Does Government have a Strata Plan?
July 20, 2023
Australian strata title buildings, owners, and stakeholders are regulated by extensive & complex strata laws that are created, tweaked, and managed by state governments. But, do those governments have any clear policy objectives, strategies, or medium to long-term plans for strata title, or, are they just reacting to more and more strata buildings crises? And, if so, what should we do about that?
All Australian laws typically start with an objective or objectives, which explain the purposes and desired outcomes for those laws.
When you look at the stated objectives of our strata laws [as specified within them] you’ll see the objectives are very generic, simplistic, and subjective. To summarise most of them, the objectives are described as ‘providing for the management of strata schemes’.
In my opinion, that’s not very helpful to anyone since:
- There’s no goal for strata management [by defining outcomes such as preserving property values, safe housing, harmonious living, etc].
- There’s no qualitative measures for strata management [so, is it good or efficient management, fair management, or, just enough management so no one dies].
- There’s nothing connecting strata management to the rest of society to enhance or improve social, economic, or other outcomes.
Something better is needed to help guide strata stakeholders who own, manage, and service strata buildings, to guide third parties who deal with strata stakeholders, and, to help regulators decide about laws and law reforms to avoid the trap of simply reacting to the latest problem or a special interest group’s hobby horse.
I wrote about this very issue in relation to the 2011-2015 NSW strata law reform discussion processes on the Open Forum Consultation platform saying in my article Turn your strata thinking forwards before making changes saying this:
‘Today, we have the choice to simply tweak things some more and fix the annoying issues, or actually rethink strata laws so they suit the future of strata development, ownership, use, and management. To be honest both things need to occur.’
Sadly, not much has changed in 10 years and it remains difficult to assess strata laws, proposed and possible reforms of strata laws, strata building operation and management, and strata stakeholder experience against objectives and policies if they don’t exist, are general or vague, or can’t be articulated.
Existing government policies
Before writing this article, I also tried to discover current NSW government policies, objectives, plans, or roadmaps for strata title development and management with very little success.
The best publicly available material I could find is as follows.
The NSW Department of Fair Trading has [via the NSW Fair Trading agency] a Roadmap for 2019-2022, But apart from inclusion in general plans for the property sector that plan doesn’t specifically mention strata title.
The NSW Department of Customer Service has a 2019-2020 Annual Report, which refers to a few things as follows:
- the use of its digital platforms to support the administration of building bonds for strata title buildings and the implementation of the Design and Building Practitioners Act 2020 and Residential Apartment Buildings (Compliance and Enforcement Powers) Act 2020,
- reporting on strata plan registrations, and
- funding for a few strata projects including expert review for Mascot Towers and the Strata (Collective Sales) Advocacy Service.
The NSW Office of the Registrar General doesn’t publish any roadmap or plan but does provide support materials and statistics about strata plans and renewal processes.
The NSW Liberal Party has a 2020 platform and ‘Our Plans’ webpage but they don’t include any specific policies or plans about strata.
NSW Labour has a 2017 policy paper but, apart from promoting solar electricity in apartments, there are no specific strata related policies there either.
Even though there’s been a NSW state election at the end of March 2023, I still haven’t found any major political party that published policy on strata title either.
Maybe there’s secret policies somewhere … I wish.
My suggested policy objectives
Consistent with my new approach of not waiting for others to improve strata title [see the article Let’s Improve Things in Strata Now], and, in the absence of any guidance from regulators or elected officials, I’m suggesting the following broad objectives for strata titling and strata operations laws and regulations in Australia.
I’ve drawn these ideas from my experience of working with strata stakeholders over the last 30+ years and the considered views I’ve collected from many other strata industry people who are smarter than me on these issues.
They’re not perfect. But, they are better than nothing.
11 of my worthwhile strata objectives
- Strata titling should permit flexible and innovative development and redevelopment options for new and existing strata complexes whilst ensuring certainty for land titles, boundaries, and core binding property documents for all stakeholders.
- The different strata title regimes for medium and high-density real estate [strata. Part strata and community titles] need to be merged so that they operate consistently. There’s no good reason why owners’ experiences in strata buildings should differ in community title or part strata buildings.
- Strata governance models and hierarchies need to be re-thought and re-structured based on clear policy positions about decision making, authority, and accountability [such as whether owners should always overrule elected committees and majorities should always overrule minorities].
- Strata information collection, retention, sharing, and access needs to be upscaled so that up to date and complete information is more easily available to owners (and other stakeholders) about what has, is, and will happen in strata buildings.
- More flexible options for exploration, discussion, debate, and decision making by strata owners and stakeholders need to be permitted so that engagement levels increase from the current minimums and decisions better reflect owners’ views and interests.
- Long term (non-owner) residents’ interests in strata buildings need to be better recognised. They form almost half the strata residents in NSW and many other states and are critical to its strata’s economic and social future.
- Construction and ongoing maintenance standards of strata buildings need to be improved and guaranteed (at construction, for the first owners, and in the medium and longer term) by improved approval, disclosure, checking and re-checking systems, and remedial rights.
- Differences between the experience (and cost) of property ownership between free-standing and medium/high-density strata title real estate needs to be reduced or eliminated so that strata property is not and does not become a ‘second-rate’ property option.
- Up to date core information about strata buildings should be publicly accessible so that stakeholders can find it and effectively communicate with those buildings.
- The position of non-owners who assist strata corporations [like managers, contractors, advisers, and regulators] needs to be better defined as traditional roles and business models change to meet new owner, committee, and building needs.
- Bugs in strata laws need to be identified and fixed more routinely by smaller-scale amendments [and not as part of major strata law reforms every 5-10 years] as typically occurred during the 70s, 80s, and 90s.
It’s hard to know how to properly manage strata buildings when the governing laws don’t contain any, or, any useful objectives as guides.
So, it’s no surprise strata building management and operations are inconsistent, lack meaningful direction, and are largely unknown to and/or misunderstood by strata stakeholders.
But, that doesn’t mean there are no obvious and common-sense objectives that can or should apply and by which we can manage strata buildings.
This article articulates a few.
This article was contributed by Francesco Andreone – GoStrata Stak