Strata Law Changes: Homes Before Profit

Today the Government pushed through legislation that will allow home owners to be kicked out of their property. The Greens oppose any bill that puts profit before people's secure occupation of their home.


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) [5.24 p.m.]: On behalf of The Greens and as holder of The Greens' tenancy and rental portfolio, which includes strata, I speak in debate on the Strata Schemes Management Bill 2015 and the cognate Strata Schemes Development Bill 2015. The reality is that today more and more people are living in properties that are part of strata schemes. As the Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation noted in his second reading speech, there are approximately 75,000 strata title schemes registered in New South Wales with more than 100 additional schemes being registered every month. The vast majority—around 90 per cent—of those schemes are residential. The number of people living in strata scheme properties will increase as our population increases.

I acknowledge that consultation on these bills has occurred with key stakeholders and particularly note submissions to the draft bill released in July 2015 made by the Australian College of Community Association Lawyers, the City of Sydney, the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association, the Council of the Ageing NSW, Financial Rights Legal Centre, the Law Society of NSW, Legal Aid NSW, the Owners Corporation Network, Shelter NSW and the Tenants Union of NSW. It is clear that there is a need to review existing strata laws and we will on the whole support the improvements to the Strata Schemes Management Bill 2015. I foreshadow that I will move a couple of amendments to this bill. In relation to the review process, this Minister and previous Ministers have engaged in wide-ranging consultation. I acknowledge my colleague in the upper House Dr John Kaye, who used to have carriage of the strata portfolio for The Greens.

I now turn to the serious concerns The Greens have with the Strata Schemes Development Bill 2015. The Greens do not support part 10 of the bill, which deals with the sale or redevelopment of a strata scheme property. Our primary concern is that the change to the requirement of owner approval needed to sell such a property will reduce from 100 per cent to 75 per cent. On any measure, this is an exceptionally low threshold at which owners—that is, people living in their homes—can be kicked out of their property. Many on the Government side of the House—including, I believe, the Minister—have said that by 2040 half the residents of Greater Sydney will be living in strata-titled residential properties. Under these changes, that means by 2040 half the residents of Greater Sydney will be living with uncertainty and insecurity. They will be not be sure whether their home can be taken from them as a result of these laws.

Having a safe, secure, affordable home environment is one of the best indicators of wellbeing. We know that having a secure place to call home is one of the most important indicators of a healthy and stable society. Yet by 2040, under this legislation, 50 per cent of residents in the Greater Sydney region will live under the constant threat of insecurity as at any stage their home could be taken from them. The Greens have been contacted by many community members concerned by this legislation. Understandably, they fear that their home—a unit in a strata scheme—can be forcibly taken from them. Many of them are older residents who, after working for many years, have invested in a property to give them security in later life. In his second reading speech the Minister claimed that the legislation will empower strata owners to make a collective decision about the most important issue to confront all strata buildings at some point: what to do with a building as it ages.

However, there is no requirement in this legislation for there to be an improvement as a result of this process. There is no requirement to address sustainability, housing affordability or any of those sorts of measures, so we ask: Why will these residents potentially be forced to give up their homes as a result of these changes? The absence of any requirement for positive outcomes demonstrates that this is not the intention of the bill. The bill's intention is for people to make money from the housing market. That intention fails to recognise that people's properties are not a way of making money but are their homes. They are places where they live and with which they have a personal connection. If you ask any resident concerned about losing their home whether they could place a value on their personal attachment, I doubt they would come up with a figure of $26,710—the maximum compensation offered under this legislation. That shows the arbitrary nature of the attempt to compensate people for a very personal attachment to their home.

A senior citizen living in Seaforth took the time to send a handwritten letter to The Greens explaining their concerns about the fact that they bought their property as their final home and believed they would be secure there until the end of their life. This person is now insecure despite the fact that they believed they had taken control of their life. This legislation contains no requirement to improve residents' circumstances. If we were debating a bill that provided for some people's wishes to be overridden on the basis that it would result in improved housing affordability and sustainability, perhaps we would consider a percentage threshold. However, the reality is that the threshold is being reduced from 100 per cent to 75 per cent simply to allow people to make money to the detriment of people who want to be secure in the knowledge that they can stay in their home.

In its submission on the draft bill, Shelter NSW observed that the forced displacement of strata titleholders and residents to a strained housing market, especially in Sydney, will have a significant negative social impact. Shelter NSW has advocated for a model that involves an independent review process for any dispute between a minority and a majority of owners. The sale or redevelopment of a strata scheme should be mediated, not forced. The Greens maintain that residents should not be forced from their homes to make way for private development and to enable developers to make profits, particularly because it will have a huge impact on older and vulnerable residents in our city. The Minister has flagged a number of safeguards that will support and protect vulnerable owners through a strata renewal process. However, those safeguards are not enough because they do not give residents security about the place that they call home and they will not be able to refuse to sell or to move. No safeguard will be strong enough to protect someone from losing their home. That is the main reason The Greens oppose those provisions in the bill.

I foreshadow that The Greens will move three amendments to the Strata Scheme Management Bill 2015. While we welcome the amendments to the approval mechanism for cosmetic and minor renovations and recognise the need for the bill and the improvements it makes, some amendments could be made to the way in which tenants are involved in the decisions made by strata committees, and they should be able to raise concerns about the by-laws. The Greens' amendments cover three issues: first, allowing tenants to move a motion about the strata committee; secondly, allowing a tenants' representative to be a member of a strata committee of any building or lot that is occupied by tenants; and, thirdly, allowing tenants to lodge challenges to by-laws with the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

I draw members' attention to the harsher penalties and infringements in the legislation. I urge the Minister to address in his reply how the Government will ensure that tenants are not unfairly targeted under the by-laws. The Minister referred to the support that would be provided to owners and tenants during the process. A timeline and detail should be provided with regard to how that support will be offered to tenants and owners dealing with the Strata Schemes Development Bill 2015 and the risk they face of losing their home. In short, The Greens oppose any bill that puts profit before people's secure occupation of their home. The ability to live securely in our home is a fundamental right and we should protect it by not prioritising developers' interests. I hope that we can work together to ensure that people feel secure in the knowledge that they will not be forced out of their home.


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