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FLAT CHAT WRAP

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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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It’s a real mixed bag in this week’s Flat Chat Wrap podcast – finance, Airbnb and sneaky sex.Sue Williams and I start our dissection of the week’s strata news by looking at the suggestion that people suffering under building defects might get low-interest or even no-interest loans from the government.We reckon it’s better than nothing but it’s not enough.  Anyone who has ever suffered through the agonies of realising you have defects in your building, then having to fight your developer to get them fixed - if you can even find them before they phoenix into a puff of smoke – and then face raising the cash because the only people legally obliged to fix defects, regardless of who’s to blame for them, are the apartment owners.We reckon, apart from the developers and builders,  the people who have contributed most to the problem and benefitted most from it, are our successive governments, Labour and Liberal, who have become addicted to the revenue from building booms to the point where they have sold apartment owners down the river.So come on. Forget all this loans nonsense and compensate us for all the grief you’ve either caused or enabled.   There’s more on this HERE.Next cab off the rank is the government’s discussion paper on Airbnb-style holiday lets.As you will read in my Australian Financial Review column this weekend (posted here a couple of days later, Stayz has welcomed one of the proposals while Airbnb is decidedly lukewarm about the whole thing.There’s a mandatory code of conduct and an industry-managed registry of holiday lets (why does that fill me with a sense of cynical dread?) plus extraordinarily strict fire regulations which we think with do more to curb short-term holiday lets than the other two combined. Again, there’s also more on that HERE.And finally, Sue brings a tale of what happened when a friend spotted a couple having sex in the complex’s communal spa pool.  Think that sound a bit weird, wait till you hear who they were!And to think Airbnb routinely fights holiday let registers on the grounds of privacy! It’s all in this week’s Flat Chat Wrap.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 or wherever you download your podcasts.  And if you like our podcasts, please leave us a rating - it helps people to find us.OTHER LINKS:You can read all the material around the holiday letting discussion paper, and make a submission, starting HERE.And you can read Jimmy AFR piece online HERE (if you have a subscription).  It will be in print and then on this website at the weekend.Jimmy Thomson’s websiteJimmy’s Australian Financial Review columnsSue Williams Website
It would be fair to say that Flat Chat’s approach to apartment living and strata law over the years has been robustly non-academic.  We use often cite anonymous sources and unverified reports to build a picture of all that is wrong with strata living (and many things that are right).Academic researchers, by contrast, meticulously record numerous interviews, often with clearly identified and authoritative subjects, referencing other studies and reports, to reach carefully considered conclusions.One such diligent researcher is Dr Hazel Easthope of UNSW who joined us this week for the Flat Chat Wrap podcast to discuss her new book The Politics and Practices of Apartment Living which has just been published by Edgar Elgar in the UK.In the podcast we discuss why she wrote the book – basically to get a handle on all this rapidly evolving lifestyle and its challenges, and how people are coping with it in different countries – and why she wrote it the way she did.The book is structured, she says, to follow the entire life cycle of an apartment block, from the planning stage to the eventual extinction of the strata scheme for renewal or even demolition.What she discovered was that, even though different parts of the world have different strata systems, everyone has basically the same issues – defects, lack of communication within the blocks and with their committees and managers, selfish residents and lack of understanding of rights and responsibilities.One universal issue was the lack of concern for and communication with tenants, who are routinely locked out of information, decision-making and community activities.This, of course, is hugely ironic since renters make up more than half the residents of  apartment blocks and are basically financing half the investment in strata homes (along with, in Australia, the subsidies provided by taxpayers via negative gearing).Hazel Easthope highlighted efforts in community building in Vancouver, with “street parties” and volunteer concierges, but she also talked about the problem of hijacked buildings in South Africa.There, in the “white flight” that followed the end of apartheid, luxury apartments in the posher parts of Johannesburg were abandoned by their owners, taken over by squatters, allowed to deteriorate with power cut off, affecting lifts, lights, sewerage and water supplies, and then criminal gangs moved in to “manage” them.The city council is trying to recover the buildings for paying renters but the problem is that with the majority of strata owners long gone, mostly overseas, there is no one to sign off on the legally required documents.And finally, she tells a funny but alarming story about what happened when two different companies were contracted to complete vital work on the same building.All in all, it’s a fascinating discussion about a very interesting book.    
 If you live in apartments for long enough it’s almost impossible not to catch a glimpse into other people’s lives. Most of us look away, hoping that the same courtesy will be afforded to us by anyone inadvertently seeing more than they should.But sometimes curiosity gets the better of us and an innocent, accidental glance turns into a look that lingers longer that it ought.OK that's understandable , but then there’s out and out voyeurism, when someone spends way too much time spying on their neighbours.It’s the latter that forms the theme of Rear Window, a movie that television historian Andrew Mercado and I discuss in the second part of our podcast about fictional apartment blocks in TV and film.Starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly, and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Rear Window turned 65 this month, its world premiere having been staged on August 4, 1954.  Having watched it (again) last weekend, I can say it still stands the test of time.Stewart plays a news photographer temporarily confined to a wheelchair who amuses himself by watching the goings on in apartments across the alleyway, then becomes convinced he has witnessed a murder.The view, supposedly the back alley of a Greenwich Village, New York block, was actually a specially built set on Paramount studio’s movie lot in Hollywood. But if nothing else, the discussion brought home to me how your memory can play tricks on you.Firstly, I thought I’d never seen it before, but it all came back to me when I watched it again (on Foxtel, for $3.95).  Then, as I say on the podcast, I envisaged Stewart looking through a telescope.  In fact, it’s a camera with a telephoto lens.And finally, largely thanks to the publicity picture above, I was sure it was in in black and white but in was actually in glorious Technicolour (and well worth a look whether you’ve seen it before, or not).Andrew and I also talk about The Apartment (Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine) which seems very odd in these days of “me too”, since it centres around an office worker who feels obliged to lend his apartment to his boss so he (the boss) can have an affair with his secretary.  See, back in the day, that’s what people thought apartments were for.Green Card, the movie directed by Peter Weir gets a mention which leads to a discussion about how some of the characters in TV sitcoms could afford to live in these huge apartments in New York.It’s a pretty wide-ranging chat and at least it lets us see another side to apartment living that isn’t under the cloud of defects and cladding.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 or wherever you download your podcasts.  And if you like our podcasts, please leave us a rating - it helps people to find us.OTHER LINKS:You can also hear Andrew talking about television on his Mediaweek podcast HERE.Jimmy Thomson’s websiteJimmy’s Australian Financial Review columns 
There’s so much doom and gloom around strata at the moment you feel you’re missing out if your apartment block isn’t on fire, falling down or both.So we’ve decided to lighten the load in this week’s podcast with a look at TV shows that were set in apartment blocks, especially Australian shows.And for that, there is no better person to sit at the Flat Chat microphone than producer, critic, writer, broadcaster, media podcaster and now cinema owner Andrew Mercado.Andrew is a total Number 96 geek, not least because he produced the TV doco Number 96 … The Final Years. So, once we’ve heard about the joys of cinema ownership, that’s where we start our discussion.It turns out that Number 96 was intended to be a vertical version of the UK’s Coronation St, which was very popular when the series was first devised by David Sale for Network 10 in 1972.Television history will show that it went way beyond that in terms of its content, characters and shockingly liberal use of nudity (certainly for the time).We then move on to my own show, Breakers – didn’t you know JimmyT was writing TV dramas before he ever typed a word about strata? – and how that fell foul of different censorship laws in Australia and the UK.In Australia at the time, TV stations could show PG-rated stuff in the afternoons when kids were at school, but in the UK, it was general release stuff during the afternoons, which caused a problem with the BBC who had bought the series.This was an issue because we had the first gay teenager as a permanent character in a teen soap (as well as the first Aboriginal kid as a permanent role).For his efforts to push the envelope, Jimmy was exposed in his former newspaper in Scotland as “The man who wants to bring under-age gay sex to afternoon TV.”  Talk about fake news!Moving on, we chat about how the Secret Life of Us could have been shot in Sydney … and why it wasn’t.We look at Wonderland which Jimmy says was Breakers for grown-ups – partly because it was created by Sarah Walker, the senior writer on that show.Andrew reckons Wonderland was “too nice”, an opinion backed up by Sarah – who, by a weird coincidence, Jimmy bumped into the next day – who confirmed the network only wanted positive stories.Oh, and she denies it was Breakers for grown-ups; she says they were trying to make Sex and the City for Australia.And finally, we talk about The Heights, the serial drama set in a Housing Commission apartment block which, in their wisdom, the network commissioned as half-hours then decided to run in one-hour blocks complete with two sets of titles and credits.It’s still a very good show, Jimmy and Andrew agree, and they love the fact that you can binge on the whole series on iView.Having rambled on about TV for way too long, Andrew and Jimmy’s chat about the movies and American TV shows set in apartments will have to wait till next week.You can also hear Andrew talking about television and movies on his Mediaweek podcast HERE.OTHER LINKS:Jimmy Thomson’s websiteSue Williams websiteJimmy’s Australian Financial Review columns
How would you feel if you suddenly had 50 to 100 strangers walking through your lobby every day, clogging up the lifts just when you are trying to get to work or when you come home?These are the fears raised by residents of two neighbouring buildings on Sydney’s North Shore (and discussed in our podcast) where the very loosely defined approval for commercial development inside a residential building means that, in one instance, what was intended to be a gym looks like it’s going to be an open plan office, while a similar fate awaits what was supposed to be half a dozen separate small business attracting very little foot traffic.You can read the whole story by following the link to Sue Willams story at the end but it got us talking about whether owners corporations (bodies corporate) have the right to decide what kind of businesses occupy the commercial spaces in their buildings – and should they have that right if they don’t?Also in the podcast, JimmyT hops into two of his hobby horses in one discussion when he chats about a phenomenon detected in Queensland where Airbnb is apparently undermining the viability of some on-site caretaker managers.Just to recap, the pre-sale of onsite management rights is something that Jimmy frequently describes as legalised corruption. Illegal everywhere else in Australia, it’s a grubby cash grab in the Queensland law that allows developers to sell the management rights to as-yet unbuilt apartment blocks.That means the eventual owners not only have no say in the terms and conditions of the contracts, which can be for 25 years, they are obliged to pay inflated levies to cover the cost of the purchase.However, recent changes in strata law in Queensland mean that owners are no longer obliged to go through the on-site caretakers when they want to rent their properties to holidaymakers.Enter Airbnb which not only takes a much lower cut of the rent, it allows the owners to rent their properties to whomever they want.  Now, Jimmy has been a long-standing critic of Airbnb commercial set-ups in residential buildings but this, he says, may be a rare case of two wrongs making a right.  In any case, holiday rentals have long been part of the strata scene in Queensland so it's not like they are turning purely residential blocks into hotels.And finally we have the sad case of a stolen pot plant, as reported in our Forum.  Sue, who tends to see the best in people has some interesting thoughts on how a residents’ cleaner could be seen taking a pot plant from common property and get away with it.Jimmy blames the cleaner’s employer.  How could that work?  For that you’ll need to listen to the podcast which is also available on YoutubeOTHER LINKSSue’s story on the commercial blocksJimmy Thomson’s websiteSue Williams websiteJimmy’s Australian Financial Review columns 
In this week's Podcast, Jimmy Thomson and Sue Williams discuss why it is that we can get ratings and comparisons for just about everything we buy ... except the largest purchase most of us will ever make.  And they float the idea of people being given (and losing) a licence to live in strata.We have a friend called Royce who wouldn’t buy so much as a toothbrush without checking online to see if it was the best design (at the best price) for his specific dental needs. He is so notorious for his exhaustive product checking that our group of friends refers to the process as “Roycing”.For instance, you say you’re thinking of buying a particular brand of new TV and someone says “Oh, have you Royced it?”We were reminded about that this week, after my piece in last weekend’s Australian Financial Review about how to avoid buying an apartment with built-in problems, when we realised there is no independent ratings system for apartment blocks, builders or developers.So in this week’s Flat Chat Wrap, journalist and author Sue Williams and I ask why it is that you can go online and get people’s opinions of hotels and resorts on websites like Tripadvisor (and others), but you can’t get any unbiased, independent reviews of developers, builders and even apartment blocks.That segued into our chat about how a star rating might work.  We think you could start with everyone getting three stars, which they could lose by poor service and bad behaviour, and gain by just providing a decent service. We’re not talking about losing points for having a building with defects – it’s more about how they deal with the defects once they have been discovered.If a developer compels their apartment owners to take them to court, and then they lose the case, that’s a silver star gone immediately.On the other hand, if they have a good record of dealing with owners’ issues, in a timely and reasonable fashion, those silver stars turn gold.  Could it work? Yes, but, to be honest, we are more likely to have some half-cocked voluntary code of conduct foisted on us.But all that chat about bad actors on the developer and builder side, got us talking about a similar system for strata residents. We came up with the idea of a licence to live in strata, which everyone got for free as soon as they signed up to rent or buy, but then lost points – and eventually the ability to live in strata completely – if they turned out to be antisocial pains in the ass.Moving on, Sue told us about the giant loophole in strata law that means you can get orders issued by NCAT but then they don’t have the power to enforce them if the subject of the order just ignores themWe also talked about who pays the power bills when residents put their own washing machines and dryers in common property laundries.And we discussed residents who own more cars than parking spots, who permanently use visitor parking as atheir own. Should you crack down on them, even when there’s plenty of visitor parking to spare?Or is it, to use that phrase beloved of lawyers around the world, “a matter of principle”?That’s all in this week’s Flat Chat Wrap:https://episodes.castos.com/flatchatpod/Flat-Chat-32-Ratings.mp3And it’s also available on YouTube.OTHER LINKSJimmy Thomson’s websiteSue Williams website
In this week’s episode of the Flat Chat Wrap we look at the revelation that the Opal and Mascot towers “disasters” are just the tip of a very large apartment block defects  iceberg.Jimmy Thomson and Sue Williams have been writing about apartment block defects – and other, happier apartment-related issues – for more than 15 years.In this episode of the Flat Chat Wrap, Sue recalls the time more than a decade ago that a feature on defects almost cost her job, when a property writer with a close personal relationship with a developer, saw her expose on apartment block defects and called her friend.The developer called the editor and threatened to pull all their advertising if the story went ahead. The editor caved in.  Sue offered her resignation but it was turned down (although she is now a freelance working mostly for other publications).That’s just part of the reason that the whole grubby business of building defects, government lack of interest (to the point almost of collusion) and corporate cover-ups have led to the point we are at now where ordinary people don’t know for sure whether or not their apartment is going to have serious building problems at some point.This episode looks at two of the root causes of the problem – phoenixing and lack of “duty of care” and how they can, together, leave apartment owners with little or no consumer protection.Phoenixing is when a development company builds an apartment block and then goes into liquidation when the claims for defect rectification come in. However, a similar company with similar or identical directors can then rise from the ashes of the previous entity and do the same thing over and over again.“Duty of care” or the lack of it relates to a legal precedent established last year that said builders only have a responsibility to apartment block developers, not to the people who bought the apartments.One of the legal arguments was that they couldn’t have contract responsibility to the apartment owners through their owners’ corporation (body corporate) since that body didn’t exist when the contracts were signed.So you can see, remove the developer (who has gone into voluntary liquidation), and the apartment owner is left high and dry.NSW is planning to create the position of Building Commissioner to deal with these and other problems, including the certification of engineers and developers. We’ll be watching with interest to see how that pans out.On a happier note, Sue has also been looking at the winners of the NSW Architecture Awards and some of the innovative designs that caught the judges’ eyes.LINKS:SMH feature on defectsSue Williams on Architecture awardsFlat Chat WebsiteJimmy Thomson’s websiteSue Williams website Jimmy’s Australian Financial Review columns
Jimmy Thomson investigates four different kinds of insurance (including Airbnb) and why telling one little white lie about whether or not you were allowed to have short-term letting in your apartment could invalidate your cover.He's joined by Steve Tchepak, Acting Head of Underwriting at our sponsors CHU Insurance.
Confronted by images of residents of Mascot Tower evacuating the building, the NSW government has moved relatively swiftlly to plug the accommodation gap with a loan to the Owners Corporation to cover the cost of emergency billets for the owners and renters.As JimmyT and Sue Williams discuss in this week's podcast, the state government's loan may never have to be paid back, because they think they know what (and who) caused the structural damage and it's eminently possible it wasn't building defects.And even if it does turn out to be defects - and the block is well out of warranties - the loan may never have to be paid back "at the government's discretion."Meanwhile we ask, if you can find money to rehouse evacuees (quite rightly), what about all the people facing massive bills to remediate flammable cladding which is only on buildings, risking life and limb, because of the slack attitudes of a procession of governments in this state.You're happy to take our stamp duty - how about offering us some protections?  That's all in this week's podcast ... and more.
Residents of the 130-plus apartments in the Mascot Tower apartment block in Sydney's South were evacuated over the weekend when cracks in walls and supporting beams suddenly widened. JimmyT and Sue Williams discuss what this means for the residents of this block and all the others built in Sydney to the same standards around the same time. And they come up with a proposal to at least stem the waves of panic and confusion the next time this happens as, they say, it surely will ...
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