Resident victory

A stalwart resident at an inner-city apartment complex has reported a monumental victory over developer chicanery and council ineptitude.

“A win at last!!” she wrote, “I have won my battle to have the council defend my rights to enjoy my property according to the original Planning Permit.”

Since 2017, this story has shaped up as a David and Goliath battle that David might actually win. “I had no idea that it would take up four years of my strength and time.”

This battle was fought at the intersection of three different jurisdictions. Our rookie resident had to learn about owners’ corporation (OC) law, about the Local Government Act, about planning law and what voids a contract. 

“To cut a very long and complicated story short, after the planning permit was issued for my property, [somebody] altered the plans, removing all reference to where the trucks for residents were supposed to load.”

This discrepancy solidified undetected at the council’s planning department – and it looks like at least one council head has rolled as a consequence.

Our citizen champion knows how it all started: “When a big industry super fund was offered an off-market opportunity to buy the enormous area of the two-storey shopping plaza and its huge truck loading bay, they saw that there was a lift for trucks servicing the residents.”

“The developer told the super fund not to worry, they would have the exclusive right to all that area for 300 years. The developer had drawn up a lease to himself. The problem was that this was in breach of the planning permit that required both residents and the retail plaza to use that area for trucks to load and unload.”

In the face of irrefutable facts and under relentless pressure from our resolute resident, the council eventually told the super fund that it must share the loading dock with residents. The incensed super fund made a futile attempt to arrogate the common property by seeking to have the planning permit altered to conform with the altered and unapproved plans.

“All I want is for the furniture trucks to load on-site instead of blocking the footpath on the street outside my front door,” our star resident said.

The council’s planning department now has the right to enter the property to ensure the shopping plaza owners no longer lock out the residents from the loading bay common property. It’s good to know residents can beat major players who don’t follow the rules!

OC managers blocking information requests

Perhaps everyone is suffering cabin fever with rolling lockdowns – how else can you explain a spate of incidents where OC managers have failed to comply with fundamental obligations under the OC Act?

You would think a request for an OC certificate would be honoured relatively quickly. After all, providing certificates is a staple of every garden-variety OC manager contract. Not so, it seems, if you have a disagreement with the OC manager on an unrelated matter. We know of one OC manager who must feel that certificates do not have to be provided to owners who ask awkward questions.

How about requesting an inspection of financial records? That should be easy for any OC manager who takes the requisite Act along to all meetings. 

Evincing either incompetence or something more malignant, one OC manager has insisted that the committee must pass a resolution to have the right to inspect documents. No, that’s not how the law works. Every lot owner has the right to request inspection of OC documents.

Another cute ploy is to claim “confidentiality” as a reason for denying access. Again, no, that’s not a legally valid reason for denying access to inspect an invoice from a supplier for example.

OC managers beware. The practice of hiding documents from lot owners creates very bad “optics”.

We quote the Owners’ Corporation Act, Part 9, Division 1, Section 146 (1), which states that the OC manager, on request by a lot owner … 

“Must make the records of the owners’ corporation required to be kept under this Division available to that person for inspection at any reasonable time, free of charge.”

Quite straightforward, right? Apparently not, according to our reluctant and irony-challenged OC manager who replied to an emailed request, “I don’t plan on replying to your email.”

Continuing their non-reply, the document-denier went on to tell the lot owner to try their luck with getting the information from the previous committee! 

But if a manager is desperately intent on looking foolish, why would they rest there? Our stonewalling strata manager went on the offensive, alleging financial malfeasance by the previous OC managers with the cognisance of the previous committee, unabashedly naming names. In writing. In an email to a lot owner. Handing up Exhibit A, Your Honour.

Having been unsatisfied with merely looking like a goose, this OC manager just might have waddled into the oven.

Notwithstanding the above, advice from Consumer Affairs is that aggrieved owners can take their complaints to the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria (1300 372 888), or Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal (VCAT, 1300 018 228). 

You can also complain to Strata Community Association Victoria (9416 4688) if your OC manager is a member of that group.

Readers, please do let us know about your tribulations with OC managers.

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