IT’S A FULL MOON TONIGHT
June 22, 2023
It is a hazard of anyone actively involved in the management or governance of a strata community that they must deal with lunatics on occasion.
A strata manager who does not burden themselves with an ability to access email on their phone may experience a sense of dread at having to open their email for the first time on a Monday morning. Their inbox may be littered with complaints, abuse or just trivial information from “that owner”.
The word lunatic is derived from the Latin word for the moon: luna. Humans have believed for many centuries that the moon caused madness. This belief stays with us – we regularly joke about it being a “full moon tonight” when referring to how we or others might behave. Unfortunately, the moon’s cycle does not always explain away or excuse the behaviour of some in strata communities.
Here are examples of what came across my desk in just one month:
- A body corporate was threatened with a claim for “maximum damages” because of distress caused to an owner’s dog when a by-law contravention notice was sent about that owner keeping an unapproved pet in the unit. That dog subsequently defecated in the building’s lift.
- An owner proudly proclaimed that they were the only resident willing to yell at a charity worker who entered the scheme land without invitation. They expressed their disappointment that one of their neighbours encouraged this charity worker by making a donation.
- An owner applied for an interim order to stop a balustrade refurbishment project from going ahead because it would cause increased greenhouse gas emissions.
The prevalence of paranoid personality disorder has been estimated to be as high as 4.4% of the population. In a 100 lot strata scheme, there’s a good chance that at least one of them is occupied by someone who bears the characteristics of this disorder:
- A belief, without sound basis, that others are exploiting, deceiving or harming them – many defenses to levy recovery actions are driven by this.
- Unforgiving and holding grudges indefinitely – they will bring up how they were treated at that general meeting three years ago to justify today’s behaviour.
- An inability to see their role in problems or conflicts – they are always right, and everything they do is justified because of their suspicions.
- Stalking and excessive litigation.
Closer to home is a slightly more prevalent personality disorder: the narcissist. About 5% of the population suffers from narcissistic personality disorder. It is characterised by:
- An inflated sense of importance and entitlement to special treatment.
- Fantasising about power, success, intelligence, and beauty.
- Exaggerating their achievements and abilities, and always seeking praise, recognition and attention.
- Hypersensitive to criticism.
- Anger if their orders are not complied with.
- A lack of empathy or awareness of others.
Narcissists are drawn to positions of power. The prospect of someone else holding dominion over them is intolerable. They will often be the chairperson or “captain” of the committee – or causing significant disruption on their path to take that position.
There isn’t enough being said or taught about these issues in the strata industry.
The core features of every strata community are buildings, money and people. The strata industry is very well supported with:
- Knowledge about buildings – how to identify and deal with leaks, address building defects, take out appropriate insurance, and implement maintenance programs.
- Funds management – raising and collecting levies, budgeting, spending control and audits.
Strata managers are now being rebranded as relationship managers. Some of the most successful strata managers are extroverts who know the names of the kids of each committee member, have a comforting presence at meetings, and build rapport with key decision-makers.
Those are admirable skills for a strata manager dealing with well-adjusted human beings. But the wings of the most consummate social butterfly can be clipped by the weight of receiving a dozen negative e-mails every day over a three-month period from one person from one scheme in a large portfolio.
We have acquired the collective wisdom that 90% of a strata professional’s time can be dominated by 10% of their clients. Sometimes that 10% are going through serious problems with their building or finances. But often the problem is the people, or at least the people exacerbate the problem with the building or finances.
The key themes for the strata management industry for the last few years have been burn-out, talent drain and a lack of available (or willing) talent.
Strata managers aren’t alone – I see very similar features arise in committee members. They are giving up time with their family, business / job, friends and hobbies to instead volunteer to be a committee member. The few that are willing to volunteer their time can get beaten down by the problems they have to tackle.
There is a large prevalence of defects in buildings, and economic conditions are causing more financial pressure on strata communities. But these problems can be outsourced to service providers or managed internally. Many strata management companies and committees have someone they can call on to diagnose and solve the problem with the building or the finances. But the industry is lacking the same sophisticated response to problems with dealing with people.
This is an industry wide issue. Yes, strata managers must deal with the unending emails and phone calls, or sudden appearances at reception to demand a search of the records or complain to the boss about their directions not being followed promptly. But committee members, building managers and other residents must live with these people, share the elevator with them, suffer confrontations in the car park, or be subject to their dominating ways in committee meetings.
When a strata manager or their committee runs into a problem they wish to transfer to me, they sometimes get confused when I ask them to stop telling about what they perceive to be the problem, and to start telling me about the person at the center of the dispute: their traits, communication style, lifestyle and background.
It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to reform the narcissist or cure the paranoid. But there are people out there who can:
- Identify this behaviour and assure a strata manager, committee member or building manager that they aren’t incompetent or the cause of the problem.
- Provide strategies to effectively manage the disruption caused by these personality disorders.
Strata communities fall into a state of despair when they run into problems and out of ideas on how to solve them. If the problem is a personality, perhaps it’s time to look further abroad for coping mechanisms and solutions.
There is a gap in the strata industry in training in, or awareness of, psychology. The competitive advantage to be taken up is the development of capabilities to help deal with difficult personalities.
The Queensland team of Grace Lawyers was recognised as Australasia’s leading service provider to the strata industry when they were awarded the 2022-2023 SCA Australasia Strata Services Business Award Winner in June 2023.
SCA is the peak industry body for the strata sector. This award was drawn from the wide pool of suppliers of all types of services across the industry, such as legal, insurance, property maintenance, engineering, utilities, other professional services, technology, etc. The size of Australia’s strata services economy in 2021 was estimated to be more than $7.5 billion. We are proud to have received this special recognition in such a large and diverse services industry.