-floor apartments suddenly seem less attractive if you have to climb 20 flights of stairs to reach your unit, only to find the airconditioning is also offline.

Property valuers have already warned the threat of more frequent blackouts could lead to a drop in apartment values as many high rises doesn’t have back-up generators and only cater for emergency and exit lighting using small batteries.

Installing a back-up would likely be very expensive, so it’s important for owners to know and understand what procedures are in place in their buildings.

 

TARGET FOR MAIL THEFT

Rows and rows of letterboxes are like candy to wannabe thieves looking for documents to take over people’s identities.

Mailboxes have become an easy target for thieves who find into them relatively simple to break into and some have even managed to get hold of master keys to access the mail of every apartment.

Complaints about mail theft in apartments have increased in recent years and there’s been a push to get mailboxes moved into apartment foyers, although this has been opposed by Australia Post.

Recently a Deliveroo driver was caught on CCTV stealing a parcel out of a letter box on their way out of a Sydney apartment block.

Apartment mailboxes have become a target for criminals. Picture: Lawrence Pinder

Apartment mailboxes have become a target for criminals. Picture: Lawrence PinderSource:News Corp Australia

BRINGING UP BABY

Apartment living is becoming a more popular among families but governments and developers have sometimes been slow to cater to this.

In NSW, there’s not enough schools in certain areas because of the “foolish assumption” that people who live in apartments don’t have children.

The government has now announced funding of $4.2 billion to build new primary and secondary schools to meet a chronic shortage.

High-rise living can be attractive for many families because the buildings are often close to the city and a short distance from museums and other activities, supermarkets or work. There’s also less maintenance required for gardens or exteriors.

But parents also need to deal with the dangers of city traffic and kids playing on balconies several storeys off the ground. Lack of space can also be an issue if you have a toddler so getting outside is essential.

It’s more difficult to have large gatherings and living in the city may also deter parents who don’t like using public transport, to make a visit.

 

WHERE’S THE SERENITY?

Living in the same building with hundreds of others is bound to be a bit noisy and not as private as living in a house.

In fact, loud urinating at night has become one of the most common complaints to the NSW Department of Fair Trading.

There has been a 33 per cent increase in complaints generally to the department in the past year, according to The Sunday Telegraph.

Other bugbears include showering at night, children playing in common areas and even one complaint about dog droppings being hosed daily off an upper-story balcony.

In order to address some of the more annoying aspects of apartment living, last year strata laws in NSW were reformed to include changes such as allowing smokers or those enjoying a barbecue on the balcony to be fined if smoke wafts into another apartment or common area.

Bylaws can also be adopted that ban things like barbecues on balconies.

“So if you are someone who enjoys a barbecue for dinner in summer, you need to look at the bylaws very carefully before buying,” said Owners Corporation Network executive officer Karen Stiles.

“In America they call (owners corporations) cooperatives and this is a warning about what people are getting themselves into. It is a cooperative lifestyle, you need to consider your neighbour and live with neighbours that might have different points of view on pets, parking and parties.”

 

Dealing with noisy neighbours is just one of the pitfalls of living in an apartment.

Dealing with noisy neighbours is just one of the pitfalls of living in an apartment.Source:News Corp Australia

NO ROOM FOR YOUR FURRY FRIENDS

Pet ownership is also pretty difficult if you live in a high-rise with many developments banning dogs and cats.

Last year, strata reforms in NSW changed the default bylaws to allow pets but strata schemes can still ban them if they want.

 

IN THE EVENT OF AN EMERGENCY

Ms Stiles said many buildings don’t have evacuation plans and this can be problematic especially for those with limited mobility or a disability.

“I do know of a couple buildings that do have a plan, and a register of people who need to be assisted out of a building but I think it’s quite rare,” she said.

“Many buildings don’t have anything but they should have a meeting point and do practice runs so people know what they are doing and are mentally prepared.”

She said anyone moving into a building taller than three storeys should check whether it has evacuation plan and whether one can be implemented.

Fire safety has also become a focus after the Grenfell fire in London and while Mr Butler said he was confident Australia’s building regulations were more robust, there was no question trying to get out of an apartment building would be more difficult than evacuating a home.

But there’s also the issue of fire alarms, as Mr Butler says alerts go off fairly frequently in neighbouring buildings and also in his own building.

“There’s constantly fire alarms going off in Wolli Creek, people are always going down stairs and being evacuated,” he said.

 

RENOVATIONS CAN BE DIFFICULT

In recent years, unit owners in NSW may have been forced to get approval for even minor cosmetic changes such as installing a picture hook, although some of these have now been relaxed.

But owners do still need to get approval for renovations that change the external appearance of the unit, for example installing an air conditioning unit, and possibly even for things such as installing timber floors.

As the Grenfell tragedy has shown, decisions about external cladding or other features are often made by body corporates, which can need agreement from a large number of people to make changes.

YOU COULD BE SHELLING OUT

If you want to buy an apartment, Ms Stiles recommends doing a strata search of the scheme to see if there are any large repairs or maintenance on the horizon, and if meeting minutes reveal any potential disputes.

Repairs can be costly, for example, upgrading a lift in a 40-year-old building could cost a quarter of a million dollars.

It was also important to research the building to check if it was constructed by a reputable developer and builder.

Another cost to factor in is the cost of the quarterly levy.

“If you live in a complex with a pool, tennis courts or gym, you will pay for them whether you use them or not,” she said.

“This can be a substantial annual fee you need to consider especially if you on a fixed income.”

 

IT’S SOMEONE ELSE’S PROBLEM

Security can also be an issue and Mr Butler said many cars in the carpark had been vandalised or broken into.

“Some people see apartments as being more secure but in Wolli Creek we have had a large amount of incidents, I think security varies,” he said.

He said he thought thieves were attracted to apartment complexes because there were lots of cars and storage cages to target.

Mr Butler has also been frustrated by how hard it is to enforce bylaws.

Although his apartment block doesn’t allow pets, unlike other neighbouring buildings, he always sees people with them. There’s also an issue with residents parking their cars in visitor spaces so genuine guests have nowhere to park. Some cars have even been left in these spaces for five years and not moved despite having no licence plates and being stripped for parts.

Owners Corporation Network executive officer Karen Stiles said committees should be enforcing bylaws and they do have the power to remove abandoned vehicles in common areas like visitor parking, although not from private spaces.

“But the important thing to remember is these are unskilled volunteers,” she told news.com.au.

These committees collectively manage a trillion dollars worth of common wealth in Australia, with some committees overseeing funds worth $2 million or even $5 million for bigger buildings.

Yet Ms Stiles said there was a lot of apathy among apartment owners about who was managing these funds.

“Most young people have got careers and families and the older residents think they’ve done their stint looking after the family home and think it’s someone else’s problem,” she said.

“The position is voluntary, it does require time and sometimes it pits you against your neighbours, which is very uncomfortable.

“There’s a lot of apathy and as we get more investor owned buildings that situation is going to get worse.”

Do you have an apartment horror story? Email charis.chang@news.com.au or tweet @charischang2

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