Skilling owners’ corporations

By Dr Janette Corcoran

It was precisely six years ago in the 2014 November edition of Docklands News that an article appeared on “Owners’ corporation groups sprouting”. Three new groups were identified as supporting the particular needs of Victorian owners’ corporations (OCs). 

First listed was Owners’ Corporation Network Victoria (OCNV), which was headed by the then Docklands Community Association president Roger Gardner. This group was said to be modelled on similar interstate bodies and had a stated aim of connecting with these to develop a national network for Australian OCs. 

The second group listed was the Metropolitan Owners Corporation Committee Association (MOCCA), which had Helina Marshall as group coordinator. The aim of MOCCA was to allow OCs to share information and knowledge, and to learn from each other. And at that time, they had 11 buildings involved. 

The third group listed was the Chairman’s Council, a network of OC chairs from buildings managed by the strata management group, The Knight Alliance. The idea for this came from a “Chairman’s Supper”, attended by chairs from within The Knight Alliance’s property portfolio.

Coming to the present day, November 2020, none of these groups appear active. 

Indeed, within the City of Melbourne, the Southbank Owners’ Corporations Network (SOCN) appears a rare example of an active group supporting OCs – meeting every two months to discuss issues relevant to strata living in Southbank. 

This said, it is also noted that there are active advocacy groups, such as We Live Here, which lobby on behalf of the high-rise living sector on issues affecting liveability, such as short stays. 

But what is still missing from our sector are dedicated resources and services needed to assist OCs perform their legal duties. And support is indeed needed as OCs are comprised of volunteers who are responsible for managing the common property of residential buildings. In the City of Melbourne, this means they are responsible for managing assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars and are responsible for ensuring the conduct of required maintenance, proper financial management and adherence to all associated regulations. Furthermore, the manner in which these duties are performed will directly affect the wellbeing of hundreds of residents and associated investors.  

Now compare this level of OC responsibility to directors of community organisations (noting that the operating budgets of our OCs may far outstrip those of many community organisations). Despite this, directors of community organisations can access a suite of support tools and resources tailored to their needs. For instance, the Institute of Community Directors Australia (ICDA) provides dedicated training, information, tools, events, qualifications and credentials specifically designed for the needs of this sector. 

However, no comparable support is available to our OCs. This has meant that, typically, committee members “learn on the job”, often taking their lead from others (who also have not received relevant training). The implications of this are that our strata buildings are the responsibility of volunteers who have no access to relevant training or support. 

To redress the current situation, one possibility is to setup a Victorian OCN, similar to that which operates in NSW. This group offers knowledge sharing and access to specialised resources such as webinars. They also advocate on behalf of their sector which might go some way to explaining why the NSW state government has a greater focus upon residential strata than does our Victorian state government. For example, the NSW Government is currently developing sector offerings like their “Strata Portal” - an online register to collect information from strata schemes across NSW. According to NSW Minister Dominello, “As a Government we want to make things easier for people who live in strata. By unlocking basic strata information, I believe we can help owners, tenants and prospective purchasers to make more informed decisions”.

However, even NSW does not – yet – offer that calibre of OC training believed needed by our OCs. 

With the new City of Melbourne Council soon to be known, perhaps this is an area where it can take a lead – and make residential living a council priority!

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