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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 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 websiteSue Williams websiteJimmy’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 NSWAfter 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. 
We write and talk a lot about property developers in Flat Chat – not often in positive terms – but we rarely get the chance to hear their side of the story, at least, untainted by promotional spin for some new project or another.So it was a pleasure to sit down recently with Chris Johnson, CEO of the Urban Taskforce, and get his views on what is happening in the world of apartment development for the Flat Chat Wrap podcast.Chris is the former State Architect for NSW and Urban Taskforce represents the top developers in the country, so he knows a fair bit about the subject.  On top of that, he is as passionate about apartment living as we are – although from a slightly different perspective.The discussion in this week’s podcast is wide-ranging and occasionally surprising.We can’t ignore the issue of defects in new buildings, not least because of the damage that has done to public confidence.  It could take years to recover but Chirs believes the only way is up – literally – as cities reach their physical and geographical limits.He believes the days of the McMansion are numbered, partly because you can’t fit any more houses into the space available but also because there's a sea change in public thinking.We are moving away from the “I, me, mine” mindset into more collaborative, sharing communities, he says.  He cites a development in Roseberry where there is a childcare centre right on the ground floor, so it obviously attracts families.However, those families take it a stage further, with parents taking turns to host “play dates” where all the kids can go to different unit blocks each of which has its own playground - yes, they have children's playgrounds - and swimming pools that they don't have to worry about maintaining.  It certainly gives the lie to the old thinking that apartments are no place for young families.You can find out more about that in an Urban Taskforce publication about why people love apartment living.Elsewhere in our wide-ranging discussion, Chris muses about why registration of architects and engineers wouldn’t have prevented the crisis at the Opal building – the internationally known architects and engineers on that project would “get registration with their eyes closed” – and why a return to council-based certification wouldn’t have prevented the issues in the Mascot Tower (it was certified by the local council).However, Chris does think there’s merit in a continuing “duty of care” from builders to apartment owners while making every contractor and sub-contractor take responsibility for their work in the construction of an apartment block.He also thinks the “missing middle” in home building is unlikely to be filled with town-houses, if only because of the flawed economics of replacing a single dwelling with two terraced houses.Instead he foresees a spread of European style, medium-rise, four or five story blocks – small enough not to lose human scale and deter communities but tall enough to merit installing the lifts that down-sizing baby boomers will demand.There’s all that and more in this week’s podcast.You can subscribe to the Flat Chat Wrap and get new episodes on your phone, tablet or computer completely free as soon as they are posted - just 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
This week the Flat Chat Wrap podders look at the ridiculous cost of parking spaces, the new forms of flat-sharing and we finish off our chat with Jane Hearn about the proposed short-term letting register – and why Airbnb hates it so much.First up, JimmyT and Sue Williams talk about why parking spaces are no longer at such a premium (despite one that previously sold at auction for $260,000 coming up for sale).People who live near transport hubs don’t need cars as much as they used to and the flawed economics of paying for a lump of steel to sit in a car space all week, waiting for you to maybe go for a drive, just don’t add up, especially when there are car-sharing services like Go-Get literally on strata owners doorsteps.We also touch on parking space sharing and an innovative idea being trialled in multi-story car parks in Brisbane, where empty floors are turned into overnight shelters for homeless people, complete with showers, toilets, security and even hairdressers.And talking of homelessness, we kick the tyres of a couple of other innovative ideas – next generation boarding houses and co-living spaces.In both cases, these are blocks where studio units are smaller than normal – with tiny kettle and microwave spaces and small bathrooms – but that’s compensated by large shared kitchens and social areas and other facilities like gyms and swimming pools.As Sue reports, even luxury apartment developer Crown are looking at getting into co-living in a big way, with plans to add value to the communities with gym, cooking, yoga and music classes.  In fact, CEO Iwan Sunito thinks these classes are such a good idea he plans to look at extending them to his residential apartment blocks.One downside Sue discovered with the co-living and next-gen boarding houses already operating in Sydney is that many of the properties are already listed on holiday letting ewebsites like Airbnb.So much for easing the affordable housing crisis!And on the subject of Airbnb, in the second part of their conversation, Jimmy and Jane Hearn, vice-chair of the Owners Corporation Network, explore why the online letting agency is against the proposed register.We can guess why – a register would expose all the illicit lets, as has occurred elsewhere in the world, with Tokyo seeing a drop of 80 per cent in listings when a register was brought in there last year.But will it stick?  Not without serious penalties and measures to allow owners corporations to check on how the apartments in their buildings are being used, say our podders.  And that may be a bridge too far for our pro-Airbnb, anti-apartment resident politicians. 
Just when you thought it was safe to dip your toe into the Airbnb discussion, it turns out the proposed new laws are not what they seem. The 180-day cap on whole-home lets  can be extended by your local council, there’s a mysterious 21-night option that doesn’t count against the cap and Airbnb is gearing up to fight really tough fire safety regulations (which are fine by Stayz, by the way). This week’s podcast welcomes Deputy Chair of the Owners Corporation Network Jane Hearn who gives us a fascinating insight into the loopholes and pitfalls lurking in the new short-term holiday letting regulations that are currently up for discussion. It’s an interesting perspective. The government has allowed itself to be corralled into focussing on the social impact of holiday lets – noise and disruption – at the expense of, arguably, more serious issues like the impact on rents, housing availability and the “hollowing” of our cities where prime properties are given over to holiday lets. It’s quite clear that the Government’s attempts to mould one-size-fits-all regulations into the various needs of rural, coastal, inner city communities, living in houses and apartments, is likely to make no one happy. The influence of outside forces on the liveability of our homes seems to be of zero concern compared to the revenue from tourist dollars.  Once again, apartment residents are a cash cow for the government, or perhaps we are geese whose golden eggs are staring to crack like jerry-built apartment blocks. One thing to come out of the podcast is for everyone who doesn’t want short-term letting in their buildings and who doesn’t have a holiday letting by-law on their books to get one now. The OCN has devised an off-the-peg by-law that you can buy for a fifth of the normal fees – and this one will stick through any legal challenges the online letting agencies can throw at them (it says here). But seriously, once the regs are in place, the next battleground for apartment blocks will be by-laws and you can bet that any strata building that that doesn’t already have one, and where short-term lets are a growing issue, is suddenly going to find 25 percent of owners rocking up to general meetings, in person or by proxy,  to make sure that mothership in San Francisco doesn’t lose any prime properties that can be kept open. Does that sound a little bit paranoid? Look at the 300-plus identical Astroturf (fake grassroots) letters already sent to Planning NSW to object to the regulations we are now discussing. And if Crazy JimmyT doesn’t fire you up, have a listen to Jane Hearn – a calm voice of experience and reason that will scare the proxies off you! Finally, you can make your submission to the discussion process by going to the Planning NSW portal.  Don’t wait – you only have till September 11.
This week the Flat Chat Wrap podcast is all about conflict and various forms of resolution … including revolution.First Sue Williams and I take a look at we take a look at mediation and what it actually means. In NSW and Queensland, mediation is an obligatory precursor to asking for an adjudication at your state tribunal.In Victoria it kind of is too, but isn’t really.  It’s called conciliation there, and is more of a recommended option than an obligation. How much it harms your case if you don’t even try to resolve it, is hard to say – depends on who is hearing your case at the tribunal, probably.For many people involved in disputes, it’s just a box to be ticked off before you put on the boxing gloves and get in the ring for the real fight.Others turn up, fired up with righteous indignation, clutching a sheaf of by-laws and print-outs from the Flat Chat Forum, only to discover the mediator is more life coach and less umpire than they would like.In short, unless the respondent in your case is prepared to concede defeat because they can sense failure and humiliation at the Tribunal, you are either going to have to cede some ground yourself, or gird your loins for phase two of the fight.And it has to be said that I many cases the other side of the argument doesn’t even show up.  Why? Because they don’t have to.Moving on, we discuss how to get rid of a “despotic, neurotic and psychotic” chair of an apartment block – and again it’s different in all the states.In NSW you have to pass a special resolution at general meeting to remove any or all of the owners from a committee.  However, the committee can replace any office-bearer just by voting another of their number into the role.It’s similar in Victoria but in Queensland the general meeting chooses the office-bearers even before they elect the committee.  That means only a general meeting can sack an officer of the body corporate.Oh, and there’s a couple of quirky rules that don’t exist anywhere else that can get you kicked off a committee in Queensland.And finally, introduced by a song from Groucho Marx, Sue meets architect Daniel Meszaros who has collected a whole bunch of crazy objections neighbours put up to prevent developments and turned them into cartoons that you can see HERE.
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
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