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FLAT CHAT WRAP

Author: Jimmy Thomson & Sue Williams

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All about living in apartments (condos), from dealing with your committee to getting on with neighbours and - a dose of healthy skepticism about dubious developers.
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This week on the Flat Chat Wrap we ask whether retired business people are the best or the worst committee members you can have. Based on this column, Jimmy and Sue weigh the pros and cons of people who have experience and maturity, with the fact that they may also be used to getting their own way, are a little too keen to hold on to power when they get it, and often block the appointment of younger owners who want to make a contribution. Early retirees, with business smarts and energy to burn could be exactly what your block needs. Or they could be your worst nightmare. In another story, we look at how Airbnb has been touted as the answer to housing shortages in bushfire ravaged towns and rural areas. And we discuss why the global holiday letting company’s recent financial woes could mean they are about to expand, and come back even stronger. We hear a word of warning about taking owners to the tribunal even when you know you have them bang to rights on by-laws … because the Tribunal member might not be interested in strata law and by-laws and only sees things thorough the prism of personal ownership. And finally, if you can’t get enough of JimmyT’s dulcet tones, swing by The Elephant In The Room podcast where he was a guest a couple of weeks ago. If you want to get new episodes of the Flat Chat Wrap and as soon as they are posted, just subscribe to one of the links underneath the player at the top of this page … it’s completely free!  And if you enjoy the podcasts, please share with a friend, (especially in strata) and leave us a rating – it helps people to find us.
In this week’s podcast, with the East Coast states of Australia only just having survived the bushfires, we are now dealing with torrential rain and floods. Sue has contacted the big property insurers to discover an astonishing amount of damage claims had been lodged as early as Monday morning after the weekend storms. And we examine what can go wrong in apartment blocks despite a feeling of being “above it all”. ‘This is when you discover how well your block really has been built,” Jimmy says, with one expert musing that, when you have horizontal rain in these quantities, something is bound to give. Later in the podcast, Jimmy and Sue discuss under what circumstances it’s okay for personal trainers (PTs) to use common property gyms for their clients. Inspired by this issue on the Forum, they look at the three basic circumstances under which you might find a PT in your gym.  One is fine, another is definitely not on but a third is borderline. But is a resident PT using the gym for commercial purposes really any different from an Airbnb host offering your shared facilities as part of their holiday rental package? Finally, we look at this Forum question of who pays for repairs and lost rent when your owners corporation needs to dig up your bathroom to fix a common property pipe. And before we go, take a listen to James Taylor’s Fire and Rain a tiny taste of which opens this week’s podcast. And, if you need cheering up, after all the real fire and rain that we’ve endured,  watch him with his updated version on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
This week’s podcast topics have come straight off our front page and our Forum. For instance, how would you feel if an owner started allowing – maybe even encouraging – their dog to swim in the communal swimming pool? Now, many free-standing home owners allow their pets to swim in their pools.  And the pets clearly enjoy it. But does that mean we should allow dogs into our communal pools?  Aren’t there by-laws against that? Well, check yours but probably no, there won’t be.  There might be something about not allowing pets on common property, or keeping dogs on a leash. But hey, what if the dog is on a leash but in the pool?  JimmyT and Sue Williams dive into that one. Then there is the problem of what to do with persistently, deliberately and aggravatingly annoying neighbours. A while ago we talked about the deposed committee chair who took his revenge by calling up tradies working in the building and abusing them to the point that they refused to work there again. Fortunately, there is an answer in the form of an Apprehended Personal Violence Order which, despite it’s heavy-hitting title, can be used to prevent verbal abuse between neighbours and unrelated civilians. And finally, we look at the environmentally right-on apartment block in Redfern that’s been sold in its entirety to an investor … who plans to use it exclusively for Airbnb. That’s all in this week’s Flat Chat Wrap. If you want to get new episodes of the Flat Chat Wrap and as soon as they are posted, just subscribe (it’s completely free!), click on this link for iPHONE and IPAD and this one for Youtube. You can also subscribe on  Castbox or here on Spotify.  And  if you like the podcasts, please share with a friend, (especially in strata) and leave us a rating – it helps people to find us  
Sue Williams is back in the Flat Chat Wrap co-chair this week as we discuss the proposed Dodgy Developer Database announced by the NSW government last week. Sue reckons it can only be a good thing to get all that information but is concerned that it might all be too complicated for ordinary owners to understand. Jimmy points out that he doesn’t think it will ever see the light of day, and even if it does, ordinary people won’t have access to it to begin with, and will eventually only get to see it if they pay. “Outrageous!” says Sue. “We pay for these things through our taxes.’ In any case, Jimmy says, it will be like the East Coast Fast Train line plan that gets trotted out at every election … a great idea that never gets out of the too-hard basket. One group of people who Jimmy thinks will be all over the proposed database (if it ever eventuates), apart from the council and state planners for whom it is apparently intended, will be the banks and other mortgage lenders. ‘Imagine,” says Jimmy, “You want to buy a unit off the plan, you have the deposit, a great credit rating, solid employment and your mortgage lender looks at the database and discovers your proposed developer has a poor rating.  Result? The computer says no!” “Would that be such a bad thing?” asks Sue. Another problem will be any large, high-profile developers with a poor customer service record.  What are they going to do when they discover they only have three stars when their direct rivals have five or six? Lawyers at 12 paces, probably. Elsewhere, we discuss whether it is reasonable to expect parents to tell their kids to play quietly on common property. One building in Sydney’s Western suburbs has threatened parents with $1100 fines for breaking the schemes noise by-laws by allowing their kids to play noisily on common property. As more families move into strata, is it fair to expect kids to be seen and not heard.? And Jimmy asks if his bike is technically a “roadworthy vehicle”.  He’s been pinged for parking his bike in his parking spot which, the strata scheme’s by-laws say, can only be occupied by “roadworthy vehicles”. Now, he doesn’t particularly want to park his bike there – it’s usually in the back of the car ready for the next ride.  But this does illustrate the angst and confusion that can be caused by a badly worded by-law. If you want to get new episodes of the Flat Chat Wrap and as soon as they are posted, just subscribe (it’s completely free!), click on this link for iPHONE and IPAD and this one for Youtube. You can also subscribe on  Castbox or here on Spotify.  And  if you like the podcasts, please share with a friend, (especially in strata) and leave us a rating – it helps people to find us
“It’s like heading down the runway while you are still building the plane” – no, we’re not talking about buying off the plan, but the pressures and perils of creating an Oscar-winning, multi-million-dollar animated Hollywood movie. We’re taking a slight detour this week into the world of comedy and show-business, in an interview with our good friend Warren Coleman, formerly of the Castanets Club comedy troupe but more recently a writer and co-director on Happy Feet and a writer on Happy Feet 2. Now, we do get to the question of apartments – specifically, what it’s like to be looking to buy and sell for the first time in 30 years – but we take a few side-roads along the way. We’ll hear how taking a hit comedy show on a multi-city tour of the USA can be like “hyper-flat-sharing” and we get essential travel tips from Davy Jones, formerly of the Monkees. But there's also how entering the apartment buying arena for the first time in a long time is a bit like dating after the end of a long-term relationship. ‘Until you make a commitment, you have to let any flat you like know that you’re still seeing other apartments, just like it's seeing other people,’ says Warren. And then there's packing.  As you can imagine, there's a lot of accumulated stuff to get rid of  - or not - after 30 years in the one flat. Due you use Marie Kondo's "does it bring me joy?" filter for all your stuff, or do you go hard core and use the Swedish Death Cleaning method.  Yes, that's a thing ... it's even a book. But we also hear about Happy Feet producer/director George Miller’s seat-of-the-pants genius, what it’s like to be nominated for an Oscar, a Golden Globe and even a Logie, and what you do when you can’t find out if you’ve won because your party hosts are recording it to watch it later. All in all, it’s a very different Flat Chat Wrap this week … but it’s a lot of fun.  
This week in the podcast we revisit the vexed question of whether or not you should be allowed to view other owners’ email addresses. The SCA (Strata Community Australia – aka, the strata managers) website says this in its FAQ for apartment block neophytes: How do I obtain the phone number/email address/postal address of members of the committee? Due to privacy laws you only have the legal right to obtain the postal address of lot owners, which you can request from the strata manager, or if the scheme is self-managed, the committee. In other words, no email addresses for mere owners. Now, we’ve had this discussion running on the Forum for a while and I, JimmyT, have to admit I got it wrong. I said that because the strata Act doesn’t require you to provide your email address, then that wasn’t part of the strata roll and was therefore private. But hang on a minute, the strata Act does require owners to provide their email addresses.  And if strata managers and committees are using them to send out notices, agendas and minutes, they are part of the records of the business of the strata scheme anyway. So how come strata managers say you can’t have them? Privacy, they say.  But corporations with a turnover of less than $3 million a year – e.g. most strata schemes – aren’t covered by the federal privacy laws, and even if you were in a mega complex that did qualify, the privacy laws are superseded by laws that require information to be provided … like the strata Act. So here on the Flat Chat Wrap  podcast we are calling this out – especially since one of our readers took their strata managers and strata scheme all the way to the Supreme Court in WA and got a definitive ruling that they were entitled to see and use the email addresses of all the other owners. That's quite a saga, as we explain. You will often hear it said that sending someone an unsolicited email is an invasion of privacy.  How exactly can that be the case?  It may be an invasion of their email inbox, but that’s about it. Sure, sending complete strangers unwanted emails is spam. But co-owners in the same apartment block, with myriad common interests and concerns? In any case, the recipient doesn’t have to read it, and they can block the sender with the click of a ticked box, should they so desire. Personally, I would rather another owner emailed me and told me they were worried about decisions made by the committee, than hope and pray that the reason I don't hear any complaints is becasue they can't get past the fake privacy filter. Call us cynical, but we think the real issue is that too many committees and strata managers don’t want the instant, costless communication that emails offer.  Why?  Because, with half the strata units in Australia owned by investors, with snail mail often only going to their agents, the results could be unpredictable, to say the least, if owners with a grievance were able to communicate with each other and start asking awkward questions. So the next time your strata manager refuses to let you see other owners email addresses, stick your iPod buds in their earholes and make them listen to our podcast. Elsewhere in the Flat Chat Wrap, we look at what happens to proxy votes and Powers of Attorney when the owner of the property dies. {NB: This podcast has been corrected since it was first published} And we issue a warning to pet owners, especially the parents of pugs and bulldogs and their ilk, about the combined dangers of smoke and heat. That’s all there in this week’s podcast.
This week’s podcast is about the bushfires.  For a change, apartments are not portrayed in the media as the worst possible way to live in Australia. That’s not to say unit blocks are immune from danger and disruption; as the original article points out, you still have to protect them from fire and floating embers. And can you imagine what would happen if the flames nudged up to a block clad in flammable composite?  We’d have our own Grenfell Tower right here. Thankfully, the reality for most apartment dwellers in country and seaside areas is a lot less dramatic.  Our country town apartment blocks tend to be a lot smaller, however, that brings its own problems. It they’re not high enough to legally require fire sprinklers, you can reasonably assume they don’t have them.  And it was internal sprinklers that arguably saved residents in our two major cladding fires – in the Lacrosse and Neo200 blocks in Melbourne – from suffering tragic consequences. So rural residents are just as keen to keep their smaller blocks free from flames. Meanwhile, they are suffering some of the less obvious effects of the devastating blazes, even when they are far from their front doors. Power outages mean their lifts have to be shut down and their mobile phones are not the lifelines they once were.  Phone lines are also likely to be cut, as are main roads. Plug in radios are useless lumps of plastic while a desperate search for the right sized cells for the old battery powerd transistor radio.  This week Narooma saw 500 metre queues for petrol ... when the pumps could operate. Shops have been running out of essentials, tourists have been trapped, others have turned back and chosen other areas for the holidays.  And toiurist present another issue for apartment residents.  Do your neighbours even know where the evacuation centre is if things take a turn for the worst. But on top of all that, there is the fear that this worst bushfire catastrophe in living memory could flare up again and wreak its havoc in their town. We also point people to a friend’s Facebook page where she’s raising money for Wires, to help all the injured animals On a slightly lighter note, JimmyT and Sue discuss the issue of what to do about stray cats … and how they evoke strong emotions in otherwise placid people. All of which leads to Jimmy’s “insult to injury” memory of what happened after a tom cat crawled into his recently robbed car. But as problems go, stray cats and car break-ins are pretty far down the list of our priorities right now. Lessons are being leaned from these bushfires – we can only hope there’s something left that will allow us to put them into practice.
Last week’s podcast was such a gloomy affair, looking back at a pretty grim 2019, at least in strata terms, that we thought we’d lighten the mood a little by recalling some of the happier, quirkier moments of the year. It was certainly a happier year for pet owners with a series of Tribunal decisions that overturned “no pet” by-laws.  How those decisions will ultimately pan out – two of the big ones are likely to be appealed – remain to be seen. But there’s more than pet ownership at stake.  The very question of whether or not we can set rules for our communities is called into question and that could affect everything from noise to smoking on balconies to maybe even Airbnb. Yes, we know NSW is about to get new laws saying we can pass by-laws banning short-term holiday letting from our blocks.  But how long will it be before some selfish “entrepreneur” decides this is “harsh and discriminatory”? On a lighter note, we recall the Sydney building manager who built a secret underground cave in a car park, where he slept and watched his neighbours on CCTV, while accumulating goods purloined from their storage cages. Before he was caught – given away by the sound of his washing machine – some residents found it creepy that he always seemed to be around.  Others took a different view: “he’s always here when we need him... it’s great.” Penultimately, we take a look at costs orders and why your strata committee can’t just issue them for alleged breaches of by-laws. And finally, there’s our Christmas poem, all about how the most dysfunctional strata committee in Australia decided to ban Christmas. That’s all in our last podcast for the year.  Enjoy ... and have a merry Christmas.
It’s getting to the end of the year so we thought we’d look back at the last 12 months of apartment living in Australia. Unfortunately, there seem to be a lot more low points than highlights, starting with the Opal Tower shambles which saw families evacuated from the building a sections started to crack and crumble. Then there was the Mascot Towers fiasco where the whole building started to sink into the swamps of south Sydney, and two blocks in Alexandria and Erskineville that had been declared uninhabitable by local council inspectors. Ok, there was a smidgeon of good news, with claims that the prices of brand new apartments and golden oldies of a similar size have never been closer, presumably as demand for the former drops and the latter soars. Co-host Sue Williams tells listeners what to look for if they are determined to buck the trends, take advantage of the slump and buy a brand new unit. We heard about developers being so sure of the quality of their work that they are offering warranties above and beyond their statutory six years for major defects. It will be interesting to see if anyone actually claims and how that pans out. We also heard about the trend towards renovating and extending older blocks – with their high ceilings and solid walls – to take advantage of their solid construction and great locations while upgrading all their infrastructure to make homes that are better than new. Looking at trends in strata living, we noted the return of shape-shifting and a new danger for new block buyers – embedded networks.  That’s where a developer gets some essential component – like electricity, a storm water retention tank or lifts – installed for free provided they persuade owners to sign up to a long and expensive supply or maintenance contract. And the flammable cladding threat just got a little worse with NCAT in NSW ruling that biowood cladding is potentially as dangerous as the notorious aluminium cladding over which there has been such a fuss. In politics, we saw two state elections in NSW  Victoria (last November) and one federal poll and none of them were good news for strata residents – although renters did OK in Victoria … or they would have if half the residential lets hadn’t been handed over to Airbnb and their ilk. The Building Commissioner in NSW is starting to feel like a token appointment, having told dudded apartment buyers that they should have been more careful in their choices.  And still, neither the government nor opposition are accepting responsibility for having taken developer cash for decades, in a trade -off for the safety and integrity of our homes. It’s all there … and more … in the Flat Chat Wrap.
Privacy, consumer protections and how to engineer radical change in your apartment block are the main topics for discussion in this week’s Flat Chat Wrap podcast. A heated discussion in the Forum has spilled over into the pod, with JimmyT trying to establish where or not it’s true that the law forbids strata managers from revealing owners’ email addresses in the strata roll (in NSW). Certainly, that’s what the strata managers say but neither strata law nor privacy laws seem to back that up. So why would the SCA – the strata managers’ professional body – advise its members not to pass email addresses to owners who are otherwise entitled to view all strata records? One sophisticated piece of strata management software – Rockend – even has a button you can click to hide email addresses from prying eyes. Could it be that this is one line of communication that strata managers and other strata professionals want to stay closed. Consider this, if you live in a block of 100 units and you want to run a campaign to get yourself voted on to your strata committee, that’s a lot of letters to print, envelopes to stuff and stamps to buy. One email, 100 addresses, total cost, zip. If your campaign is to get the committee or strata manager sacked, how much of an advantage is it that they have access to email addresses and you don’t!?! So, are you entitled to see other owners’ email addresses?  You’ll have to listen to the pod. Also in this week’s Flat Chat Wrap we look at the fateful day four years ago when Jimmy told then Fair Trading Minister Victor Dominello about a story Sue Williams was writing about “sunset clawbacks”. It was a loophole in the law whereby developers would deliberately delay the completion of off-the-plan apartments, invoke the sunset clause to return the purchasers’ deposits, then put the units on the market again to take advantage of soaring property values. On Sunday, new laws came in that should put paid to those dodgy dealings for good, and provide much-needed protection for off-the-plan purchasers. And finally, Jimmy previews his column in this weekend’s financial review in which he explains how a softly-softly approach to moving the bullies and buffoons from your strata committee can work much more effectively than direct confrontation.
Amazingly, this is our 50th Flat Chat wrap which means we have been doing this for almost a year. And yet, the same topics come up, time after time, albeit with the occasional (welcome) twist. For instance, co-presenter Sue Williams has had enough of Airbnb – or, at least, stories about them.  She has a point but when you are dealing with a super-aggressive interloper in the property market, you have to keep tabs on them. What have they done now?  Well, they have launched their campaign against “red tape” that they say will make it harder for ordinary working families to be able to afford seaside holidays? What red tape are they talking about? We can only assume it’s the regulations that will make it easier for holiday let guests to escape from fires and easier for the authorities to work out who’s running holiday rentals. Are they such bad things? Meanwhile, yet another major inner-city apartment block has had its "no-pets" by-law overturned  and looks to be heading for an appeal. Sue reckons this has gone beyond the right of owners corporations to establish by-laws banning animals and is now about whether or not strata schemes can make their own rules for living as they wish. Also this week we talk about the worst neighbours we’ve ever had  and who the perfect neighbour might be.  And we touch on the latest popular names for pets. That’s all in the latest Flat Chat Wrap
This week’s podcast features JimmyT and Sue Williams examining the half-million dollar turnaround in a strata defamation case, a discussion about who’s the boss in a strata scheme – the committee or the strata manager – and a chat about how we can get a bit too relaxed when we’re planning our holidays from our “lock up and leave” apartment. The first item refers to the recent Court of Appeals decision in the case of the Manly apartment block chair who earlier this year won $120,000 in damages after alleging he’d been defamed by a tenant in an internal email war. However, the Appeals Court decided there was no defamation – due to qualified privilege attached to internal discussions in a corporation – and even if there had been, the payout was excessive. So the $120,000 hit was rescinded and all costs were awarded against the chair.  With those costs estimated at $400,000, that’s a half-million reversal for the chair. All of that led to a discussion about what you should and shouldn’t say, especially online.  Basically, all legal considerations aside, a little civility and respect goes a long way … and keeps you out of trouble. Then we look at the curious case of the misrepresented minutes, in which one Flatchatter received the minutes of their AGM from the strata manager, only to find they didn’t properly reflect the content of the meeting or the decisions made. Does the committee now need to wait until the next AGM to fix them?  We say no.  The secretary takes precedence over the strata manager and he or she can issue a more accurate set of minutes and instruct the strata manager to distribute those. Was there jiggery-pokery involved? “Never ascribe to malice anything that could just as easily be explained by stupidity” is our motto at Flat Chat. And finally, we look at how “lock up and leave” living can make you a bit lazy when it comes to packing and preparing for your holidays. More sunglasses than underpants?  Some miscalculation there, we think.  And we also take a moment to promote our sister travel website Mildrover.com  where you’ll find a lot of travel features, some bargain holiday deals – and even advice on how to pack.
We cover a lot of ground in this week’s Flat Chat Wrap, starting with the surprising news that new apartments are getting bigger while houses are getting smaller.  Is it all about downsizing and empty nesters? Or did we never really need all that space to begin with?  You’ll never guess where the largest new apartments are … and Jimmy wonders what a rumpus room  really is. Also in the podcast, we hop into Building Commissioner David Chandler about apartment purchasers and “buyer beware”.  Sue (Williams) is furious and Jimmy calls it “victim blaming”. It seems the government has just parked the whole problem of defects, and cladding for that matter, passing the buck to the people at the bottom who have no choice but to cop it sweet and pay for other people’s mistakes. At least the future looks brighter for apartment quality … until the government’s mates water down the legislation to cut down on “red tape”. And finally, we look at what’s going on with Airbnb.  They have taken a few hits in the past week or two but Sue reckons the one that will hurt most is the announcement that the Tax Office is planning to target holiday let tax cheats – short-term letting hosts who haven’t declared their additional earnings or have claimed too much against tax for the costs of running their ‘business’. We reckon the threat of the tax man is more of a worry to STHL hosts  than all the by-laws, tribunals and three-strikes codes of conduct combined. And finally, we have new theme music and stings.  It’s a bit rockier and stronger, because we plan to be a lot tougher on slack politicians, dodgy developers and bad neighbours for the next year or two.  Let us know what you think If you want to subscribe to the Flat Chat Wrap and get new episodes as soon as they are posted (it’s completely free!), click on this link for iPHONE and IPAD and this one for Youtube. You can also subscribe on  Castbox or here on Spotify.  And  if you like the podcasts, please share with a friend, (especially in strata) and leave us a rating – it helps people to find us.
This week, JimmyT and Sue Williams tackle subjects that range from the sinister to the sublimely ridiculous … with some practical advice for investors in between. Why won’t the government release the lists of the 444 buildings that have flammable cladding on them? Is it the risk of terrorism, as they say … or is it just potential vandalism … or the effect on property prices? Jimmy has his own conspiracy theory … and it sounds all too plausible. Then Sue explains why, when you are buying an investment, you should go for somewhere better than the place you live in. What!?!  How does that work?  Why should your tenants live in a better place than you do? And finally, they discuss the strangest raffle prize ever – a whole apartment block worth $6.4 million in sunny Queensland. At $10 a pop, it would have to be worth a shot … but then, as Jimmy explains, there could be a downside. That’s all on this week’s Flat Chat Wrap
JimmyT thinks of changing the name of this week's episode to Hard Chat (but won't because he's scared of Tom Gleason) as he's going in hard on two very different targets. Firstly, he wants by-law breachers to either accept instant fines or face a 50 percent increase, or even more if they decide to challenge it at the Tribunal and lose. Harsh?  Not harsh enough, he reckons, for people who play the system so that only the victims and people doing the right thing are the ones that suffer. Then he thinks it's time the state government went after the developers who set out to build crappy apartment blocks then shut down their off-the-shelf company before they have to fix the many defects left behind by their shoddy work. "Sell their homes to pay for the repairs and put them in jail - that'll encourage the others to do the right thing." Finally, there's the ruling from Queensland where a magistrates court has overurned a strata commissioner block on an Airbnb ban in a gated  community.  The body corporate imposed the ban, the commissioner revoked it but the magistrate overturned the ruling because he believes the government wants communities to be able to set their own rules. And just as a side note, Jimmy takes issue with some anti-pet lobbyists who said he's been "played" by the pro-pet campaigners last week. Now that's hard!  
It’s a short and (hopefully) sweet Flat Chat Wrap this week with JimmyT flying solo as he looks at the clouds gathering over Airbnb and other holiday letting websites – and one ray of sunshine. The bright spot is Airbnb’s country pubs promotion which is bringing a bit of rural Australia into our homes … and maybe getting some of us out of the city and into the country. You can see some of the videos HERE. But the rest of the news is pretty gloomy for Airbnb and the other short-term holiday letting industry. As related elsewhere on this page, a major Airbnb-related (but not connected) management firm, AndChill, has gone bust with $3.6 million in debts. Then there’s the squeeze on holiday lets from insurers and the tax office, all exacerbated by the growing push for holiday let registers. Your home and contents insurance probably doesn’t cover you for damage done by (and to) holiday let guests. And the ATO is getting names and numbers from the sgencies to tell them who is letting flats, where they’re letting them and how much they might be making from them. Oh, and you might want to check if you have overdone the tax deductions for costs related to the flat you’ve been letting to holiday guests. It’s enough to drive a host to drink … preferably in a country pub. If you want to subscribe to the Flat Chat Wrap and get new episodes as soon as they are posted (it's completely free!), click on this link for iPHONE and IPAD and this one for Youtube. You can also subscribe on  Castbox (our favourite Podcatcher) or here on Spotify.  And  if you like the podcasts, please leave us a rating - it helps people to find us. OTHER LINKS: Jimmy Thomson’s website Sue Williams website Jimmy’s Australian Financial Review columns    
In this week’s podcast JimmyT and Sue Williams look again at the issue of the overturning of the pet ban by-law in one of Sydneys biggest and poshest apartment blocks, in the wake of the warning by the committee that any pets brought in before the appeal is heard may have to be “put down”. Is it a valid threat as there is a window when there is no active by-law?  Lawyers at ten paces, we think. And what if the Appeals Tribunal says, yes, you can have a no-pets by-law … but not that one?  Are there now enough angry people in the building to block a new by-law?  This one could run and run. On the subject of votes and “overwhelming majorities”, we discuss scenarios where a 90 percent vote for or against something, can be very deceptive – with one example tuning out to be just 36 percent of owners, rather than the 90 percent claimed. At what point do Tribunal decision set legal precedents?  Not at the basic level, that’s for sure.  And do humans have an inalienable right to keep pets?  How about the right to choose to live in a building that doesn’t have them? In the future, will developers write into the strata management documents that a block is pet-friendly or pet-free?  The former seems more likely with between 30 and 60 per cent of Australian families owning pets.  Would you reall want to reduce your potential sales or rental market by about half? Sue reveals that Cunard cruise ships now allow pets on board and even have kennels for when Mummy and Daddy go ashore. Jimmy recalls the time he wrote a promotional video about taking pets on holiday for Tourism NSW – only for the launch to be abandoned when the then tourism minister was caught with his pants down, literally, at an office party. We discuss some of the strange things people put on their apartment block roofs – like vegetable gardens, chickens and bees – and whether you should speak up when you see someone behaving badly in your strata scheme. It’s all in this week’s Flat Chat Wrap.
Blame the bank holiday, the Rugby World Cup or the need for a break, but we thought we'd revisit our old friends at the fictional (or is it?) apartment block Dardanelle Towers, where suspicion of vandalism in the car park has fallen on an unlikely culprit. Parking, terrorism and a health scare dominated the most recent meeting of the Dardanelle Towers executive committee. The parking issue came to the fore when Bernard, our long-suffering chairman was heading off to work only to discover that the locks on his car had been super-glued. Bernard’s car, a Subaru Forester, was his pride and joy. He’d had problems in the past with people “accidentally” using his space because it was close to visitor parking, and blocking him in because it was close to the lifts, but this was the first time his car had actually been vandalised. Suspicion immediately fell on the occupant of 511 who is suing us (or being sued by us) in three different courts on three different issues, one of which is his perceived right to park his spare car in visitors’ parking on the grounds that he owns a share of it and visitors don’t. This, like the rest of his cases, seems to be related to his inability to read, understand or accept strata law and by-laws – or all three. In any case, 511’s involvement in the Uhu Incident (as it is now known) was quickly refuted when Mrs Alexander (the All-Seeing Eye) informed us that he had left the building at 6.45 am the day before and had distinctly been heard saying “International Airport”. Mrs Alexander had also noted that 511 had tossed his suitcase and carry-on bag into the boot of the cab with remarkable ease, suggesting, she said, that they might have been empty, which she found suspicious. Bernard remarked that he had seen 511 in the gym many times, which may have accounted for the apparent lack of effort. Elena noted that she often travels overseas with the minimum in her bags so she can fill them up with clothes bought overseas. Ms Tran concurred. She could get a complete season’s wardrobe in Hoi An for less than the Uber fare to the airport. Everyone looked at Lady Luckby, who never lets an opportunity for casual if ingenuous racism pass, but she said nothing. Mrs A had also gone very quiet, something that did not go unnoticed by Elena. Eventually, responding to Elena’s narrowing eyes, Mrs A confessed that she had considered 511’s activity bizarre enough to warrant a call to the terrorism hotline. Elena sighed in exasperation. Mrs A had done exactly the same when she saw her relatives gathering outside our building on their way to a Lebanese wedding. One cousin had been deported – he had only overstayed his visa by a week so he could be at the wedding – and the groom barely made it to the church (they were, like the majority of Lebanese in Australia, devoutly Christian). “You can’t be too careful,” Mrs A said, as she had at the time of the wedding fiasco. “This building could be a prime target.” “I know we have two blocks,” Bernard grumbled, “but we’re hardly the Twin Towers.” He was unusually grumpy but then he had every right to be. The glueing of his car had prevented him meeting a couple of important clients, not to mention the hassle and expense of replacing the locks. It was then that Jonathan said he had a confession to make. He’d had an unexpected visitor who may have caused some confusion in the car park. In truth, his visitor was only unexpected in that he hadn’t expected her to say yes when he invited her to come round for a drink. And he was absolutely certain that she hadn’t only turned up because he offered her safe overnight parking while she went to a friend’s hen party ... although she did only stay with him for one white wine spritzer and he didn’t see her again until lunchtime the next day when she needed to be let out of the car park. There was considerable amusement when everyone realised that Jonathan, the great keeper
We cover a lot of ground in this week’s chat with journalist and author Sue Williams, including two old favourites – Airbnb and pet bans - and a brand new concept (to us at least) negative interest. Yes, you know all about negative gearing and you may have even encountered negative equity, but Sue was hearing about negative interest at a Property Summit sponsored by The Australian Financial Review and Commercial Real Estate. But before we get to that, do you get the feeling that the walls are closing in on Airbnb in Australia? It’s not just the new regulations being considered by the NSW government, now WA has come up with its own plans for holiday letting in the not-so-wild West (which you can read all about HERE). Which leads us to wonder, what was Victoria thinking when it basically handed over the keys to the high-rise kingdom to holiday letting landlords?  It’s not just about tourist dollars, we (okay, I) reckon the Victorian state government actively hates strata residents. Maybe they despise us because we are home owners, or because we have chosen to rent an apartment rather than a house like the one our parents used to live in. But wherever the complete lack of empathy comes from, apartment pioneers are making it easier for politicians to grow the city without having to build a new freeway every six months. A little respect and concern, please. Sue Williams, meanwhile, has tracked down a story that could mean the end of pet bans in all but a few apartment blocks in NSW After years of trying to overturn a blanket ban on pets in the huge Elan high-rise in Kings Cross, one owner there has finally had a win at NCAT. A senior Tribunal Member has decreed that the Elan’s by-law banning all pets under any circumstances (apart from assistance animals) is “discriminatory and oppressive”. Campaigners hope this will lead to all similar blanket bans across NSW being rescinded.  But what about the people whose religion or health concerns don’t allow them to live in the same buildings as animals? And finally Sue was at a Property Summit last week, where she found out all about negative interest.  That's where banks will basically pay you to take a loan with them, in the hope that you’ll stay with them when the ten-year fixed term runs out. Ten years of free money?  Sign me up now!  That’s all on this week’s Flat Chat Wrap Podcast.
For years I have been struck by the irony of the connection between communication and community falling asunder at the doors of apartment blocks. If there was anywhere that not only needed an internal communications system – and probably contained higher than average numbers of people able to grasp the fundamentals – it would be modern apartment blocks. People have experimented with Facebook pages and dedicated websites – but as soon as the people who set them up get fed up with having to run it, or cop more than their fair share of abuse from the block’s whingers – it all falls apart. Then, a couple of years ago, along came Stratabox (one of our sponsors). This week, I went along to co-founder Paul Chevrot’s house so who could explain what Stratabox is, how it works and who’s it for. Basically, it’s an online platform where you can put all your records, by-laws and basic building information, plus you can have virtual committee meetings, vote on issues, and raise complaints about things that need fixed or even neighbours who are misbehaving. You can book a move in or out of the block or use of facilities, discuss issues long before there’s a vote, and chat about the outcomes of decisions that have been made. You can alert your strata committee or strata manager to problems or canvass other owners about possible solutions (rather than hoping someone on the strata committee actually understands, rather than having your choices limited by the extent of their knowledge and experience. One of the interesting things that emerged from our chat was that Paul doesn’t expect every subscriber to use every aspect of the platform.  Just because it has everything you might need to help your committee run your block smoothy and efficiently, doesn’t mean you have to use all its facilities. You can sign up for a free trial of Stratabox right HERE or by clicking on the ad on the Flat Chat pages. By the way, apologies for the sound quality on the recording which occasionally makes me sound as if I’m at the bottom of a well.  Poor acoustics, inadequate equipment and pilot error all contributed. It’ll be better next week, I promise.  
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