A Strata Manager’s Lament

An Original Essay by Jason Nash

There are two words when put together that will instantly make any body corporate manager in Australia audibly groan and close their eyes as they slowly shake their head. Picture the popular meme of Ben Affleck standing outside with a cigarette with a look of pained frustration on his face as he seemingly contemplates an oft-repeated annoyance. Those two words are “water” and “leak”.

When those two words are uttered together to a manager, as they so often are, that manager knows that their next several days, weeks, or increasingly months, are going to be filled with the back-and-forth phone and email dances between owners, tenants, property managers, contractors, and insurance assessors. Like a barn dance where everyone swings in a circle from one partner to another, the BC Manager gets information from one party, passes it on to the next party, and the next and the next, until they end up back with the first person who now has new information, ideas, or concerns and they start again. Unlike a barn dance though, there are no happy, smiling faces and certainly no rhyme or rhythm to the music.

Any BC Manager with at least one Winter’s experience likely knows more about the process of leak investigation and repair, and the intricacies of building construction, than many contractors with 10 years on the job.

Increasingly, water leaks and their repair have become the most time-consuming and frustrating item of a body corporate manager’s day. And day is meant in the literal sense as it is a very rare day indeed where a body corporate manager with a moderate portfolio of multi-storey buildings does not deal with at least one leak.

While water leaks are not a new thing — drain pipes, mains pipes, shower breachers and have always worn, split and been blocked — the increase in water ingress from the exterior of buildings has increased dramatically in the past 10 – 20 years.

Lax building standards, square, boxy building design, poor or non-existent oversight, cheap materials, cheap labour, and rushed construction have all led to a situation where many building owners and managers are in a year-round pitched battle to keep the water out of the building and carry out repeated repairs to the inside of the building. Buildings move, and the joins of the pre-cast concrete panels or cladding open up; large flat roofs with barely any fall flush water into already overflowing shallow box gutters on its way toward a bare minimum amount of narrow downpipes unable to cope with ever more frequent deluges.

The physical component of actual repair is only one element of the battle though. The other, more difficult part is communicating with the affected owners and residents and explaining the delay in repairs –

It’s been 3 weeks since I reported this leak! Why is there still a hole in my ceiling?!

The plumber came here last Wednesday and I haven’t seen him since!

The leak was fixed 2 months ago and the floorboards still haven’t been replaced!

And so on, and so on. The above complaints, or variations of them are heard over and over by body corporate managers attempting to resolve ongoing water leak issues.

Owners and residents of apartment buildings (quite understandably) expect that when they report a leak in their ceiling, or from the window, or under the balcony door, that it will be fixed promptly. A plumber or other contractor will attend in 2 hours (what else could they possibly be doing), locate and repair the leak in 15 – 45 minutes (the water is right there, the leak MUST be directly above it in a place that will of course be open and easy to get to), the insurance assessor will be standing by to immediately arrange repair of any water damaged items or fixtures (again, what else are they doing), and life will be returned to normal within the week.

BC Managers know better.

BC Managers know that the leaking water above the ceiling is a good chance to be coming from a pinhole gap 15 metres left and two storeys up.

BC Managers know that even if the water is coming from directly above, the tenant upstairs probably won’t be home or available for days to allow a plumber to continue their investigation.

They know that the ceiling space, wall cavities and risers are crammed with pipes, cables, conduits, insulation and darkness that makes finding anything an incredibly difficult and time-consuming nuisance.

They know that contractors will likely have to attend many times to isolate the cause/s of the leak – and sometimes there is more than one. Then attend again to repair the leak/s. Then wait to ensure that they have indeed rectified the leak/s. Then wait some more before reattending to rectify any damage.

And all the while, the manager is dealing with increasingly irate owners, residents, committee members and property managers, demanding a swiftness and certainty which is impossible to provide. And rebuking any expectation of cost to themselves – why am I/we paying for this?! This should be paid for by the builder! Why isn’t this paid by insurance?! I’m contacting my/our lawyer about this!

And that is why those two words (nearly always preceded by ‘my tenant has reported a …’) have that same painful and despair-inducing effect on any worn-in (and worn out) body corporate manager. Why the sound of heavy rain, or any rain actually, will almost unfailingly bring a muttered ‘Jeeesuuus…’ or ‘for &*%$’s sake’ from the mouths of people who would rather be preparing their meetings or writing up minutes, or…. anything else really.

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