256 episodes

All about living in apartments (condos), from dealing with your committee to getting on with neighbours and - a dose of healthy skepticism about dubious developers.

FLAT CHAT WRAP Jimmy Thomson & Sue Williams

    • Society & Culture

All about living in apartments (condos), from dealing with your committee to getting on with neighbours and - a dose of healthy skepticism about dubious developers.

    Podcast: The many sins of commission at Fair Trading

    Podcast: The many sins of commission at Fair Trading

    If there is one area of NSW Liberal politics that may be glad that the kerfuffle over the appointment of a trade envoy to New York is drawing so much media attention and political heat, it will be anyone associated with Fair Trading.

    When we sat down to record this week’s podcast and discuss – among other things – the departure of Property Services Commissioner John Minns, we had no idea how chaotic things had become there.

    To misquote Oscar Wilde, to lose one commissioner is unfortunate, to lose two looks like carelessness.

    The departure of Commissioner Minns occurred in the same week that Building Commissioner David Chandler announced he was cutting short his extended tenure, and Minister Eleni Petinos was summarily dismissed.

    Now we can report that Mr Minns’ resignation seems to be closely related to a hastily concocted plan to replace him (eventually, if and when parliament gets round to it) with a statutorily appointed independent commissioner.

    Ironically (or is it predictably?), his temporary replacement has been drawn from Small Business, the part of her portfolio that consumed most of former Minister Petinos' energy and attention during her short tenure.

    And in another irony, MS Petinos first came to prominence in a sexting scandal involving former Fair Trading minister, Matthew Kean, who has been elevated to deputy premier following the resignation of Stuart Ayres, yet another former Fair Trading Minister.

    Were our colleagues in the media not consumed with what John ‘Porky’ Barilaro did or didn't do and Stuart Ayres did or didn't know about the New York gig, surely they’d be all over this like a cheap suit. It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.  

    That’s just a small part of this week’s podcast.  We also discuss how the brutalist or modernist, or brutally modernist  high rise block looming over Tamarama beach has been given a reprieve following a major speed bump in its process of renewal.

    We chat about the NCAT case which established that tenants can take legal action against owners corporations to force them to fix defective common property.

    We have a look at the block where a majority of owners want to take one neighbour to NCAT for being a nuisance … by continually making successful complaints about their businesses to the local council.

    And we ask, if the victims of flood damage can get their homes bought off them by the government, why can’t the poor benighted owners of flats in Mascot Towers be bailed out in the same way?

    That’s all in this week’s Flat Chat Wrap.


    Jimmy  00:00

    Well, the fallout from various ministries in New South Wales continues; we'll be hearing about the Property Services Commissioner and his sudden departure.

    Sue  00:13

    Gosh, where will it all end?

    Jimmy  00:16

    And, we've got a couple of things from the website, plus some news about that big building at Tamarama. I'm Jimmy Thomson, I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review.

    Sue  00:29

    • 27 min
    Podcast: Petinos, pets and petty squabbles

    Podcast: Petinos, pets and petty squabbles

    There we were, all set with a podcast on David Chandler’s resignation in the can, when we heard that NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet had invited Fair Trading Minister Eleni Petinos to leave at her own chosen speed (one for the Dylan fans, there).

    Now, we could have fudged it with a new intro but Big Dave’s not-very-imminent departure was already old news and the vapour trail from Ms Petinos' expensive fragrance was still lingering from her exit, so it was back in the bunker for a re-take.

    And, full disclosure, there was another reason: we said in the original recording that there was no way that the Premier would sack her, having just supported her while he was in India.

    Ooops! What does this tell us? Maybe things were a lot worse in Fair Trading than he or we thought.

    The one thing notably absent in most other commentary about her departure is any suggestion that it had anything to do with her throwing Building Commissioner Chandler under the bus, over a dubious claim that he had misled parliament.

    But we think that was definitely an element in the decision to send her back to Miranda. Loyalty has its own built-in form of instant karma.

    Other topics include chats about the two stories from the Tribunal that appear on this page -one about a dispute over fire safety and another about a battle to get a second dog into a unit that had permission for one.

    And a quick correction, contrary to what I say on the podcast, the Castle apartment block has six whole-floor apartments, not eight or 10, and the home of pooches Peach and Zodiac is a semi in a strata scheme, not a townhouse.

    That's what I get for talking about stories before I've written them.


    Jimmy  00:00

    Sometimes I think, someone in government waits until they know we've recorded our podcast, and then they make big announcements.

    Sue  00:09

    Yes, so we did a big track about David Chandler and now on Sunday night, Dominic Perrottet's office issued his statement about David Chandler.

    Jimmy  00:20

    Well, actually, it was a statement about Elini Petinos. We'll be talking about Eleni Petinos and Dominic Perrottet's response to complaints about her behaviour. I'm Jimmy Thomson, I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review.

    Sue  00:39

    And I'm Sue Williams and I write about property for Domain.

    Jimmy  00:41

    And this is the Flat Chat Wrap.



    Okay, last night, as you said, the Premier of New South Wales issued a statement about Eleni Petinos, the Minister for Small Business and Fair Trading. I'm just going to read what he said, and we can talk about her response, and then, we'll look at what led up to this whole thing. So, this is what Premier Perrottet said last night...

    'Today I spoke with the Minister for Small Business and Fair Trading, Eleni Petinos, after some further matters concerning her were brought to my attention. In light of these matters, Ms Petino's service as a minister will cease with immediate effect and I will write to the Governor in this regard tomorrow. Minister for Customer Services and Digital Government, Victor Dominello will assume Ms Petino's portfolio responsibilities.' So basically, he sacked her, with immediate effect, Which is incredible really, because usually, Premiers would say 'I spoke to a Minister and they have resigned.'

    • 24 min
    Podcast: Defects, debts and dream bathrooms

    Podcast: Defects, debts and dream bathrooms

    Sometimes we are just too efficient for our own good. No sooner had we sent this week’s podcast off for transcription than the news broke that NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler had announced he will be leaving the job in November – just weeks after he signed a year-long extension to his contract.

    We’ve covered that in detail HERE and will pick up on the news for next week’s podcast.

    Meanwhile, there’s plenty to talk about this week, including the TV report that they have discovered that apartment blocks in Victoria have defects.  Who knew? You can watch the ABC report HERE.

    There’s the anti-strata beat-up about the couple from Earlwood in Sydney who, thanks to bad advice saw an $18,000 special levy blow out to a $44,000 debt – and that was after they had paid off $13,000.

    Then, on the subject of debts, we have a chunk of last week’s interview with strata lawyer David Sachs which I cut out and set aside for this week as it’s mainly about Section 232 of the NSW strata Act and the various – almost limitless – ways it can be used to resolve disputes.

    Then we talk about the things we like about hotels that end up being included in apartment designs.

    So there’s lots to talk about before next week, when rest assured we will get into why David Chandler resigned and what kind of building commissioner the NSW government will be looking for to replace him.


    Jimmy  00:00

    Okay, back from Bali.

    Sue  00:02


    Jimmy  00:03

    With no suntan, but a lot of mosquito bites.

    Sue  00:07

    Yes, but much more relaxed and happy and content.

    Jimmy  00:13

    Well, I was until we had to sit on the plane next to a teenage girl who refused to put a mask on.

    Sue  00:20

    Yes, that was very annoying, wasn't it, really? And she wasn't the only one, there were quite a few people on the plane who weren't wearing masks, which is a bit disturbing.

    Jimmy  00:27

    Because it says on the announcement, that it's a legal requirement that you wear a mask for the duration of the flight.

    Sue  00:33

    But it's pretty hard for the air stewards to insist. They kept coming around and reminding people and people would put on the mask...

    Jimmy  00:39

    And then as soon as they were gone, take it off again. And then they ask you to respect people's choices, which means you can't grab them by the throat and say "put your effing mask on."

    Sue  00:40

    Even though you want to.

    Jimmy  00:52

    Very much so. So today, we are going to talk about... Apparently they've just discovered defects in buildings in Melbourne; it was a big thing on the TV while we were away (shock, horror). Welcome to the real world. And, we're going to have another chat about that. What I think was a confected scandal,

    • 30 min
    Podcast – all you need to know about levy debt

    Podcast – all you need to know about levy debt

    Last week saw the publication of a confected scandal of an elderly couple who’d been given bad advice, blaming their owners corporation for a special levy of $18,000 that had blown out to a debt of $44,000.

    As we pointed out in this story, and on this podcast, the owners corp were probably just fulfilling their legal obligation to fix common property and charge owners according to their unit entitlements.

    But the appallingly one-sided yarn glossed over the influence of the financial and legal advisers who got the couple into that financial hole and instead took potshots at the strata committee and owners corp.

    Anyway, purely by coincidence, the previous week I had sat down with David Sachs, principal of Sachs Gerace Lawyers to talk about levy debts, how they can be recovered and what you should and shouldn’t do when they mount up for one owner.

    This includes tracking down overseas investors who leave their units empty and never pay levies ... which may involve hiring private detectives in foreign countries. Ooooh... exciting!

    But seriously, David provides a calm voice of reason in what can be a highly emotive area … something that was notably lacking in the previously mentioned “fake news” travesty.


    Jimmy  00:03

    Last week, before the story blew up about the old couple in Earlwood being (allegedly) driven out of their home because of a levies debt, I interviewed David Sachs from our sponsors, Sachs Gerace Lawyers, mainly about debt.

    That was something we'd organised well in advance, so it's purely coincidental... and this is by way of an explanation, if people listen to this and think "well, why are you not talking about that story that was in the Sun-Herald?" The reason is, it hadn't happened yet.

    I'm Jimmy Thomson, I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review. And this is a very special Flat Chat Wrap.



    I am with David Sachs of Sachs Gerace Lawyers,  here in Woolloomooloo, technically, and we're going to talk about levy debts and what you can do about them and what you can't do about them. Good afternoon, David.

    David Sachs  01:26

    Hi, Jimmy.

    Jimmy  01:27

    Okay, question one; there is a mandatory 10% penalty rate for unpaid levies, or overdue levies... When does that kick in?

    David Sachs  01:38

    Well, I would never use the word 'penalty.' It's actually a bit of a black mark for lawyers, because penalties mean, you can't recover it. But, there is interest that is chargeable, and it is chargeable from, I guess, the day after the levy is due, but unpaid, but, there's a grace period, so that if you pay within a month after the levies are due, then you're not charged the interest. But, if you paid two days later, then you'll pay for the full 30 days, plus two days.

    Jimmy  02:09

    Which is a proportion of the 10%.

    David Sachs  02:12

    Yes, it's 10% per annum, just calculated in the ordinary ways. So if there was a $100 debt, then 10% of it will be $10, and that would be calculated on a daily basis.

    • 29 min
    Podcast: Hidden issues, fake news and 40k listens

    Podcast: Hidden issues, fake news and 40k listens

    This week on the podcast we hop into the highly dubious story that appeared in the Sydney Sun-Herald this week about a poor old couple who are facing bankruptcy because of a special levy imposed on their block by a heartless and cruel strata committee …

    Hang on! Heartless and cruel? Strata committees can’t set special levies.  And owners corporations have to maintain and repair common property.

    The block is 50 years old – has nobody been putting money in the sinking fund? (Rhetorical question – don’t even bother).

    More to the point, as we explore in depth here, how come the couple paid $13,000 of the special levy but are now $44k in debt.

    And if you think Jimmy tends towards the cynical, wait till you hear Sue’s solution for retired couples who can’t pay their levies because they’re on a fixed income.  FYI, it ain’t setting up a Gofundme appeal.

    Also on the pod, based on this story, we look again at how much you need to tell prospective purchasers about problems in your block (a lot, it turns out).

    And we look at a case where two top-floor owners took over their roof space and added rooms, without a by-law or a by-your-leave, but the owners corp over-reached in their efforts to put things to rights.

    Finally, we have a new promo for our travel website mildrover.com.  Is it an intrusion or a little light relief?  You tell us via mail@flatchat.com.au.

    By the way, in case you were wondering, how can we claim in the intro to pod number 180 that we have had 200 episodes? That’s because in the early days we were on a not-very-good podcast platform and our first 20 episode had just a handful of downloads.

    Just as well we switched to our current pod host Blubrry and started the count from scratch, we now have literally ten times as many listeners as we had before.


    Jimmy  00:00

    We have reached a milestone, in terms of the number of downloads and listens on this podcast.

    Sue  00:06

    Oh, yes, what's that?

    Jimmy  00:07

     Just in the past week, we have ticked over 40,000.

    Sue  00:13

    Wow! Is that 40,000 different people who've listened to us?

    Jimmy  00:16

    No, it's one person, who's listened 40,000 times.

    Sue  00:19

    Is that my mum?

    Jimmy  00:20

    That's the one person who is most likely to have done that. But no, it's good. We've had 200 episodes (almost; we're coming up to our two hundredth. In fact, this might be the two hundredth). That works out at an average of 200 per episode. But the early episodes; like the really early episodes, hardly anyone listened to them, and now we're tracking at just over 50 listens per day.

    Sue  00:47

    Oh, fantastic!

    Jimmy  00:47

     Which is 350 a week, which is pretty good.

    Sue  00:50

    So people want to keep up-to-date with what's happening with apartments and also, find out what they've missed, perhaps.

    Jimmy  00:55

    • 26 min
    Podcast: Knives out for Commissioner Chandler

    Podcast: Knives out for Commissioner Chandler

    This week’s Flat Chat Wrap has a look at something we predicted a few weeks ago – that the knives would soon be out for Building Commissioner David Chandler, just as they were all those years ago for Police Commissioner Peter Ryan.

    Why? Maybe because he's been a bit too successful at doing exactly what he was asked to do - get rid of of a crooks and shonks in the property development industry.

    Those crooks and shonks didn't get where they are today without having friends in high places ... and the media.

    We also take a quick squiz at some new statistics that show that more and more Australians are moving into apartment blocks.

    And Jimmy has a bit of a rant about Airbnb (what, again???) and passes on a brilliant suggestion from a reader that could fix the issue of residential properties being switched to holiday rentals when there’s a dire housing shortage.

    And then we look at the block where someone got themselves elected to their strata committee than promptly gave their vote to a mate and took off for a year’s holiday. 

    There’s all that and more on the Flat Chat Wrap this week.


    Jimmy  00:00

    You got over your post-COVID brain fog?

    Sue  00:03

    I don't think I ever had any.

    Jimmy  00:04

    Well, I had it.

    Sue  00:05

    Did you?

    Jimmy  00:05

    Yes, last week.  I did the newsletter and got it all ready and then decided at the last minute to change just one line. I went back in, edited it and then forgot to resend. It was only that I got an email on Friday morning from a reader saying "oh, have you stopped doing your newsletter, because I really look forward to it," that I thought "oh god, it hasn't gone out!"

    Sue  00:29

    Wow, because I actually got the newsletter the other day, and I thought "oh, this is a bit weird. Why am I getting it today?"

    Jimmy  00:35

    Because of brain fog! Okay, right. We'd better crack on. I'm Jimmy Thomson. I write the Flat Chat column for the Australian Financial Review.

    Sue  00:44

    And I'm Sue Williams and I write about property for Domain.

    Jimmy  00:47

    This is the Flat Chat Wrap. Remember a few weeks ago, we were talking about David Chandler, and how he was in danger of moving into Peter Ryan territory?

    Sue  01:12

    Oh right; being white-anted?

    Jimmy  01:13

    Yes, and it's started. There's an article you pointed out in The Australian newspaper, that he is being investigated by the Fair Trading Department; his boss, Eleni Petinos, the Fair Trading and Small Business... Sorry, I should correct myself... She's Small Business first and then a bit of Fair Trading, added on. Yes, because of a speech that he made, where he said he'd provided a list to the banks of all the dodgy certifiers...

    Sue  01:49

    Right. It's probably beyond his remit, is it?

    Jimmy  01:53

    Well, he was saying at the time, that these are people who will probably never work again, because they've been shown to be dodgy. And of course, this has set off alarms, because it's much more important for dodgy certifiers to be protected,

    • 25 min

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