Major  strata  reforms  to  allow tenants  seats  on  executive committees

Date  November  5,  2013 Sydney  Morning  Herald Jimmy  Thomson

Tenants  in  apartment  blocks  and  townhouse  developments  will  be  able  to  demand  seats  on  their executive  committees,  under  the  major  revamp  of  strata  laws  planned  for  next  year.

Fair  Trading  Minister  Anthony  Roberts  said  the  government  wanted  to  encourage  a  greater  level  of tenant  participation  in  strata  communities,  in  his  announcement  of  the  reforms.

'In  schemes  where  more  than  half  the  residents  are  tenants,  we  will  give  them  the  opportunity  to  have a  non-voting  representative  on  the  strata  committee,'  he  said. 

However,  there  will  be  limits  on  this  spread  of  democracy:  'Tenants  will  not  be  given  new  voting rights  and  the  owners  corporation  can  choose  to  exclude  tenants  from  deliberations  on  certain matters,'  he  said.  Those  matters  could  include  sensitive  financial  information  such  as  levy  payments or  discussions  about  breaches  of  bylaws  by  other  residents.

The  proposal  has  been  welcomed  by  representatives  of  tenants  in  NSW.

'Increasing  the  opportunities  for  tenants  to  participate  in  their  strata  communities  is  important  and reflects  the  reality  that  more  and  more  people  in  NSW  are  renting  for  life,'  says  Martin  Barker, tenants'  advocate  with  the  Inner  West  Tenants'  Advice  and  Advocacy  Service. 

Architectural  technologist  Robert  Goodall  agrees  tenants  can  make  a  huge  contribution  to  the  running of  an  apartment  building.  As  a  member  of  the  executive  committee  at  the  Signature  Apartments  in Redfern,  he  has  involved  tenants  in  the  running  of  the  building  and  helped  to  set  up  a  social  media  site for  owners  and  renters.

'It  makes  perfect  sense  to  involve  tenants,'  Mr  Goodall  said.  'A  tenant  should  feel  comfortable  in  the building  and  feel  that  it's  their  home  too,  then  they'll  be  there  for  the  longer  term  and  are  more  likely to  look  after  the  unit  and  the  building.

'That  makes  a  more  pleasant  living  environment  for  everyone;  you  won't  get  a  high  turnover  of tenants,  which  is  good  for  us  and  for  the  investors,  and  the  whole  building  will  benefit  in  terms  of both  atmosphere  and  value.' 

Tenants  have  come  to  play  a  huge  role  in  the  91-apartment  block,  making  up  about  40  per  cent  of  the volunteers  in  the  rooftop  community  garden  and  coming  up  with  ideas  in  helping  the  building  work better.  'On  our  Facebook  page,  we  invite  both  owners  and  tenants  to  ask  questions,  make  suggestions or  receive  information  about  what's  going  on,'  Mr  Goodall  says

'Also,  tenants  are  welcomed  at  our  EC  meetings  to  come  and  watch,  and  speak.' 

Last  year,  the  building's  strata  managers,  Progressive  Strata  Services  of  Bondi  Junction,  won  Strata Community  Australia  excellence  award  for  the  work  they  had  done  in  the  Signature.  Strata  manager Karina  Heinz  said  the  number  of  disputes  in  the  building  had  dropped  dramatically  since  tenants became  more  involved.  Also,  levies  had  been  kept  down  by  switching  from  paper  to  electronic messaging  -  exactly  as  the  planned  changes  to  strata  law  proposes. 

But  there  is  one  potential  drawback  to  tenant  representation. 

'In  some  buildings,  I  imagine  it  might  be  hard  to  fill  a  place  that  might  be  reserved  for  a  tenant,'  Mr Goodall  says.  'Some  tenants  just  might  not  want  to  be  involved.'