Thine Shakespearean lens on Strata Management

An Original Essay by Rochelle Hairman Winner of the SCA (NSW) 2021 Essay Award

“Th’ abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power”

– William Shakespeare: The oppression of the majority by the minority.

Recently, Colin Grace, strata lawyer, commented on a common strata committee situation as “the oppression of the majority by the minority.” In too many strata plans, the “oppressive minority” tends to have the loudest voice and uphold the status quo. This is an issue when feuds between lot owners are entrenched and privilege is partisan. In Montague and Capulet style, committee members can become “profaners of peace” through sheer stubbornness and a focus on self-interested power. Concurrently, the oppression of the majority is frequently a fiscal issue, where some owners are intent on touting frugality as a virtue to the detriment of the strata scheme often subjugating the majority will. Undoubtedly, minority power can be most complex when individual freedoms impinge on the essence of integral bylaws. This essay argues that the answers to the aforementioned scenarios can be best garnered when the Strata Manager employs a Shakespearean lens.

One common example of minority oppression of the majority is committee members flagrantly abusing their power by passing by-laws at meetings of low attendance that grant them unjust privileges. Turning to Shakespeare, we looked at the outcome of corruption in a “bloody” tragedy, to warn other committees sunk into disarray that nobody benefits from corrupt power and oppression. The building’s strata plan allowed one unallocated car space per resident. Committee members, a close-knit group, saw that some spots were unused because the resident did not own a car at that time, and allocated these spots to themselves for exclusive use. By-laws were passed at poorly attended meetings ensuring those spaces, would be theirs to use in perpetuity. When the residents who did not own vehicles purchased a car, there was no longer on-site parking for them. The feud raged for years; Macbeth-like, the committee slaughtered their foes until a compromise could be instated. Like Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, a conciliatory yet strong character entered the scene, persuading the factions to “put up their swords” and find a solution that would bring a modicum of justice. The recalcitrant committee was replaced and, the new committee arranged to create new parking spaces.

Often the scheming persuasiveness of committee members who decide what is “to be or not to be” creates an untenable situation. The amounts allocated to levy payments, ostensibly based on Capital Works Forecasting, can become emotionally laden sites of contention, particularly when the financial future is uncertain. When the majority of the owners understand that a healthy Capital Works Fund is essential to the property, facilitating proper building maintenance, and a dominant committee member “doth protest too much” about levy increases, the entire owners corporation relinquishes their power. Defeated by claims that the building is over-spending on upkeep, ultimately, the silent majority suffer when their building is neglected and the financial catch up on maintenance becomes “a dagger before their eyes.” A building ACE manages historically took the most frugal option when performing maintenance so that water ingress was patched instead of properly addressed by replacing membranes, painting was delayed, the roof repairs were “ill-gotten” and the building, in a prestigious location, obtained an unsavoury reputation. Here, “penny wise, pound foolish,” devalued expensive real estate. When the “hurly-burly was done, When the battle was lost” nobody won – not even the frugally minded who oppressed majority opinion.

Indeed, Shakespeare is the ultimate teacher when oppression of the majority is more complicated than straight-forward application of strata law. In a building consisting of eight dwellings, Herman, an owner with intellectual incapacity who had been able to live independently for some years began cheering, singing and stamping from 1.30AM until the early hours of the morning, for several nights in a row. This problem had occurred intermittently and over the years during the English football season we learnt that a phone call to Herbert’s mother would put an end to his early morning football feast, accompanied by his vocal support and joy. The new owner, next door to his unit was at first sympathetic and tried valiantly to ask Herbert to stop disturbing her sleep every night, “sleep that soothes away all our worries. Sleep that puts each day to rest.” After calls to the police and phone conversations with his guardian, emails circulated amongst the committee; some empathic to Herbert, some equally sympathetic towards the exhausted neighbour, I had to be overtly proactive. Shakespeare’s adage, “This above all, to thine own self be true” underscored the offer of every assistance to Herbert’s guardian, as I do not believe Strata Managers are police – we are “keepers of the peace.” Herbert’s mother has a tough life caring for her son, she is his legal guardian and yet she needs support too. The task was challenging: the oppression of the majority through disturbed sleep, could not be overlooked; I gave due notice before sending a Warning of Breach of By-law Notice. Shakespeare favoured rule-of-law.

The oppression of the majority by the minority will continue to challenge Strata Managers particularly in the future. While strata schemes intent on providing “green” solutions such as the installation of solar panels have had a major win with the NSW Government passing new amendments to make it easier to install renewable energy in strata complexes, minority objections tend to rule. In this case, Shakespeare provides optimistic solutions by providing examples of peaceful resolutions based on consensus where all factors are considered, and the appropriate option agreed. The wisdom contained in Shakespeare’s words drive my optimism for a better, more equitable future where “wonder and amazement inhabits here and “all’s well that ends well.” The “greatness” of deeds performed with altruism driving committee decision-making can refashion notions of power.

In conclusion, clearly, all strata managers should heed Shakespearean wisdom for better outcomes to allow the oppression of the majority by the minority to be surpassed, “perchance” then all strata schemes will flourish and thrive.

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