Tower buildings growing up in Melbourne

Land use planning and development has always been highly regulated in Mel-botune (Eccles and Bryant 2006). Strata regulation in Victoria has been well maintained and enforced since it commenced in the late 1960s, with the Strata Titles Act 1967 (Vic) (Libbis 2015). Yet, given the long-term culture of single dwelling home ownership in Australia, strata title has been relatively less understood by governments and residents (Sherry 2017).

Australia has seen significant growth in high-rise buildings, particularly over the past 15 years. Between 2004-2005 and 2018-2019, the state of Victoria experienced the second highest number of new high-rise and super-high-rise buildings (88,937 dwellings) (most of which are strata towers in Melbourne). New7 South Wales (NSW), w'ith Sydney as its capital, saw an increase of 428.8 percent (5,793 dwellings) during these years (ABS 2019). At present, Melbourne has 719 high-rise buildings (Emporis 2020). With the increase in high-rise residential buildings in Australia, there have been issues related to building quality, and of late, significant building defects (Johnston and Reid 2019). This has led to reconsideration of building policy and standards, and consideration of the effects on consumers - with lot owners facing huge rectification costs (CAV 2020)?

‘Strata’ is no longer a legal term in Victoria. The Victorian Subdivision Act 1988 substantially altered the terminology to “lot ownership” and the OC Act introduced a new' legal entity, the “owners corporation” (i.e., an association that w'as previously known as the “body corporate” under Victoria statutes). The change of name brought the Victorian legislation in line with the terminology used in other states and emphasised that an owners corporation existed to represent the interests of lot owners. Whilst specifically not a corporate body under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth), an owners corporation is nonetheless subject to prudent governance requirements and must be registered by land registry w’here there is common property such as a stairw'ell, communal garden, or elevator. OC law and governance were significantly updated in 2006 with the enactment of the Owners Corporations Act. The OC Act applies to all owners corporations in the state, regardless of size or whether it has a horizontal or vertical configuration. Through habit, it is not uncommon for property developers, real estate agents, and the public to continue to call such tenure “strata.”

Residing close to sometimes hundreds of other unit owners and residents can be rewarding, offering opportunity for friendships, social contact, safety in numbers, and comfort for lonely and vulnerable elderly and disabled residents. Community living in tow'er buildings has been examined in Australia and globally, offering some insight into the benefits and challenges of these communal settings (Leshinsky and Mouat 2015; Troy et al. 2020; Easthope, van den Nouw'elant, and Thompson 2020). There are myriad war stories stemming from such high-rise living, including an owner sparring with the owners corporation to fix a common w'ater pipe which was causing w'ater to leak into her apartment; disputes resulting from residents intentionally leaving personal belongings in common areas; allegations by committee members that other members were embezzling owners corporation funds; intentional damage caused by one lot owner to another lot owner’s motor vehicle in the basement vehicle parking area; dissatisfaction by members with contracted service work and so on. Solutions are not always easily found, and should internal grievance procedures fail, the dispute may enter the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (“the Tribunal”) for resolution. Thomson (2020a) reminds us, however, that while “strata tribunals” were set up to address disputes for owners by owners, instead they have become places for lawyers to litigate. Owning and/or residing in a high-rise building is complex. However, it is appealing enough to entice people to own and/or live in the two million individual lots across Australia in some 270,000 strata schemes (Strata Community Association 2020a).

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