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Flat Chat

Deaf to doof-doof

NB: There are several reader responses at the end of this article

A couple of weeks ago Sydney mayor Clover Moore asked the State Government to do something about heavy bass noise from surround sound systems in apartments. The Government's spokeswoman blithely replied that there are already laws in place to deal with this growing problem.

It's true, there are laws - but, sadly, they are a joke. Your neighbour could be rattling your dentures with bass-heavy movies and music all day and most of the night, and it could take you months, if not years, to get anything done about it.

Here's how it works. A strata complaint has to go to an Executive Committee meeting before a breach notice can be issued. If that is ignored, the Executive Committee can take the miscreant to the Office of Fair Trading for mediation. Already we are talking between two and six weeks, on average, from the initial complaint.

If that fails, another few weeks pass while the issue is referred to the Consumer Trader & Tenancy Tribunal for a "paper" adjudication, during which time you can assume the noise has continued.

According to its own figures, fewer than 25 percent of strata matters are resolved by the tribunal within the first month of a problem reaching its desks.

If either side isn't happy with the result, it can go to a full tribunal hearing and finally, adding in time for delays, all too frequent no-shows and appeals, several months and even years later the antisocial neighbour may face a fine.

So Lord Mayor Moore was absolutely right to raise the issue. The existing laws just don't work in this day and age. All it takes is one selfish bastard with a souped-up hi-fi and an "I can do what I like in my own home" attitude, and the whole strata complaints system is exposed as a well-intentioned sham.

One suggested law change would allow Executive Committees to fine residents - subject to a 75 percent majority vote to eliminate personal vendettas - and let the miscreants go running to Fair Trading and beg for relief.

It's a good idea because the reality is, with a genuine and workable deterrent in place, the problem would probably disappear with the flick of a remote control. - JT

A Fine Idea

I live in the ACT hence our complex is covered by ACT legislation - the Unit Titles Act 2001. Unfortunately the Department of Fair Trading does not involve itself in these sorts of things and aggrieved owners are left to deal with the Magistrates Court; an impossible and impractical mission on almost all accounts including costs.

The executive committee in our complex was encouraged several years ago to introduce a fines system into its Articles (a la your By-Laws) for breaches of our Articles. There is no doubt that the threat of a fine, when used, has lead to a positive outcome. Unfortunately our current EC has refused to impose fines and that raises another question.

It would seem to me that if, in NSW, a By-Law was introduced by the Owners Corporation then the change in the law to which you refer has been met? - PH

Thing don't go better with Coke-fiends

I read your column each week with great interest and, too frequently, despair. I sold my long time home (unit) at Cremorne Point some six years ago and now live (blissfully) in a house.

A time will come when I will have to return to home unit living - hence the sense of despair I have when reading your column.

I reluctantly gave up my home as the demographics of the 9-unit block changed. When I moved into the block there was only one tenant. It was then a happy building. I was the only owner occupying a flat when I sold. It was then a very unhappy building.

Whilst most of the tenants were wonderful neighbours, the ex-pat owner above me rented his flat to a succession of affluent tenants: the types who live in pig-styes and look a million dollars as they drive out of the premises in their Mercedes or BMW - also known as the cocaine set.

The last two (and most malicious) tenants annoyed each and every occupier of the building and neighbours in adjoining properties on a regular basis through loud dinner parties, inconsiderate parking, littering the grounds, throwing rubbish over the balconies, slamming doors -you name it, they did it!.

The other tenants were concerned about making a fuss and perhaps being victimised or losing the flat if they annoyed the owners of their rented flats or managing agents. The owners, whilst making the right noises, found it too difficult to assist or spend money rectifying the situation. The ex-pat owner of the flat rented by the offending tenants did attempt to address the situation, but those attempts were inept.

Neighbours in the houses around us complained bitterly to me and others. They, like me, would call the police when appropriate.

The local police were superb - clearing out a drug dealer at one stage. But still the problems with inconsiderate tenants continued.

I came to feel as though I was a whinging, harping, territorial misery-guts. With the passage of time since, I recognise that I am not, having lived very happily (as I used to in Cremorne Point before the troubles in the building) in a supportive community.

The above diatribe is the background to my suggestions:
1. Law reform, assisted by an Owners Corporation Guild Association;
2. Assistance from experts (including, for example, lobyists, builders, engineers, sociologists, psychologists and lawyers) to structure proposals for law reform which are workable and not easy to ignore;
3. Community Justice and Dispute Resolution vehicles (such as those used in The Netherlands and Scandinavia) which are constituted so as to be accessible to all in a timely fashion, not just those who can afford it, properly funded with representative assistance to those who feel they are not articulate enough to say what needs to be said.

Of course these are expensive suggestions. One would hope that once the systems were running smoothly, and the message was "out" that such reforms were effective in giving members of the community adversely affected by the anti-social behaviour of others a remedy, the running costs would be moderated.

However, the cost to the community in not addressing the entrenched problems of home unit living faced by all sectors of the community which manifest themselves in depression, illness and downright unhappiness must be far greater than the mere material cost to the wider community, especially given that we are meant to be an affluent society. -PC

London Calling

Or alternatively - a way that works really well in London is that the police have the powers to seize and confiscate the equipment.
One complaint to the police will provoke a warning, a 2nd misdemenour will result in them walking off with the equipment, surround sound, bass amplifiers and all. If the noise is being made at specific hours (usually late at night) the first warning doesn't even have to happen - they just take the stuff.

Here the police don't seem to be able to do anything constructive or lasting as they just get to knock on the doors and ask them to be quiet. As one that has put up with selfish renters in our block I am all for some greater powers to curb those that don't have the manners or that just can't seem to get it in their head that we have to live together.

Another alternative would be to put them all into exile somewhere remote where neighbours wouldn't be an issue. lets match people with different tastes in music and see how they all get on - the next reality show? - EL

First published SMH August 2007