By Janette Corcoran
Apartment living expert
Vertical villagers’ voices might now be better heard, but voting remains vexed.
The key, we are told, to growing our sense of vertical village community lies with our willingness to participate – both inside and outside our residences. Current wisdom holds that we should keep ourselves informed about our residential and neighbourhood (or precinct) issues, express our opinions about these and also be open to responding to requests. On a more convivial note, neighbourly exchanges also go a long way to creating a sense of belonging, like being tipped off about forthcoming events – like fun runs. And in this vein, many vertical villages have established active social media groups, specifically to share these hyperlocal titbits.
Of more recent times, purpose-built engagement systems – like CommunitiLink™ – have entered our villages. These systems offer more timely ways for building management and residents to communicate, as well as platforms for selling items and booking facilities.
And increasingly these systems are being used to survey resident preferences – do you like grey or dark grey for the carpets? Should the plants be placed here or there? Would you support this recycling program?
Together, these engagement activities feed a growing expectation that residents’ voices should be taken into consideration when decisions are made about their vertical village.
However, this is when the reality of our strata title regulatory system comes to the fore.
According to Consumer Affairs Victoria, there are strict requirements around certain decisions in our vertical villages, including who can make what decisions and how these decisions can be made.
For example, only lot owners can elect an owners’ corporation (OC) committee, the key decision-making entity within (most) vertical villages.
Also, it is only lot owners who can vote upon resolutions affecting common property, which include many sustainability improvements. Added to this, some decisions require unanimous resolutions (i.e. they need 100 per cent agreement by all owners or their proxies). Such is the case for key decisions like selling common property, buying land, and altering boundaries, lot entitlement or lot liability.
These types of resolutions (in particular, special resolutions) also often attract significant costs. Legal fees, printing and distribution expenses, along with management time for follow up communications, mean that these undertakings are both time consuming and expensive (especially when a significant portion of lot owners live interstate or overseas).
According to Christine Byrne, Green Strata president, it is these types of legacy regulations that are severely impeding the ability of vertical villages to undertake sustainability retrofits – regardless of resident support.
This means that despite claims that our common areas can use up to 60 per cent of the entire energy consumption of our apartment building, our ability to reduce these levels can be thwarted if the solution requires significant changes to common property.
But there are moves afoot.
One solution involves lowering voting thresholds – generally from a 75 per cent majority to a 50 per cent majority – and many states are considering this option with the ACT leading the pack, followed closely by Western Australia.
Also helping are advances in areas such as digital voting, with products like StrataVote coming onto the market. These are tools that support (among other things) online voting, which is conducted in a manner that satisfies the requirements of the respective state. Once set up, these systems can reduce the time and cost associated with voting.
Together, these changes may make easier our path to sustainable innovation in our vertical villages – but acknowledging that care must also be taken to ensure that additional costs do not become burdens forced on those that cannot bear them.