Vertical villages - an owners’ corporation manager’s view

By Janette Corcoran

Our vertical villages employ a host of workers – concierges, window washers, gardeners – but when it comes to the owners’ corporation (OC) manager, some of us are less clear about their role, often asking “what’s the difference between an OC manager and a building manager?” 

OC managers play a distinct role in the high-rise ecosystem with Consumer Affairs Victoria describing their role as the management and administration of an OC’s common property. This includes maintaining financial records, preparing budgets, organising insurance, arranging legally required audits and reports, collecting fees and generally ensuring compliance with the Owners’ Corporations Act.  A building manager is more hands-on, taking on the operational side of these activities, such as actually organising maintenance and repairs.

In view of the OC manager’s central role in the vertical living sector, I thought it interesting to see how these administrators view our world of vertical villages. 

For such a perspective, I spoke with Mr Cas Lukauskas, a senior OC manager with MICM Property and a 14-year veteran of the OC world. 

Our chat started by my asking Cas what he saw as the best features of vertical living.

Somewhat surprisingly, Cas nominated a sense of community.

This surprised me because vertical villages are typically criticised for lacking community. But Cas disagrees, noting that there are many lonely people living on quarter-acre blocks who couldn’t even identify their neighbours by sight. 

In Cas’s view, people in high-rise abodes can more easily – if they so choose – connect with other residents as there are many points for potential interaction. 

“You can get to know people if you want – they are (literally) in arm’s reach,” Cas said. 

Changing gear, I asked about what he saw as his biggest challenges when operating in this sector.   

In terms of on-going issues, and somewhat unsurprisingly, Cas said that by far the biggest challenges he routinely encountered involved people, specifically, negotiating a large network of human relationships. 

OC managers directly interact with building staff, insurers, legal advisors, suppliers, contractors and their staff, council and government departments, property managers, tenants, investors and, most importantly, the OC committee! And within this mix, Cas spends a great amount of time in mediating between people with disputes. As we well know, close proximity living coupled with shared amenities brings to the fore fundamental differences. Cas operates on the basis that strong opinions often spring from good intentions (e.g. a desire for sustainability), but these well-meant goals can get lost in how people try to execute their visions. 

Regarding a more recent bugbear, Cas sighed, “short-stays”.  As is well appreciated in vertical villages, Cas too is of the opinion that current legislation leaves OCs as “toothless tigers” with the available redress channels not dealing with the actual problem. 

“Often times when owners attempt to enforce their rights, the application is left to the OC manager and our key tool is issuing breach notices – after the event,” he said. 

The biggest problem group he sees are the new entrants into the short-stay market. Often these people just want a bit of quick cash without the overheads and so they take a “do it yourself approach”. But Cas warns that he has seen some severe consequences visited upon these short-term landlords, most especially in terms of insurance.  When things go wrong, which according to Murphy, they do, these unprepared short-stay landlords find that the building’s insurance may not cover damages. But the real danger, Cas further warns, lies in their liability exposure from injury to their “guests” and/or residents.  

So, how does he handle this? 

In Cas’s experience, by far the best way to resolution starts with talking directly to the owners - “face-to-face is best”. Also crucial is developing good working relations with property managers. This he sees as essential - “we must be on the same page”.  

For the final question, I asked about the changes he sees on the “vertical” horizon.

Regarding changes already happening, Cas observed that the nature and composition of committees was becoming more sophisticated. This he attributed to the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation and their move into the “high-life”. This group brings with it an array of workplace skills and valuable insights and it is also quite keen to have a say in how its home affairs are managed. I asked Cas’s opinion about the need for targeted training for committee members as many have previously learned “on-the-job”, which has fuelled many misperceptions about actual roles and the operation of an OC. However, ever the diplomat, Cas reframed my question in terms of a more general observation about managing diverse interests and his sense of satisfaction in devising workable solutions which cater for these differences. 

In terms of an emerging trend, Cas pointed to shifts in design preferences, specifically a notable demand for green amenities.  In previous years, owners have looked for pools, gyms and tennis courts. Now he observes a strong and growing desire for rooftop gardens, courtyards and generally more relaxing (and even nurturing) spaces. This he attributes to the need of city dwellers for places of quiet enjoyment in the midst of a noisy concrete jungle.   

So, take note developers and designers – it’s not all about activation!

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