Disrupting the status quo
The block of 22 units we discuss here is situated in the leafy Lower North Shore of Sydney and managed by nine committee members and a strata manager. To protect the guilty, we don’t identify the block or name anyone.
Until recent events, the committee has been d ominated by the chairperson, treasurer and secretary (Officers) – all quite hands on and controlling – and a strata manager who did their bidding.
The cat was put among the pigeons when the Officers overplayed their role and imposed an unlawful penalty on three lot owners, including an otherwise obliging committee member.
William Congreve wrote, in 1697, “Hell knows no fury like a woman scorned.” Oops, the aggrieved Committee member was a woman (Jane Doe) – blonde and blue-eyed. She didn’t meet the stereotype, but some men are slow to learn.
Bickering continued between the Officers and Jane Doe about the imposition of the penalty, with an informal meetingconvened, and it went from bad to worse.
The white flag was raised and the Officers withdrew the unlawful penalties “this time.” “Not good enough”, said Jane Doe, ‘you owe us an apology and an admission on the record that acknowledges the penalties imposed were unlawful.’
That was a step too far and the Officers spat the dummy and resigned. Jane Doe offered, along with her husband whose company owned a separate unit, to fill the vacancies. That was unexpected; they incorrectly assumed if they resigned the owners would come begging for them to stay. Wrong. “Pride cometh before the fall.”
Jane Doe promptly called for a formal meeting to ratify the resignations and new appointments as well as the decisions of the informal meeting. She drafted agenda after agenda – all of which were rejected by the former Officers and the Strata manager who, in an attempt to hold things up, suggested he could not assist with the agenda as he was not at the informal meeting. Truth be told, he rarely (if ever) attended strata committee meetings.
Jane Doe addressed the various criticisms about the agenda, finalised it and directed the strata manager to serve it. He was off somewhere and pushed his assistant under the bus who had the habit of referring to the chairperson as Mr President.
Aside from these power play shenanigans, the building was suffering from real problems – long term water penetration into two top floor apartments. Some expert advice was sought and obtained. Three quotes were provided by contractors. Contractor one provided a detailed scope of works and a price. Jane Doe discovered the strata manager provided contractor one’s quote to contractors two and three. She raised this with the strata manager whose explanation was he thought he would share the scope of works . The strata manager suggested he did this to streamline things. Hmm!
Jane Doe thought something stank in the State of Denmark so organised an inspection of the records. The strata manager said they were transitioning from a paper record to paperless. They provided a tablet on which there was one unrelated letter. The rest were hard copy documents and good, old-fashioned minute books.
Save from the chairperson’s/president’s email, there were no communications relating to the lead up to the resignations. Nor was there any records relating to the other quotes concerning the water penetration problem which had been going around in circles for too many months to count. More hmmm!!
There were plenty of invoices from the chairperson’s company, which seemed to be fulfilling the role of building manager although the name of the company suggested it was in the fire protection business. Even more hmmm!!!
The strata manager said he had no records relating to the chairperson’s company, including any contract, nor were there any General Meeting minutes or any record relating to the obvious conflict of interest and pecuniary interest required under Schedule 2, Section 18, save the tax invoices which the treasurer had authorised for payment. Damn you Jane Doe! Everything ran smoothly until you started snooping around.
As years transpired, meetings were a mix of informal meetings and formal meetings. Communications were rarely, if ever, tabled. There was inconsistency with whom the communications were and are shared. Sometimes all committee members would be included and sometimes not. This too was known by the strata manager.
Jane Doe could not be dissuaded and the Officers hunkered down and sent a plethora of emails calculated to paint Jane Doe as the scarlet woman.
So, a meeting has been set but not held as of today. The plotters are at work. There is much more to uncover, as dear old Jane discovered – more rot in the kingdom – but you will have to wait for the next thrilling instalment in August to find out how this tale of woe pans out.
The next committee meeting was set for a month’s time. Jane Doe and her good husband had resigned, sitting in comfy lounge chairs sipping daiquiris, leaving dysfunction & incompetence to their own devices and to eventually implode – hopefully by the time of the next AGM set to occur later in the year.
Jane had set the record straight and it was now up to lot owners, if they wanted a change for the better, to do so with their vote at the AGM.
Many lessons had been learnt by Jane. From knowing little about successfully running an Owners Corporation, to how easy it is not to.
You may recall, that the strata committee consisted of nine members including Jane and her husband (who own separate lots). A month ago, the previously appointed chairperson/secretary resigned in a huff because, it seemed, Jane asked too many questions.
Although they resigned as Officers, they remained on the committee with the knives sharpened and out. Their weapon of choice was a maelstrom of abusive emails.
The emails provided the best evidence that Jane’s role as the new chairperson was being sabotaged and undermined; that self-interest was the underlying motive; and, come hell and high water, they were determined not to give an inch – even if that was in the best interests of the Owners Corporation. If Jane wanted to spend large quantities of money and apply for a compulsory appointment, the evidence to support that application was provided by these keyboard warriors. These emails went a long way to prove the scheme was dysfunctional.
In one month from their resignation and Jane’s appointment as chairperson, she received in excess of forty emails. Although the emails were acknowledged with good intentions, this heightened the level of ill will.
From the perspective of the resigned ones, Jane had rocked the boat. Faulty Towers, with the assistance of an incompetent and compliant strata manager, worked a charm before she came along.
They did not want a change.
This included introduction of full and frank disclosure of conflict of interest & financial interest and informal meetings here & there – as and when needed. Depending on who you were, exclusive use of common property could be given without the need for a by-law. So the beat went on…
Jane had the best of intentions and aspirations, hoping she would bring things into order and in compliance with legislative requirements and that those who resigned (and the strata manager) would see the error of their ways. The more Jane applied reason, the more infuriated those that opposed her became.
Jane called a Strata Committee Meeting. By and large she was successful and out of seventeen motions, all bar two motions were defeated, and these were:
· confirmation of the previous minutes; defeated because the former chairperson, treasurer and secretary refused to admit that an earlier meeting had been informal and wanted it recorded as a formal meeting; Jane wanted the informal meeting ratified as was the proper way to deal with that event;
· declaration of pecuniary interests; defeated. Remember there were no records that the former chairperson had properly disclosed that his company was basically acting as building manager getting a nice little earn.
When Jane asked the strata manager (who side stepped attending committee meetings) when the process of making the office records paperless would be completed, without as much as the blink of an eyelid she was told “in 6 years’ time.” And with that, Jane and her good husband decided it was time to resign and put their feet up.