Aurora debacle entirely avoidable if government chooses to lead OC and strata reform
By Julie McLean - president, Strata Community Association (Vic)
In what may have been the largest meeting of its kind in Melbourne’s history, the recent decision of the Aurora Melbourne Central owners’ corporation (OC) to elect a new committee following a turbulent and higher-profile series of internal disputes serves as the most high-profile example of the urgency for Victorian strata sector reform.
The chronic issues exposed by recent reporting in the Herald Sun and CBD News, of the Aurora Tower disputes include an inability for owners and occupiers to seek information and advice about their OC, unprecedented strain on dispute resolution services, and lack of an effective benchmark for entry into Victoria’s strata management sector.
Strata Community Association (Vic) as the leading voice for strata communities has been pushing through our own advocacy for Stronger, Smarter Strata. Last year’s state election included a landmark proposal for creating a strata helpline within Consumer Affairs Victoria, to provide answers and advice to common questions by owners and residents, prior to seeking costly legal advice or escalation to dispute resolution, typically via the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
At VCAT alone, pending OC list cases increased by four per cent to a total of 1153 in 2021-22, with no further signs of this backlog being eased, as evidenced by hearings being opened for pending cases as early as 2025.
As the proportion of Victorians living in strata will continue to grow to as much as 50 per cent by 2050, there is no time to waste in securing consumer confidence in strata living, and better equipping owners and occupiers with the knowledge they need to ensure the harmonious, respectful and efficient operation of their OC.
Strata living, in townhouses and apartments is an answer to the question of housing affordability and the cost-of-living crisis.
Establishing a minimum standard of education for Victorian strata managers will also ensure that rogue operators will have nowhere to turn, and that more qualified, experienced and professional managers are recognised and appointed solely on the basis of merit, and value for money to an OC.
Establishing a Strata Ombudsman or Commissioner model, along the lines of what already exists in Queensland, should also be investigated within this term of government as a means of reinforcing the aforementioned policies, bringing about better regulation and accountability in the strata sector, and offering more affordable, well-located housing to a rapidly growing number of Victorians.
Encouragingly, the Coalition, now under new leadership, and the Greens, have both indicated strong in-principle support for these priorities.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the incumbent Labor Government, which continues in a holding pattern of largely ignoring these concerns, which are of importance to as many as 1.6 million, or one in four Victorians living in apartments and townhouses across our state.
While reporting of the dispute at Aurora has only recently come to light, the need for better policy intervention into the Victorian OC sector by government is long overdue.
It will ultimately be a proactive government pulling together community stakeholders to solve these issues that will propel us forward, and until then situations such as the Aurora debacle may become all too common.