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Flat Chat

A home ... not a hotel

OK, it's a bit like saying we have the best cricket team in Belgium but I'm beginning to realise that here in NSW we have far and away the best strata system in Australia.

For instance, be very careful if your planned sea change is to an apartment in Queensland (Victoria is a whole other mess).

North of the Tweed, most apartment blocks are run almost exclusively for the investment and tourist industry with short-term lets de rigeur and resident owners often just a handy way of sopping up excess capacity.

In the sunshine state, developers sell 25-year multi-million-dollar ironclad building management contracts to whomever they like (whether they know how to manage buildings or not) and the owners, by law, have absolutely no say in it.

According to very reliable reports, resident owners are often treated badly in the hope that they will move out and add their apartment to the letting pool - the building manager can't get rental commissions from apartments occupied full-time by owners.

But before you get too smug, be warned: some building managers in NSW are agitating to have our laws brought into line with Queensland's. And some companies are already blatantly ignoring our council zoning with illicit short-term lets - on a commercial scale - in residential apartment buildings, especially in the CBD.

These managers say they are looking after "the majority" of owners. By definition, this majority is non-resident and has no doubt been lured by the thought of hotel room rates.

They also talk about protecting "mum and dad investors" and "the great Aussie tradition" of holiday lets; phrases you'll hear a lot as they try to turn our homes into Queensland-style free-for-alls.

But make no mistake, this whole debate is about greed rather than need.

Sydney desperately needs more people to live in apartments - either as owners or renters. We have buildings that clearly allow short-term lets and others that clearly don't. When move into the latter, you shouldn't have to fear that some day your neighbours will be a procession of visiting footie fans, bucks parties or schoolies.

That's why we have zoning laws and it's why this is one bunch of cane toads we really need to stop at the border.

First published SMH September 2007