“There’s no playbook to be going off in this particular circumstance,” says Chris Duggan, the NSW president of Strata Community Association, an industry group for strata management companies. “It’s a most unusual occurrence.”
‘Like deers in the headlights’
While owners groups deal with structural defects, these are typically problems such as poor waterproofing or buildings being completed below the owners’ expectations. The wholesale evacuation of all residents and public pronouncements on whether it was safe to occupy go well beyond what most owners corporations have to deal with.
It’s tough enough as it is for executive committees, the handful of volunteers who steer their building’s organisation.
“They’re just like deers in the headlights,” said Karen Stiles, the executive officer of Owners Corporation Network, an advocacy group for owners’ corporations.
“There’s a committee of unskilled volunteers who are likely to have no experience in managing a medium-to-large business, which is what this building is. Committee members are often older, people with a sense of service and who have the time. Being on a committee can be a full-time job, especially if it’s a new building where you’re bedding down building managers and cleaners.”
In the case of Opal Tower, an added hurdle is that the owners’ corporation, like the building itself, is just a few months old. Committee members have hardly had time to work with each other and the organisation – funded by owners’ levies – won’t have any real funds to draw on.
“There’s a huge learning curve to living in strata and apartments and being on a committee and there’s almost no support for them,” Stiles says.
‘We’re not going to be the big bully’
Owners’ corporations also have to navigate the interests of developers, who often keep apartments after completion to remain part of the corporation and in turn an ability to influence decisions on issues such as defects claims.
Opal developer Ecove still holds 30 of the 392 apartments but says it is not like that.
“Residents do know we have an interest in the building but they live there and we’re not going to be the big bully that comes in and dictates what happens there,” Ecove founder Bassam Aflak says. “We don’t have a seat on the committee. We’ve intentionally stayed out.”
That’s a plus for residents, Stiles says.
“These owners are fortunate that this happened early and that their building is by a reputable builder and developer,” she says. “That’s not always the case.”
The owners’ corporation will also be the group charged with launching damages claims for lost value of their asset against the builder, who bears liability for defects. And on that score, they have other supporters.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Friday said people found responsible for the building’s faults should be held accountable.
“Absolutely, I think residents should exercise every right, every legal opportunity they have. I would if I was in their shoes,” Ms Berejiklian said.