Owners’ corporations are not boring …

By Susan Saunders, Residents 3000

You live in a high-rise apartment. You think someone else looks after the property – wrong.

As soon as you become the owner of a high-rise apartment you automatically become a member of the building’s owners’ corporation (OC).  It is the OC that is responsible for looking after the common areas in your building and as a member you are part of that responsibility.  How does that happen, you say?

When the sub-division plan for the building was registered, the OC came into being. It is a corporate entity formed under the Owners Corporation Act 2006.   The idea is that the owners of the building’s apartments are responsible to look after all the common property and the general wellbeing of the building for the amenity of its residents and other occupiers (hotel or commercial tenancies).

If you are new to strata living, you may think that this event is not particularly important.  After all it is just a mechanism to see that the corridors are kept clean and that the lifts work.  But no, it is much more complicated than that and much more interesting.

Your building is a huge complicated machine that needs to be maintained and surprisingly it can be made to function better when the OC is a progressive and caring organisation.

Why is my building a “huge complicated machine”?

You are standing in the shower one morning on the 16th floor.  Have you ever thought about how the water pressure is maintained?  Well, most probably down in the basement there are two (or more) huge motors driving pumps that keep the water pressure within design tolerances at all times.  Why are there at least two?  One is standby so that you don’t suffer if the first one fails.  These beautiful big machines need to be serviced regularly as their function is critical to the effective working of your building and your comfort.

Have you noticed the funny little nobly things poking out of your ceiling?  They are the fire sensors and sprinkler heads.  And then there are some round things that look like speakers in several places in your ceiling.  Well, they are part of a complex system that must go into action if there is a fire in the building.  Fire is the absolute worst thing that can happen to a building tower.

If there is a fire, the heat will activate the detectors in your ceiling and set off the sprinklers.  Another set of pump/motors maintains the fire system water pressure.   At the same time, the system will automatically call the fire brigade.  Somewhere in the basement, a fire emergency board will set off the building alarm.  A recorded voice will come over the speaker in your apartment telling you to evacuate the building.  Do you know what to do in case of fire?  Do you know where to go?  If you do not, you should find out!

Security

Most high-rise buildings have intercom systems so that you have control whom you let into the building.  Many buildings have CCTV cameras in the lifts, foyer, car park and corridors.  Your building manager reviews the footage whenever suspicious activities are suspected.

Other building services

There is waste removal, collection of hard rubbish and recycling.  How does you building deal with organic waste?  Some buildings have worm farms.  The worm juice can be used for your apartment garden.

Then are many more systems that make your building work.  Find out about them!

What is the maintenance fund?

How often would you think that your lift would need to be refurbished or even replaced?  Lifts last for 20-30 or more years.  How would you feel if the lift needed replacing just when you moved into your new apartment and the OC did not have enough money to fix it?  You would have to pay a huge levy to enable the essential work to be done.

Well, that is not prudent at all.  OCs typically hire a quantity surveyor who, in conjunction with your building manager and your OC manager, works out how much to put away each year for major works in the future.  Your levies should include payments to the maintenance fund (formerly known as the sinking fund).

The annual general meeting

Many residents do not come along to the AGM.  The Hero Apartment Building at 118 Russell St solved the problem in March this year by inviting the Deputy Lord Mayor, Arron Wood. He spoke of many initiatives that OCs could take to increase the sustainability of their building.  Some interesting suggestions were about:

Solar Power: There are 485 mid and high-rise apartment buildings in the municipality (five storeys and over). Assuming they were all as motivated to install solar as Hero (and that there were no technological limitations), over 24,000 kW of solar would be installed, equivalent to 6310 households installing solar.

Green Laneways: Just the CBD’s laneways have an area of nine hectares, bigger than Flagstaff Gardens.  More than 16ha of walls including apartment walls in the CBD may be suitable for greening.

Electronic waste recycling: The City of Melbourne can supply an electronic waste bin (one or multiple 240L or 660L bins). Bins stay on site for up to two weeks and accept all electronic items, household batteries and power cords. Items are taken to Outlook Environmental in Darebin to be dismantled into respective material types (copper, plastics, etc) for recycling.

Charity bins: Diabetes Victoria provides 240L and 660L bins for clothes and shoes at no charge and it will also collect unwanted furniture that is in good condition. There are 53 apartment blocks in Melbourne that now that have charity bins and, on an annual basis, are saving 149 tonnes worth of clothing and shoes from landfill, equivalent to the weight of 87 family sedans.

Why should I care?

You and your neighbours have a vested interest in maintaining your building in good working order, not only for your comfort and pleasure but to maintain the value of your own property.

So, take an interest in your amazing building and volunteer to join the OC committee. You will find the time on your committee interesting and rewarding.  Apart from the fact that you may learn a thing or two, you may also get to know your neighbours better. There are challenges and opportunities ahead for OCs.  Get involved. It’s not boring.

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