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Flat Chat

Yes, Minister, there are problems

Welcome, our new Fair Trading Minister Linda Burney, to the wonderful world of strata. I don't know if your predecessor left you a "things to do list" - I suspect there wouldn't be much on it since she didn't think that there was very much needing done. But then, she's gone and you're here ... maybe there's a clue in that.

So here's a free crib sheet on a few issues you could look at right away, and improve the lot of nearly two million strata dwellers overnight.

Dispute Complaints: Your advisers will tell you that we have one of the best systems in the world - maybe we have - but that may only mean our particular form of quicksand sucks slower than the others.

Taking two years or more to reach a conclusion where one neighbour is making another's life miserable is nothing to be proud of. The real test of the Office of Fair Trading/Consumer Trader and Tenancy Tribunal system is that huge numbers of complaints are simply abandoned because it's too hard to get basic justice. That's not the mark of an effective system.

Building Managers: There are approaching 500 professional building managers in NSW, looking after multimillion dollar budgets for huge buildings. But they are not licensed and operate under rules designed for caretakers of 12 apartment walk-up blocks. As a result, apartment owners are being cheated, conned and tied to ten-year contracts. It's a glaring anomaly and an embarrassing taint on your department - don't let anyone tell you it's not.

Defects: All new buildings have defects - it's a simple fact - but developers have myriad ways of manipulating the system so that owners have to gamble hundreds of thousands of dollars in court fees just to get what they paid for. If the Owners Corporation has been hijacked by developer-held proxies - standard practice these days - it's left to individuals to take billion-dollar companies to court. Defects should be independently assessed. Let the developers take the assessors to court if they don't like the result.

That's probably enough to be going on with in your first week in the job. But, trust me, those blank spaces on your predecessor's to-do list are an indication of how much needs to be done, not how little.

First published SMH April 2007