Rob Beck

The Victorian government has made big plans to lead Australia’s sustainability push and it signals massive change for the 1.5 million residents living in strata properties.

The announcement that Victoria will aim to be the first carbon-free region in Australia by 2050 is excellent progress, but only if state government decision makers figure out how to bring the one in four Victorians now living in apartments and units into the sustainability fold.

Different to greenfield projects, strata community living means making decisions as a community, and we are urging Premier Daniel Andrews to provide a platform so that every apartment and unit owner/resident isn’t held back from “going green”.

With respect to property, going green can mean installing sustainable features, such as solar panels, water tanks, energy efficient lighting or just basic behavioural change like the way water is used and how waste is disposed.

Sounds relatively simple – install this, change the way you use that – but when you live in a strata community, you can’t just go and do as you please, and it’s a sustainability hurdle the state government must urgently address.

Ultimately, we are recommending a response that deals with necessary reform, the backing of education programs to see communities tackle sustainability together and funding to see it made possible.

The first step must be at a legislative level, and as the ongoing review of the Owners Corporations Act (2006) continues, state government decision makers need to consider the actions taken elsewhere to permit sustainable strata properties.

Strata communities in NSW wanting to make apartments and units more environmentally friendly are being given a helping hand and we want the same opportunity for communities in carbon-free Victoria.

In NSW, communities now have a guide that will allow for alternative rules on common issues including rainwater tanks, ceiling insulation and other environmental modifications.

Communities can then choose to adopt, change or cancel any rule if it is supported by 75 per cent of votes at an owners’ meeting.

This kind of majority decision making on reasonable sustainability measures is exactly the type of progress we hope ongoing strata reform delivers for Victorian communities.

Another important change in legislation will be the eligibility of entire communities, not just individual owners, to apply for sustainability initiatives.

If this is confined at an individual owner level, the strain placed on communities heading towards these carbon free goals will be insurmountable and we ask for sustainability to be treated as a community-driven issue.

Beyond legislative upgrades, there must be a focus on how millions of owners and communities are made aware of what “going green” will mean for them and how it can be achieved.

There are several initiatives currently in place around the country that we are urging the Victorian government to consider supporting for the education of 1.5 million Victorian strata property stakeholders.

Programs like City of Melbourne’s Smart Blocks (management of which is currently out to tender) and the City of Sydney’s Smart Green Apartments are the perfect examples of how communities as a whole can gain a better understanding of the benefits involved with sustainability, the work that goes into it and where to get approval from before making the jump.

Without awareness for these types of programs, however, we feel the adoption of sustainable initiatives in strata communities will lag behind in Victoria. Being an easy hurdle to overcome, the Victorian government should prioritise action to see programs such as these get the attention they deserve.

The final step in the process is undoubtedly on a financial level, however.

Victoria’s strata property sector is suffering financially thanks to the impact of building defects and in order to get communities to spend money on sustainable initiatives, funding and rebate schemes will be necessary.

We’re aware of data that positions the financial burden of building defects on Victorian owners at roughly $15 billion, so getting them to spend money on a 2050 sustainability goal will be tough without funding or at the very least rebate schemes.

We are adamant that “going green” must be treated as a community action, not simply as something for individuals to take on alone, so funding must account for the installation of sustainable measures across whole strata communities.

Whether we’re talking about a three-lot block of units or a 700-lot residential tower, going carbon free by 2050 will require action to see entire communities embrace sustainable living and funding and/or rebate schemes should address this accordingly.

Ensuring 1.5 million Victorians can participate in “going green” will be crucial to the success of these long-term goals set by the government, and the strata sector is on hand to consult on a range of other measures that will see Victoria’s action on sustainability lead the nation.

Rob Beck is general manager of the Strata Community Australia (Victoria).

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  1. Getting up a special resolution is really hard when a few determined people oppose. Our experience was that it took three attempts to install a PV system on common property sufficient to match our owners corporation’s electricity consumption and costs for public area lighting. Each time we had a majority in favour in a vote at a general meeting but the first two times we did not quite reach the requirements for a special resolution. A few members strenuously opposed and sufficiently more were made wary by a letterbox leafletting campaign to vote no.
    Shortly after the second attempt, the ACT had a review of the Unit Titles Act resulting in the Unit Titles (Management) Act 2011. One of the terms of reference was to ask what impediments there were to the uptake of sustainability measures. My submission, based on our OC’s experience, was that even when you had a majority in favour and had set out the costs and the benefits and where the infrastructure would go, what connections were required, any easements required, how it is to be maintained and so on, you might still not get the proposal up. Now, s.23 of the UTMA says that if you have each of those things in a proposal, you can pass it with a single ordinary (simple majority) resolution.
    By the third time we put up the proposal we had 85% in favour though only needed a simple majority.
    Note also that another section of the UTMA prevents rules (aka bylaws or articles) that have the effect of preventing the installation of sustainability infrastructure on common property.