In strata, sometimes you just have to laugh…

In strata, sometimes you just have to laugh…

By Jimmy Thomson of Flat Chat

There’s something about property ownership that makes people feel overly empowered; kings and queens of their domains. And while that may be true to some extent in a free-standing home, transfer that concept to an apartment and you could be in for a shock.

It can also lead to some hilarious snafus – well, they’re funny if you’re not directly involved.

One of the more ridiculous manifestations of “my unit is my castle” was the owner who created his own moat. He plugged the drain holes on his balcony, flooded it and turned it into a fish pond. This was only discovered when a neighbour three apartments along and one floor below complained about serious damp patches appearing on her ceiling. The culprit, who said he’s been about to complain about the damp in his apartments, apparently hadn’t even made a connection between his fish pond and the stream flowing from his balcony under the carpet in his lounge room.

Some of this is low-level stuff. There was a noisy resident who, when he was reminded that there were by-laws about excessively loud music, replied: “It’s OK. I’m an owner.” He thought by-laws only applied to tenants.

The Carpet war

There were the two captains of industry who shared a lift lobby and disagreed on whether the carpet should be vacuumed pile up or pile down. Because their block was a company title, that dispute went straight to the NSW Supreme Court

There were the feuding families, one of whom won a case at the Tribunal to stop their neighbours building an external staircase while the other, at the same time, were successfully having them removed from the strata committee and replaced with a strata manager on the grounds that they were wasting strata funds on legal actions.

Once, a harness racing trainer was allowed by his neighbours to keep a horse in the backyard of his townhouse, mainly because he gave them hot tips on the upcoming races … and manure for their roses.

There was the woman who thought ownership of her parking space meant she could do whatever she wanted with it and installed a cage right along its boundary lines, making it very difficult for the people parked on either side to get in and out of their cars. As far as she was concerned, by-laws were suggestions and common property belonged to her as much as anyone so she could do as she pleased.

After many trips to tribunals, including one where an adjudicator ruled that opening your car door over another person’s parking space was a form of trespass, the owners corporation finally prevailed and the woman returned to her home to find the components of her storage cage stacked in a pile in the middle of the car space.

Wee problem

There was the lady who went to Fair Trading to ask if the resident upstairs could be asked to wee on the side of the toilet bowl, rather than directly into the water, when he got up for a pee in the middle of the night. They declined to make a ruling as there would be issues with ensuring compliance.

One elderly gentleman got round a pet ban by claiming his dog was an assistance animal. He was deaf, he said, and the dog alerted him when there was someone at the door … by barking.

Strata living seems to exacerbate some people selfish streak. An early case that came to Flat Chat’s attention was the chair in a small block in Bondi who persuaded the other owners to let her add a balcony on to her top floor flat. When the neighbours saw what a difference it made, they applied to follow suit only to have the chair object because of the noise and disruption it would cause.

Still in Bondi, there was the small block ruled with an iron fist by two elderly ladies from the same Northern European ethno-religious group. They got into a feud with new neighbours on the upper floors which got so bad they even prevented gas installers from taking the pipes all the way to the top floor of the block.

Parking wrongs

These minor battles can turn into open warfare with all sorts of dirty tricks employed. One owner who was told he could rent his car space to a non-resident arrived one day to discover a wall had been built on common property which didn’t actually block the parking space but made it virtually impossible to get in and out. That battle went to court with the non-resident parking rights established … but only after tens of thousands of dollars had been thrown at lawyers.

Speaking of lawyers, there was the case in Manly where a tenant grew tired of the building’s chair sending her notes demanding that she lock her letterbox. She responded with a reply that ridiculed him, which she copied to all the other residents. The chair sued her for defamation and won a pay-out of $60,000. The tenant appealed and the Supreme Court overturned the verdict and awarded all costs against the chairman, saying that a certain amount of cut and thrust should be expected in strata disputes.

Manager’s secret

One of the more bizarre recent stories was the building manager in Sydney who looked after a number of new-ish blocks that shared the same underground garage. He’d built himself a little den where he lived but unfortunately had taken to stealing stuff from owners storage cages. He was only discovered when a resident heard his laundry washing machine running in an area of the car park where there wasn’t supposed to be one. The funny thing was that while some residents were creeped out by this employee who always seemed to be around, others loved the fact that he was always on hand to meet tradespeople and deliveries as well as deal with emergencies.

As my new podcast comedy (or ‘podcom’) illustrates, strata is a rich vein of stories that range from the horrifying to the hilarious.

But as long as you keep smiling, you’ll get through.

Jimmy Thomson edits the strata advice and opinion website Flat Chat where you will also find links to his new venture, an audio comedy set in an apartment block called Hyperbole Towers.

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