Mission Statements for strata plans

| January 20, 2012

Having a clear idea about what you are buying into would help prevent future conflicts for those living in apartments. Jimmy Thomson explores the idea of creating Mission Statements for Strata plans.

I’ve been writing about strata for about eight or nine years now, starting with the book Apartment Living and then for the past six years my newspaper column, its related website and readers’ forum. One thing that struck me throughout this period is that the people who write to complain – and they rarely write to say how happy they are – aren’t frustrated and angry because they haven’t been given enough, but because they haven’t received what they paid for and were promised.

Now, there’s a consumer element to that – if the multinational developer who has sold you an apartment built by sub-contractors so tightly squeezed on cost and time that they don’t bother to feed any cable to the TV aerial connection in the bedroom (this happened) you can demand they fix it … although these days you have only two years in which to do so. Check every plug and socket in your new apartment now!

But I am referring to the people who buy the real estate agent’s dream only to find it is a nightmare. The friendly, well-run community they were promised turns out to be an ugly mess of negligence, ignorance and abuse. They don’t feel under-served, they feel cheated and there’s no one Australians hate more than cheats.

When you buy into an established strata development you are advised to check the by-laws and have a squiz at the EC and AGM minutes, just to make sure there are no hidden problems. A good strata surveyor will also read between the lines and let you know any issues that are rumbling under the surface and are about to erupt – unlike the one employed by one of my readers who failed to tell her that the pet-friendly building she was buying into was about to ban animals. Between exchange and settlement a general meeting was held, a by-law passed and she and/or her cat became homeless.

Yes, the car park has visitor’s car spaces but your visitors can’t park there because owners park their extra cars (“hey, we own the building, right?”) and the Executive Committee does nothing. Yes there is a by-law about noise but when you complain about the restaurant owner who comes home at midnight and wants to watch action movies on his surround-sound, your strata manager tells you it’s an issue between two neighbours – nothing to do with the EC.

Or let’s turn that round. You buy or rent in a hip and trendy new building and find that everybody else is old and grumpy and you can’t turn your iPod up without someone complaining about the ‘ticking’ noise. Or there’s a beautiful pool but you can’t have friends around without complaints about the noise of people … gulp … laughing.

The point I’m making is not about right or wrong, it’s about people living in the right building for them. It’s a bit late to discover you’ve made a mistake when you have paid up and moved in … but how are you supposed to know? 

Most Real Estate agents aren’t going to tell you anything remotely negative unless they absolutely have to. That’s why so many first-time apartment owners are shocked when they get their first levies bill. Executive Committees have become very adept at “not mentioning the war” so heated disputes can rage for months without a word of it appearing on minutes or agendas.

So here is my plan: Every apartment block should be obliged to devise their own ‘mission statement’  that goes on the front page of their by-laws and spells out what the majority of owners feel are the key elements of that community, positive and negative, based on their recent experiences. 

It could be something like –

“We welcome well-behaved pets, rigorously enforce parking by-laws and, while we promote a friendly and happy environment, take complaints about excessive and continuing noise very seriously.”

Or it could be:
“We encourage recycling and energy conservation. We’ve have had major issues with hard floors and our by-laws on that will be upheld. Also, this is not and never will be a ‘party’ building.”
Or even:
“In this block we live and let live. As long as you’re not breaking the law, there’s a lot of give and take here. Don’t expect us to control either your life or anyone else’s.”
“Oooh,” I hear the real estate agents wince, “that’ll put off potential buyers.” And that’s exactly the idea. There is a building somewhere in your city that suits you down to the ground – if only you could find it. There are potential purchasers who would fit right into your building – if only they knew about it.
Owners Corporations would be able to change the statement from time to time, obviously, but every building has its hot issues and it’s only fair to potential owners and tenants as well as existing residents, that everyone knows what they’re getting into.
In the absence of mandatory enforcement of by-laws, mission statements will give potential purchasers a better idea of whether or not they will fit in, rather than the pig-in-a-poke, suck-it-and-see attitude that leads to so much unhappiness right now.
Jimmy Thomson is an author, scriptwriter and journalist who writes the weekly column Flat Chat in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Domain section and hosts the Flat Chat readers’ forum at www.flat-chat.com.au.


Strata Laws Online Consultation Questions:

Q1. What are the main areas of the existing strata and community scheme laws you would like to see changed? View JimmyT’s comment here.

Q2. Can you see any future issues that need to be addressed in the legislation? View JimmyT’s comment here.

Q3. How could the management of strata and community schemes be improved? View JimmyT’s comment here.

Q4. Are there any changes needed to the way disputes in strata and community schemes are resolved? View JimmyT’s comment here.