St Kilda icon The George crumbles as war breaks out among owners over
17 March 2017
Almost half of the apartment owners in one of Melbourne's most beloved
heritage hotels say the property has been allowed to deteriorate by a
body corporate (condo corporation) functioning as a "personal fiefdom" serving the
building's wealthier tenants, nightclubs and bars.
Poor security and easy access by outsiders to apartments at St Kilda's
The George Hotel have led to regular problems for residents. These
include drunk patrons from bars downstairs roaming the corridors,
prostitutes servicing clients on stairwells and drug users injecting on
fire escapes. In one notable incident last July a naked intruder walked
the corridors knocking on doors and masturbating.
Residents of apartments at The George, Fifi Carbines, Antoinette
Starkiewicz, Colin Dowzer, and Jonana Kowenzowski, are among those
concerned about problems at the building. Photo: Justin McManus
Of the building's 70-odd owners, 33 say the landmark building – which
was turned into apartments two decades ago – has been badly mismanaged
and is deteriorating as a result.
They says this has been done to the benefit of "a cabal" of richer
owners and bar operators, while the company employed to run the owners
corporation has done nothing.
A naked man roams the halls of St Kilda's The George apartments last
July. Residents have long demanded that security doors be
installed. Photo: Supplied
The group has gone public with their complaints because previous
attempts to address the problems have "resulted in threats of legal
action, accusation of defamation and even threats of violence", they
say in a statement by their lawyer given to Fairfax Media.
The drama at the 160-year-old building shines a light on the growing
problem of poorly policed body corporates (or owners corporations) that
now affect properties where 1.5 million Victorians live.
Consumer Affairs Victoria is running a review of the Owners
Corporations Act to address problems in the industry.
The George's ballroom became famous from the 1970s, and many Australian
musicians including Nick Cave and INXS performed there.
A drug user injects on the fire escape at The George. Photo:
But so serious are problems with the historic ballroom that, in late
2015, Heritage Victoria wrote to an owner ordering them to carry out
urgent repairs to fix unauthorised works to the historic ceiling.
And a growing number of apartment owners are furious that building
issues such as water leaks, noise complaints and security issues have
gone without repair or resolution for long periods.
Apartment owners are prevented from taking over the body corporate
(Board of Directors) because their voting rights are limited in comparison to the commercial
bar and venue operators on the lower floors.
There are also concerns about hundreds of thousands of dollars in
borrowings by the body corporate to paint and repair the facade of the
building, at an estimated cost of $1.04 million – with accusations
owners were not properly informed of the plan.
The complaints from the group of owners, summarised in a statement from
lawyer Roland Muller, include that the owner of one penthouse apartment
inappropriately blocked access to the rooftop which was common
property. That owner, St Kilda real estate agent Graeme Wilson, says
this is not true.
Mr Wilson, who said he had run a valid ballot process to take the
rooftop area from common ownership, went on to sell his property. The
next owner enraged other owners further by installing a large jacuzzi
and rooftop recreation area.
So sick of dealing with complaints and accusations of ineptitude or
worse, Victoria Body Corporate Services – the state's biggest owners
corporation (property management company)– recently resigned after more than a decade running the
"It just wasn't worth our while to continue to manage it," said Richard
Eastwood, the general manager of Victoria Body Corporate Services.
Minutes from the last body corporate meeting it chaired in December say
the company had a total of 11,434 incoming and outgoing emails
over two years relating to The George.
"They've got water issues, they've got liquor control issues, they've
got noise issues. It just wasn't worth it," said Mr Eastwood.
But one resident in the building, Fifi Carbines, said that the story of
issues at The George were just "the tip of the iceberg" for problems
with Australia's owners corporations.
"This story [should serve] as notice to others to stay vigilant about
the activities of their Owners Corporation committees and managers,
that effectively handle billions of dollars throughout Australia with
such scant regulation," she said.
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