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What to look out for when reviewing strata records

After spending countless hours trawling through listings and open homes, it’s tempting to hand over your hard-earned deposit and sign on the dotted line quickly when you finally find a home that ticks your boxes. But before you do, it’s important you do the legwork to understand exactly what you’re buying. Owners corporation records offer valuable insights into the scheme, so reviewing these documents prior to purchase is vital. Owners corporation records include information on fees, special levies, fund balances, building works, insurance, by-laws and the minutes of strata committee meetings. Email correspondence between owners and documents from external contractors are sometimes available too. Buyers should also consider what information may be missing.  Just because there’s nothing in the strata report, it doesn’t mean the building is fine.  Veronica Morgan from Good Deeds Property Buyers in Sydney advises reviewing records against a list of expected inclusions, and factoring any blank spots into your decision.  
Domain
Jessica Golding

Cladding removal scheme sped up to help keep tradies 'on the tools'

In a bid to create more work for Victorian builders, the Andrews government will accelerate the removal of dangerous flammable cladding from apartments across the state. Over the past two decades, thousands of buildings across Australia have been built with cladding which after a series of fires both locally and internationally, has been found to be highly flammable. The state government is spending $600 million to fix the cladding on private apartments and had planned to fund repair works on up to 100 buildings a year. On Tuesday Planning Minister Richard Wynne announced this workload would double, in order to help keep builders afloat and revive an economy stalled by the coronavirus pandemic. But Mr Wynne said that only reputable builders would be eligible for the accelerated rectification works. “Those found to have done the wrong thing will not be able to participate,” Mr Wynne said.
The Age
Clay Lucas

Sydney's 'worst' apartment tower for defects forces industry shake-up

The NSW Building Commissioner has revealed an apartment tower in western Sydney, which he says is probably the worst he's inspected, compelled him to convince the state government to give him the powers to clean up the industry. David Chandler has warned developers he will use his new powers to stop them forcing people who buy off-the-plan to settle on apartments in buildings with significant defects. With structural flaws in Sydney's Opal and Mascot Towers still fresh in buyers' minds, Mr Chandler has set his sights on a 16-storey building in Auburn, which inspectors found to be riddled with fire hazards and building defects months after owners and tenants moved in. The commissioner described the apartment tower at 93 Auburn Road as "an abomination ... because it wasn't finished", and cited it as the "straw that broke the camel's back" in convincing the government to enact tougher powers to protect owners.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Matt O'Sullivan

'Throwing good money after bad': Opal Tower owners struggle as costs mount

Owners in Sydney's Opal Tower say they are struggling to pay for ongoing costs arising from cracks in the 36-storey building, after spending about $1 million over the past 18 months. The owners' corporation is considering a special levy to pay for fees for lawyers, engineers and other consultants, as well as $1.28 million in insurance premiums for the new financial year. Owner Andrew Neverly, 60, shut his tour and car rental business several months ago because it was reliant on foreign tourists. Mr Neverly said owners were livid at the prospect of having to fork out for a special levy at a time when they were struggling financially. "As far as we are concerned, it's throwing good money after bad. We can't sell it. Banks won't lend on the building," he said. "It is a hideous situation. Everyone is under loads of financial stress." Mr Neverly, who was a strata manager for a decade, said the commissioner’s key power to withhold occupation certificates was encouraging but he remains sceptical about the protections for owners. "I advise anyone who is looking to buy into the property market not to buy off the plan, and just buy the finished product," he said.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Matt O'Sullivan

HomeBuilder might be the most-complex least-equitable construction jobs program ever devised

HomeBuilder is a good idea gone bad. It is possibly the most complex and least equitable program the government could have devised to deliver construction jobs. It gives $25,000 to people who already own a home or already have enough money to buy one while delivering a minimal stimulus to extra construction. It isn’t a program to create jobs, it is a way of making people who are reasonably well off richer. It does not address homelessness, precarious rental or any of the other pressing problems that are caused by our current housing mix. The big, central problem with the scheme: the opportunity to deliver a substantial program of social housing that would address real problems, including homelessness, has been missed. And the government has done it in a way that will minimise the jobs created and maximise the wealth transfer to Australians who are relatively well off. For a government that has mostly managed to do the right thing ever since COVID-19 hit, this has been a terrible policy clanger. It will encourage everyone who cannot afford to buy a home, or who is homeless, to believe the government has forgotten them.
The Conversation
Geoff Hanmer

Sweeping new powers for NSW building regulator

The NSW building regulator will have sweeping new powers to withhold occupation certificates for apartment and other buildings that are not up to standard, denying developers the ability to settle their projects, under new laws passing Parliament. Building Commissioner David Chandler will require selected developers to inform him six months ahead of their planned completion date and undergo monthly inspections by an architect, engineer and builder, under terms of the Residential Apartment Buildings (Compliance and Enforcement Powers) Bill 2020 that had its third reading in the lower house on Wednesday. At the end of those six months, a building not built according to the approved design will not get its occupation certificate, Mr Chandler said. "There’s nothing more focusing in a developer’s mind than getting between them and gold," he told The Australian Financial Review. "That will be the game-changer."
The Australian Financial Review
Michael Bleby

Building watchdog's powers to be bolstered in bid to clean up industry

The NSW building commissioner is set to gain strong powers to stop builders from forcing off-the-plan sales of apartments with defects after Labor signalled it would support a proposed shake-up of the construction industry. After abandoning attempts late last year to pass key legislation, the Berejiklian government will reintroduce an amended bill to the upper house on Tuesday, and introduce another to the lower house which will, if passed, bolster the enforcement powers of building commissioner David Chandler. Labor and the Greens have indicated they will not stop both pieces of...

'Stimulus without safety net': Call for building reform bill to be put on table

The Berejiklian government has been urged to put its proposed reforms to the state's building industry back before the upper house, to avoid a repeat of the Opal and Mascot towers debacles while it fast tracks developments in an attempt to spur the economy. In its final report released on Thursday, a NSW parliamentary inquiry into building standards recommended that the powers of Building Commissioner David Chandler, who was appointed last year, be strengthened and he be given the support of a well-resourced commission. Among the 22 recommendations, the government was also urged to follow Victoria in setting aside at least $600 million to fund the rectification of buildings containing flammable cladding. The inquiry was sparked by severe cracking in the Opal and Mascot towers in Sydney, and the dangers of flammable cladding that were exposed by the Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017. Better Regulation Minister Kevin Anderson said the government was already taking action to lift standards in the industry and was "implementing a series of reforms". He rejected as "short sighted" the recommendation to set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to remove cladding, saying it failed to identify the hospitals, schools or major projects that would need to be stripped of funding to finance the program. But Greens MP David Shoebridge, who chaired the inquiry, said there was a risk that the mistakes evident in the Opal and Mascot towers were repeated unless the stiffer regulations were passed, and the building commissioner "empowered to inspect shoddy buildings". "What we do not want is an accelerated building crisis in NSW," he said. "If buildings are going to be built as part of the recovery, we need to ensure we have a building commissioner on the beat who can enforce the standards."  
The Sydney Morning Herald
Matt O'Sullivan

Mascot Towers owners seek $15m from developer of neighbouring building

The owners of Sydney's Mascot Towers are claiming more than $15 million in damages from the developer of a neighbouring building they allege is responsible for major cracks appearing in the apartment complex they were forced to evacuate almost a year ago. Fair Trading is also investigating the certification work on Peak Towers, which was developed by Aland Developments and neighbours the 132-unit Mascot Towers in Sydney's inner-south. It comes as the state government has agreed to extend accommodation assistance to Mascot Towers owners for nine months. They have been unable to return to their apartments since they were evacuated in June last year, following structural cracking in the 10-storey complex.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Matt O'Sullivan and Laura Chung

Quality of life in high-density apartments varies. Here are 6 ways to improve it

We’re building a lot of apartments in Australia. High-density precincts are being developed across our major cities. But these buildings and neighbourhoods are often not designed and managed in ways that meet the needs of lower-income residents. Our research identifies five key problem areas. We also propose a broad range of solutions, including six outlined in this article. Some are easy to apply and others will require more effort and funding.
The Conversation
Hazel Easthope Laura Crommelin Laurence Troy Megan Nethercote

Sydney apartment buildings win the fight against pets on appeal

Two of Sydney’s biggest apartment towers have won their battle to ban owners’ pets from their buildings in a verdict that will have far-reaching repercussions for NSW strata residents. The 260-apartment Horizon in Darlinghurst and the 280-unit Elan in Kings Cross had lost the right in previous cases before the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) to enforce their bylaws to keep their premises animal free. But, now both have won on appeal to NCAT in a decision announced on Wednesday. Barrister Richard Gration, an owner in the Horizon and who represented the strata committee of the Elan in their bid to impose the bylaws, declared the ruling as “a victory for democracy”. He said: “What the tribunal has said is that it’s up to owners to decide for themselves what rules they want to have governing their own local community. They’ve upheld the rights of owners to regulate their own community.  If owners want to live with pets, then they should choose buildings that allow them.”
Domain
Sue Williams

Sydney apartment buildings win the fight against pets on appeal

Barrister Richard Gration, an owner in the Horizon and who represented the strata committee of the Elan in their bid to impose the bylaws, declared the ruling as “a victory for democracy”. He said: “What the tribunal has said is that it’s up to owners to decide for themselves what rules they want to have governing their own local community. They’ve upheld the rights of owners to regulate their own community. “If owners want to live with pets, then they should choose buildings that allow them.”pets from their buildings in a verdict that will have far-reaching repercussions for NSW strata residents. The 260-apartment Horizon in Darlinghurst and the 280-unit Elan in Kings Cross had lost the right in previous cases before the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) to enforce their bylaws to keep their premises animal free. But, now both have won on appeal to NCAT in a decision announced on Wednesday.
Domain
Sue Williams

Mascot Towers owners to take legal action

Owners of Sydney's troubled Mascot Towers have voted to take legal action against the developer of a neighbouring apartment building. The 132-unit residential block was evacuated in June 2019 after cracks were found in the primary support structure and facade masonry. At an extraordinary general meeting held last week, a clear majority of Mascot Towers owners voted to begin legal proceedings against Aland, the developer of the Peak Towers building next door. Research is also under way for a collective sale after a majority vote to review the option of selling the complex. "In June 2019, significant cracking was seen throughout the slab and structural beams at Mascot Towers following the excavation work next door as Peak Towers was being built," the owners corporation said in a statement on Monday. "That is not a coincidence. The soil that supported Mascot Towers was removed by those constructing the Peak Towers basement, meaning that the Mascot Towers building loads could no longer be fully supported."
Port Lincoln Times
Heather McNab

Debt crisis looms for renters and landlords

An increasing number of renters are at risk of accruing high levels of debt to landlords if the ACT Government fails to implement a repayment framework for rental arrears, according to a parliamentary committee inquiring into the ACT Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pause on evictions is in place until 27 July and there is no framework or government-provided structure for how accrued rental debts should be repaid. The ACT Owners Corporation Network (OCN), set up to help unit owners and corporations avoid problems, said the burden of rates and land tax was difficult for owners before COVID-19. Now the situation is bleak. OCN ACT president Gary Petherbridge said the ACT Government’s piecemeal offering to reduce land tax had seen little uptake and a delay in the repayment of rates that were already unaffordable was not a good way of sharing the burden. He said the ACT Government should allow the early release of bonds held by the ACT Office of Rental Bonds to be applied proportionally as a partial rent reduction. The bond would then be topped up when the tenant is in a position to do so. “This will have the effect of the landlord not losing out and the tenant not racking up significant arrears,” Mr Petherbridge said.
The Riot Act
Michael Weaver

Strata lawyers need to dial down the TV drama

I received an email from a long-time Flat-chatter the other day who attached a letter they had received from their strata committee’s lawyer. The letter demanded they withdraw a case at the NSW Tribunal. It was one of the most blatant examples of bullying I have ever seen (and I have seen a few). I can’t go into too much detail without identifying the combatants, but suffice to say that this is a typical strata conflict that should have been dealt with years ago, but has been allowed to fester and grow. The owner wanted the strata scheme to fix common property that was causing leaks into their flat, and had taken the strata scheme to the tribunal for enforcement. Several years and tens of thousands of dollars in legal bills later, the scheme has been dragged to the tribunal several times, mostly because of their failure to get the job done properly. There are enough problems in strata without disputes turning into an episode of Law & Order. Strata law should be about right and wrong, not threats and intimidation. And if there isn’t a code of conduct for strata lawyers already, there certainly should be.
The Australian Financial Review
Jimmy Thomson

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