The Other C Word: Community during the Pandemic

The pandemic and associated public health measures, such as extended lockdowns have put people’s living space front and centre in Victoria over the past two years. As Owners Corporation Managers may be aware, some apartment complexes appear to not be designed for 24/7 occupancy. The closure of common area amenities due to public health concerns only compounds this matter.

By nature of design, there are some commonly accepted features of living within the Owners Corporations sphere. These include close living conditions, heightened interaction amongst residents (both formal and informal), observance to an agreed code of conduct (through the registered Owners Corporation Rules), and adherence to the confines of the physical environment. Practical challenges can include contending with adjoining walls and vertically and horizontally transmitted noise, in addition to other daily stressors, such as the vast increases in occupants working from home and contending with single or family life in lockdown. These conditions can produce a pressure cooker environment, generally resulting in confronting communication to the appointed Owners Corporation Manager or onsite Building Manager.

It follows then, that disputes and formal complaint lodgements would be necessary corollaries of this proximity of living space. The aggravations of the neighbour’s rattling plumbing pipes, keeping other residents awake at all hours. The sound of a baby incessantly crying, or music playing for hours at an unacceptable volume & frequency. COVID-19 restrictions and apartment living, by design, have resulted in occupants living ‘on top of each other’ for extended periods, culminating in an unprecedented living environment. Anecdotally, this phenomenon is confirmed by colleagues who have reported an increase in tensions amongst occupiers. However, what I wish primarily to focus on, are the positive benefits available to Owners Corporations in this time.

Now, more than ever, astute Owners Corporation Managers can facilitate community engagement, drive refined grievance processes, and enable better communication amongst occupants. An old fashioned and outdated mode of Owners Corporation Management may be quick to shirk this notion; we as Owners Corporation Managers are busy enough attending to day-to-day administrative tasks and issues arising without adding community rapport-building to already busy agendas. This is where we can go wrong.

It is worth considering then, what constitutes a great Owners Corporation community, and, of equal importance, apprise ourselves of associated difficulties. We require volunteers who are willing to be appointed to a Committee, or Subcommittee role. Then, we need to ensure sufficient education for those who are elected. The importance of Committee education cannot be over stipulated. Also, consider your Owners Corporation Rules. If they haven’t been updated in the last ten years, the chances are high that they ought to be. Speak with your colleagues and peers, see what Rules are out there, and what may be suited for your Owners Corporation’s specific needs. Consider the built environment of your scheme. Is it right near the Yarra River or a football oval?

A colleague’s Committee arranges each year for an annual ‘footy tipping’ competition within their Owners Corporation. Another has created a walking group that designs walks along the Yarra trails. Such initiatives offer an opportunity for connectedness that is reflective of the local environment. Fostering a sense of belonging and connectedness to one’s community, has been shown to be crucial to overall well-being. Committees are often unsure as to what legislative mechanisms or limitations may be in place for Owners Corporations to facilitate decision making and community building. Here, as mentioned previously, education is key. Arrange for a strategic planning meeting with your committee or Subcommittee. Review the registered Rules. Plan, if appropriate, to have the registered Owners Corporation Rules refreshed in consultation with your Committee, and any relevant external expert third parties. Invite discussion on commonalities within the Owners Corporation, and what opportunities are available to harness diversity within the Community. Ideas enacted by Committees within our Melbourne portfolio of properties include a dawn annual Anzac Day ceremony (complete with a volunteer bugler), followed by biscuits and coffee on the lawn. Another has a Chinese New Year event, replete with a dancing dragon, food, fireworks, and a raffle. One Owners Corporation Committee created a Neighbourhood Assistance Program, for COVID -19 related isolations, whereby assistance was rendered with collection of groceries and parcels, and a communication check in program for isolating residents. Many others have established and nurtured herb gardens, book clubs, resident drink nights, wine clubs and common area libraries. We’ve worked with Committees to encourage donation of items between neighbours, and to establish recycling programs and other eco-friendly initiatives such as a composting and worm farm, and even an urban beehive. Building community initiatives such as these take work, but it’s worthwhile. Here are some takeaways, that may be of use to you and your Committees and Owners Corporations in this process.

• Devise clear communication strategies. Make it clear to Occupiers with respect to who to contact, what to contact them for, and expected turnaround times for matters.

• Encourage and educate elected Committees, Subcommittees, and volunteer resident participants. Privilege transparency from the elected Committee and provide educational resources with respect to their roles and responsibilities.

• Formulate a clear and equitable policy on dispute and complaint handling processes, whilst ensuring legislative compliance.

• Devise community building strategies that are relevant for your building’s specific needs and environment.

• Start small. One of the humblest and most effective initiatives I have seen from a Committee was the process of selecting and installing art work within the common areas, sourced from the local council photography archives that were historically relevant to the building site and it’s surrounds.

• Encourage donation of items within buildings to neighbours and consider starting recycling programs and other sustainability initiatives.

Whilst COVID-19 has collectively given us all plenty to contend with, and, as with any issues that arise for our industry generally, such as the non-compliant cladding issues of recent years, Owners Corporation Managers need to be prepared, to be resilient, and to adapt as needed to shifts in our environment. We will continue to see the effects of COVID-19 and associated mitigation strategies within our Strata community for a long time to come. Whilst we must ensure we have covered off on health regulation requirements, we also have an opportunity to humanise our interactions as much as possible. Like all of us, occupants are suffering from COVID-19 fatigue. These circumstances provide us with a unique opportunity for community building.


Douglas, K & Goodman, R 2010, ‘Master Planned Estates and Collective Private Assets in Australia: Research into the Attitudes of Planners and Developers’, Australian Geographer, vol. 39, no. 4, pp. 521 – 536

Douglas, K & Leshinsky, R 2016, ‘Ethical Concerns for Owners Corporation Managers who Informally Mediate in Owners Corporation Disputes: The Need for a Community of Practice’, Ethics in Alternate Dispute Resolution vol. 35, no.1, pp. 118-138

Leshinsky, R & Mouat, C 2015, ‘Toward better recognising ‘community’ in multi-owned property law and living’, International Journal of Housing Markets and Analysis, vol.8, no.4, pp.484-501

Phelan, K, Nicholls, L & Maller C 2017, ‘Planning for community: understanding diversity in resident experiences and expectations of social connections in a new urban fringe housing estate, Australia’, Community, Work & Family, vol. 20 no. 4, pp 405-423

View Comments


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *