I must confess a rather eccentric fondness for the NSW Strata Schemes Management Act - not for the legislation itself which like most legislation seems clumsy, opaque and confusing to most laypeople - but for what it tries to achieve. I think it is inevitable that as populations grow and as infrastructure to serve sparse populations becomes more and more unsustainable we will have to find ways of living in closer proximity to one another. That's where the Strata Schemes Management Act comes in. It tries to set out a fair and manageable way in which people can live together - amicably - in shared spaces. It enables people to own or rent their own private living spaces, but regulates how the shared elements - gardens, swimming pools, lifts, exterior walls and roofs, services such as plumbing and cabling - are jointly owned and maintained.
There are horrendous stories about the evils of living in blocks of strata scheme apartments - pettiness, disputes among neighbours, legal action, failure to repair or maintain the building. But I've now been living in such a block of apartments for more than a quarter of a century and, across that time, we've had few such disastrous experiences. Some of us who've shared the apartment block for many years work quite hard and consistently to cultivate an ethos of sharing and tolerance. We've never employed a managing agent for the building and I think that this has increased the sense of shared responsibility - that decisions about the common good are being made either by the neighbours you know or by yourself if you're involved in the executive committee.
But from time to time all of this can be a lot of hard work.
The fabric of much of our building is more than a hundred years old - quite old by Australian standards. It was one of the first warehouse conversions in Sydney and has all the problems and expenses that repurposed buildings often have - nothing is modular and everything has to be purpose-built; the windows are all irregular and different shapes; the building was never constructed for domestic purposes and so requires work to adapt it to current standards. Just now we need to do a lot of very expensive work on the building and I've been part of the group scoping the project and costing it. We put together a very comprehensive document about the needed work and the options for payment, leading up to an informal meeting of owners to discuss the project and costs. I was dreading the meeting. I knew that the proposals would be very difficult for many of my neighbours to manage, and though rationally I accepted that there were few options, I dreaded facing my neighbours' distress and possible anger.
But I should have trusted them. No-one was cheerful, but after discussion almost everybody accepted the inevitability of the work that needs to be done, and even thanked the committee for the work and thought they'd put into the proposals. The 'we're all in this together' ethos prevailed. We still have to face the formal meeting at which decisions will be made in a week or so, but I'm now much more confident of a communally agreed outcome that will enable the work to be done. It's good to be reassured that groups of people can be trusted to act for the communal good, even if it is at a cost to themselves individually.