Recently, I was speaking with a resident in my own building, while in the elevator. She was upset, because she wanted to change the flooring in her home, but she had been informed she wouldn’t be permitted to do so until she had introduced new by-laws and they were approved at the AGM.
You see, my neighbour wasn’t just looking to pull up her carpet and lay down new carpet, she was hoping to update her apartment with timber flooring, complete with heating underneath.
“It’s my apartment,” she said to me, irritated. “I should be able to do whatever I want with it, as long as it isn’t affecting a shared space. It’s like I don’t even own where I live… but my mortgage says otherwise!”
As a resident, and an apartment owner, I completely understood where my neighbour was coming from. Her frustration was absolutely valid.
She wanted to invest in her home, to improve its value, and also to enhance its aesthetic so she could enjoy it more. It all seemed perfectly reasonable.
But as a strata manager, often confronted with similar plans of residents, I also have an acute understanding of how every action we take in our home, can impact the lives of others who live around us, even if we aren’t obviously affecting shared spaces.
By-laws are a crucial part of strata living for so many reasons, but in my experience, a few stand out as most important:
1. Strata by-laws help us avoid chaos
There are a lot of things we would like to do, that we can’t. For example, you can’t just pop into the nearest car dealership and drive out in a brand new car without paying for it, just because it would make you happy.
Just as laws govern how we behave and respect each other out in the world, by-laws do the same for us in our niche, strata communities.
They ensure that important actions or changes aren’t left up to common sense or opinion — because everyone has varying levels of both, different information and biases — but are applied consistently and fairly to everyone.
While my neighbour didn’t like the fact she needed permission to change her flooring, there was very good reason she was required to take the proposal to the AGM.
In the past — and still often to this day — changes to your apartment, like new floorboards, can result in noise complaints from downstairs residents. My neighbour’s underfloor heating, if not carefully considered and installed by a professional, could cause damage or even fire.
Introducing what is effectively a new rule means the situation can be collectively considered, and it motivates additional research and the development of criteria that needs to be met.
In each state and territory, there are a lot of quite common rules in strata communities. It is always helpful to read up on them.
2. By-laws build, rather than degrade communities
A knock-on effect of chaos or lawlessness is a break down in communities. And this is the case not just for cities or countries, but for smaller communities too, like our strata buildings.
Consider if my neighbour would have installed her flooring without due consideration, and this had caused excess noise for those residents who lived underneath her. The residents would have made a complaint, and there’s every chance the woman would have been required to pull up the flooring or fight the instruction.
This kind of situation causes gossip, animosity and even encourages neighbours to take opposing sides — all actions that can crack the foundation of even the most solid of communities.
By-laws help grow communities by providing a set of standard rules to live by.
3. Communication and up-to-date knowledge is enhanced due to by-laws
A great by-product of AGMs and the need to discuss changes like that of my neighbour or introduce new by-laws is:
a) it helps to educate others in the building about the correct process for making changes of this nature, and;
b) it ensures everyone is communicated to clearly about what is happening in their building.
Enhancing education plays a big part in ensuring everyone is really aware of the rules that govern their shared property, so they can build happy, healthy and fulfilling lives within those rules.
On another note, it can also be inspiring. In the case of my neighbour, she did in fact end up taking the matter to the AGM, after which, another neighbour approached her to see if she could pop in to check out the underfloor heating.
Communication is key in delivering strata management excellence
From a professional stand point, something that concerned me about this situation was the fact that my neighbour had spoken to our building and strata managers and had come away feeling more frustrated than before.
This should never be the case. A good strata manager should practice careful and active listening to really hear the residents’ issues and respond in a way that makes them feel better.
In this case, my neighbour’s problem wasn’t really about the floor itself, it was that she realised if she wanted to do any major renovation to improve her asset, she needed to plan well in advance — nothing could be done on a whim.
Most people do have some empathy, so if the strata manager could have impressed upon her how uncomfortable she might be if her upstairs neighbours did something similar without her knowledge, she may have better understood the importance of this process.