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Owners’ Corporation Law - August 2017

02 Aug 2017

A siren song calling for fair play

By Tom Bacon, Strata Title Lawyers

In the middle of the day a few weeks back, and in the midst of my busy professional life running a legal practice in this increasingly complex area of law, I received a phone call that stopped me in my tracks.

It was a call from a locum, ringing in on behalf of an owners’ corporation (OC) manager that I was dealing with on a few matters for various clients.

The locum explained that the OC manager had gone missing. No one had heard from him in a week and the police were involved. The whole office where he worked was in shock.

In my experience, the OC manager was a great bloke. He was professional, down to earth, committed and caring – all of the right qualities for a successful manager.

It occurred to me, having re-read some of the more recent email correspondence between that manager and his clients over the weeks and months leading up to his disappearance, that the workload was becoming an issue.

Cracks were appearing, tempers were fraying and you could see the unrealistic expectations being placed on both this manager and the clients.

Mental health issues in the professional industries such as law and accounting are getting a lot of attention and media coverage these days, and for good reason. But mental health issues amongst strata professionals are not well-ventilated, and this needs to change.

The strata industry is still in its infancy in Australia, and in my view is terribly unsophisticated when it comes to risk management.

Directors of strata companies can make a small fortune in this industry, but the business model is based on loading up young and often inexperienced managers with huge portfolios of buildings and leaving them to sink or swim.

To compound matters, owners and committee members (particularly new ones) are not clear on the roles and boundaries between what an OC manager can and cannot do for an OC. This leads to unrealistic expectations that cannot be met and an erosion of confidence in the manager.

Typically, managers work very long hours, from the time they arrive in the morning (usually greeted by dozens of emails and phone calls) until late at night after they drive home from meetings. There is often not a lot of time left over for family and loved ones.

By its very nature, having a work and life balance while working as an OC manager will be difficult to achieve and the manager knows and accepts that comes with the territory, but overall the industry does need to improve its act. Unfortunately, the macro answer is for fees to be raised across the board – strata companies need to devote more resources (through the smarter deployment of staff and through investments in technology) to improve efficiency and output.

OC managers are tasked with administering hundreds of millions of dollars of property on behalf of owners, and mistakes will continue to be made until strata companies modify their business model.

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