campaign targets forced sales of strata blocks
12 August 2015

Opponents of the planned forced sales of apartments under proposed strata law changes in NSW have launched an online petition in an effort to block the moves.

The proposal would change the current requirement of 100 per cent of owners to agree to sell a unit block to developers to only 75 per cent, who could then force the other owners to sell.

"If this reform is passed, it will lead to compulsory evictions of a huge number of home owners in New South Wales," says Save Our Strata Homes, the organisation behind the petition directed at the Minister responsible for Fair Trading, Victor Dominello​, and Labor leader Luke Foley.

"This would wreak havoc on people's lives and tear apart communities, with the devastation particularly hitting less wealthy members of the community who cannot afford to buy freestanding houses."

The petition, titled "Say no to widespread forced sale and evictions of strata apartment owners in NSW", was launched three days ago.

Official submissions to the review of strata laws in NSW close on Wednesday, with Fair Trading revealing that the issues of forced sales and a proposed 2 per cent developer defects bond attracted the most attention in the more than 200 responses received so far.

However, it's the forced sale issue that has generated the greatest heat, especially after the University of NSW's Built Environment faculty recently identified 8000 separate Sydney apartment blocks, comprising more than 50,000 units, that were ripe for redevelopment, mainly in the eastern suburbs and lower north shore.

"If this proposed legislation is passed, I will lose my home," The website says. "I don't believe the compensation I receive will allow me to buy back into the out-of-control housing market, and I don't have funds to pay stamp duty on a new purchase.

"I am devastated by the idea of being forced back into the runaway market or being thrown out into rental accommodation. I and thousands of strata unit owners stand to lose everything we have worked for solely to line the pockets of developers."

The petition's initial supporters are similarly alarmed.

"It's outrageous that people can be robbed of their own home and thrown out in the street. Shame!" Rosalba Paris writes.

"One of the buildings concerned was built by my grandfather and has significant interest to our large family," Alison Raco says.

"This is designed to aid developers, not home owners, who will be made vulnerable by this law," Barbara Masel says.

Save our strata homes
"This is going to hit older owners who have lived in an apartment for most of their lives and won't necessarily have the funds to cover moving costs," writes Michelle Mizzi. "It will also affect the ability of first homebuyers to buy into the market."

Sue Morgan, writes from London: "As a strata owner in NSW I am outraged that this legislation will force people out of their homes and only for the benefit of developers - no-one else."

Opponents are outraged at the prospect of people who thought they had security of tenure on their homes being pushed out by opportunistic investors and developers.

The other side of the coin is that apartment owners are legally obliged to maintain buildings that are well past their use-by dates, while allegedly being blocked from selling the whole block by hold-outs hoping to get an inflated price for their units.

The proposed threshold of 75 per cent is at the lower end of what many strata professionals thought would be set. In Western Australia, for instance, it is proposed that the majority required to agree to redevelopment will be on a sliding scale from 95 per cent for a scheme 15 to 20 years old, to 90 per cent for schemes between 20 and 30 years old, and 80 per cent for schemes older than that.

The material claims the move will make it even harder for first-time home owners, who often depend on older strata units to get a toehold in the property market.

The government says nine meetings with 21 separate stakeholder groups have been held to allow them to raise and discuss their major issues in relation to the reforms. This is in addition to the comprehensive submissions and review process that was undertaken when the reforms were proposed two years ago.

"The comments by both stakeholders and the public have been extremely welcome in addressing the many issues in both bills, and we appreciate the time taken by many of those who made submissions," a spokeswoman says.  "All the comments made will be taken into account in finalising the drafting of the bills."

Submissions can still be made on Wednesday. Details at this Fair Trading web page. The petition has been running for three days, but has so far attracted only a few signatures.

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