IMPROVING STRATA 01 : LET’S ALL SPEAK STRATA
March 23, 2023
We can improve strata if we want to. And, in this series of articles I identify things that should and can be improved, plus my ideas for doing so.
Today, I’m focused on the confusing language used in strata title.
Let’s start with a big issue that’s never been substantively addressed in Australian strata law reforms: Actively trying to get some uniformity in the strata language used around Australia.
It’s part of a bigger issue concerning more uniform strata laws around Australia.
Whilst Australian strata laws are all conceptually similar there are substantial differences from state to state in the fundamentals [title structures, boundaries, unit entitlements, etc], decision-making [meetings, decisions, committees, voting rights], finances [funds, expenditures, provisioning, etc], dispute handling, by-laws, language, and much much more.
Some of those things are based on different states’ property laws and other underlying legal structures, so are hard [or harder] to change.
But, since we only have one Australian language, perhaps we could [and should] use it consistently in strata title speak.
Speaking a [not so] common strata language
There are lots of differences in strata language around Australia.
It’s pretty confusing to many strata stakeholders when the same things in a strata building are referred to differently when you cross a state border.
That’s especially so for strata owners and residents who are generally single-strata building focused. But, it also affects strata service providers and strata managers who operate in more than one state.
After all, why is a strata building called by the following different names at the moment?
- An owners corporation in NSW & VIC
- A units plan in ACT & NT
- A strata company in WA
- A strata scheme in TAS
- A body corporate in QLD
- A strata corporation in NT
That’s 6 different names for 8 states and territories. And, funnily enough over the last few decades, some states have changed names to match different states and unmatch others: think New South Wales going from ‘strata scheme’ to ‘owners corporation’ and Victoria going from ‘body corporate’ to ‘owners corporation’.
That’s just the beginning of the strata language gobbledygook.
I could go on ad nauseum about language differences for even more strata things like committees, owners, lots, common property, levies, by-laws, rules, etc; all of which vary significantly from state to state.
It’s obvious why more uniformity would benefit all strata stakeholders.
Plus, in a national environment that promotes the harmonisation of laws and business practices around Australia since at least the 2006 report of the Australian House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, there’s a lot of justification for doing so.
Even lawyers managed to agree to be uniformly called ‘legal practitioners’ around Australia. So, surely strata stakeholders can do it?
Ideally, strata language should also be improved so that it is clearer [expressions have obvious rather than artificial meanings], simpler and less formal [it is in plain English], and, are modern rather than arcane [so it reflects today’s world].
What’s to be done
So, how could strata language uniformity and modernisation be achieved?
I think there needs to be two parallel approaches.
Firstly, it needs to happen informally by strata stakeholders adopting a strata language that is more conversational than legalistic [but still accurate] and that normalises the descriptions used to things that make sense to most normal humans and are most commonly used around Australia.
That’s what I’ve been doing this for a long time in my writings based on using ‘strata’ as the underlying keyword. So, you’ll find me using expressions like: ‘strata complex’, ‘strata building’, ‘strata lots’, etc.
Otherwise, I try to use the most commonly used expressions like: ‘common property’, ‘committee’, ‘owner’, ‘resident’, etc, or, adopt simpler and more straightforward [nonstrata] language using words like: ‘meeting’, ‘notice’, ‘decision’, ‘capital fund’, ‘operating fund’, etc.
This allows stakeholders to understand strata speak better most of the time without having to check the dictionaries or definitions in strata laws.
Strata sector leaders and spokespersons need to advocate for this and adopt better and more uniform strata language.
Secondly, strata language uniformity needs to be formalised by state governments putting their heads together and agreeing on preferred expressions for strata title with a commitment to adopting those expressions when they next reform their strata laws.
They’ve done this before in other areas of life and business; so it could happen.
And, it doesn’t much matter which expressions they agree are the preferred ones.
They could be the expressions used in the states with the most strata buildings and strata owners since that involves less impactful changes, they could be an amalgam of different states’ expressions so everyone is represented, or, they could be completely new and more modern/plain English expressions.
Plus, if the informal strata language I’m advocating has been around long enough and become widely adopted, then it may have become the obvious choice.
Once state governments agree upon preferred strata expressions, they will become the defacto new strata language used by stakeholders [even before they become law], further reinforcing the change and making each state’s transition easier.
So, governments, regulators, and stakeholders have to advocate for this in discussions about and submissions on strata title issues.
Improving strata title is worthwhile and there are plenty of areas to be addressed.
But, getting strata stakeholders to speak the same language is a great place to start.
Article contributed by Francesco Andreone, GoStrata