Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Body Corporate Blues

When you finally make the decision to leave the family home and move into an apartment, you are immediately released from a great many of the decisions you once made with regard to property maintenance. You may now find yourself dealing with a Body Corporate and the day to day matters associated with the management and well-being of your new home are managed by a committee. In New Zealand, under the Unit Titles Act 2010 these committees, once mysterious to you, have wide ranging powers and generally speaking an equally wide ranging list of obligations depending upon the scope of the duties that have been delegated to them. Initially, as we did, you might find the whole process as unfamiliar as swimming through treacle. If your new home is in a block of nine or less apartments you are not legally obliged to have a committee at all but larger complexes are certainly expected to unless the owners specifically agree not to do so – and even that decision has to be done by special resolution. Nothing is simple it would seem. Overall there are probably far more good reasons than bad for forming a committee simply because it can provide a relatively seam-free arrangement for coping with all management matters. Well, that’s the general idea at least. We were completely new to this particular style of group ownership but we rapidly learned that BC committees more often than not appear to exist in a relentless vortex of disgruntlement together with a paucity of would-be serving volunteers. Usually you have to be an owner in order to serve on the committee in the first place although surprisingly it is not always necessary to actually live on the premises. In fact some rules allow for you to simply be the Director of a company owning the apartment; you might never go anywhere near the place. After two years in residence, I became a committee member with great expectations only to find that at least half of the debated business was essentially trivial and seemed to revolve directly around the hitches and glitches of living rather closer together than New Zealanders were accustomed to. If I had thought the matter through more carefully I suppose that might have been what I would have expected. I found myself a member as a result of making an unwise suggestion at an AGM. I proposed the regular circulation of a newsletter to make residents feel more involved, and help newcomers get to know their neighbours. I cannot say that this suggestion was met with much enthusiasm in fact one person, already firmly ensconced within the organising group treated the idea with undisguised disdain and recommended that I get out and actually talk to my neighbours. He added that personally he was quite content not to get too friendly with others and was more than happy in his own skin. I felt immediately rebuked but nevertheless it seemed that making any suggestion or in fact any remark at all was to be seen as possible committee material by the anxious and diminishing sitting members. Over my more than forty years in New Zealand I had served on a number of organising bodies, mostly to do with matters of education and so I was reasonably familiar with the procedures involved. However, what I was not familiar with was how to compare the merits of one roofing replacement company against another, how frequently carpark walls should be painted or how to go about launching a fire evacuation plan. But as previously pointed out most of the discussion time was to be spent debating the unacceptable habits of the ginger cat in row four with a penchant for desecrating his neighbour’s geraniums and the relentless barking of the miniature poodle in row two whose owner had promised to take him for training just as soon as she could organise it. At the time these irksome breaches of the rules seemed bewilderingly complicated to me and looking back now the reason for this would appear to be that we were in the unhappy position of not really having a properly appointed building manager. Instead we had a quasi-manager, a resident who maintained that he was not really the building manager at all and certainly did not want anyone approaching him in that particular capacity, particularly if they were women. His antagonism towards men was marginally less pronounced. For those among us who did not live on the premises but simply rented out their property, this was not much of a problem. For the rest of us it often was. On the positive side our semi manager was both skilled and proficient in solving problems like how to cut down the huge electricity bills by adjusting the lighting system and he was able to analyse complex engineering problems rapidly and with efficiency. We females learned to live with his foibles and avoid attracting his enmity but we breathed a collective sigh of relief when he resigned, bought another property and decided to move on. It was unexpectedly liberating to employ a `real’ building manager, one whom we knew would not reprimand us for alerting him to minor problems. He must have wondered why we often had tears of gratitude in our eyes as he dealt with complaints of noisy parties, recalcitrant canines and illicit laundry drying on balconies. After my mere two years as a BC committee member I have formed a number of firm opinions about the job. One is that it should be mandatory for those who serve to actually be residents. Another is that the rules of the entity be adhered to even though some seem petty or irrelevant. This particular belief of mine is not universally shared and one neighbour has been known to voice views that hover distinctly to the contrary, maintaining that it is stifling to live in a situation governed by too many petty regulations. And maybe others feel similarly but my own attitude is that if, over time, a concrete and tangible feeling emerges that a particular rule is no longer appropriate for the group then steps should be put in place to change it; and then make certain to abide by the new rule. What should not happen is that a regulation is interpreted in too flexible a manner or worse still, simply ignored. Because we are human we all experience the behaviour and attitudes of others differently. Those of us who are adversely affected by undue noise will harbour a great deal of resentment if the BC committee chooses to ignore the resident who throws regular Saturday night parties to a background of rap music that go on until three in the morning. As one who is not unduly affected by noise when others queried my attitude to my first next door neighbour, a young woman who entertained enthusiastically on a regular basis, I had to admit I had barely noticed the noise level whilst others two and three rows distant were most definitely and vocally disturbed by it. Barking dogs are infinitely more likely to disturb those who are not particularly fond of dogs than the dog lovers in your midst. Wandering cats will likewise definitely exasperate those with a dislike for felines. One neighbour is always quick to point out with a certain amount of relish, a veritable host of syndromes and disorders, some of them fatal and all linked directly to cats. A great deal of antipathy is likely to ferment among non-committee residents of your community if rules are thought to be interpreted in the favour of those in the inner circle who seem hell bent on implementing them, regardless of the focus. However, it is remarkably difficult to persuade those sitting on any committee who have a specific agenda to look at matters from the point of view of the majority; to be fair to all. Invariably the BC member anxious to extend the hours during which any resident may party in a loud and intrusive manner will see themselves as one who is working towards freedom for everyone and be oblivious to the fact that possibly the majority in the community are happy with the status quo. Contentious interpretation might revolve around what constitutes a permitted `small’ dog and there are clearly going to be problems if the Chairman is seen nonchalantly walking his Rhodesian Ridgeback. This discontent might perhaps not be expressed directly to he who is seen as the miscreant and he may be blissfully unaware of it and perhaps still maintain that he is merely working towards more self-determination for all. But it will definitely be expressed to others particularly when perhaps someone else’s wish to own an Irish Wolfhound is dismissed. There is a basic human desire where rules of any kind are concerned for fairness to be seen to exist for all. If your BC guidelines prohibit the storage of anything other than roadworthy vehicles in car parking spaces, no-one is going to be deliriously happy about the resident who keeps unopened storage boxes in front of and beside his car and whose behaviour appears to be not only ignored but condoned. If you insist on hanging your silk shirts and underwear to dry from your bedroom window those living closest to you are not likely to be impressed with your laundry habits. And even more importantly, if you are actually a member of the BC committee and you are content to overlook these contraventions of general policy, then you are failing in your responsibility to your co-owners. As I said, becoming a volunteer on one of the Body Corporate Committees currently burgeoning around the city can produce more thorns than you might have ever expected

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