How many times do we hear people complaining about our politicians and the decisions they make? Sometimes, the phrasing of these complaints make it sound like politicians get into power by some unexplainable and inaccessible process, and that we, the members of the community, have no power to influence their decisions or remove them.
In some countries, this may be the case. In Australia, where we are fortunate to have a representative democratic government, this is not true. Democracy literally means rule by the people – the ultimate power rests with us. Your vote is your mechanism for influencing policies and removing from power those who have not accurately represented you.
Sometimes in our line of work, we similarly hear complaints about how unpopular decisions are being made by a few. This leads us to believe that lot owners don’t realise the owners corporation community is also a representative democracy, and that decision making power ultimately rests with you.
Lot owners make decisions for the owners corporation in two ways.
Firstly, just as we elect a Parliament to make decisions on our behalf, lot owners elect a owners corporation committee. Secondly, a more direct form of democracy is set out in the owners corporation legislation, where significant decisions are removed from the hands of the elected few and must be decided by all owners.
Allocating decision-making power to a small number of representatives enables everyday decisions to be made easily without the hassle and cost of getting all members of a community together. It’s a pragmatic solution evident in Australian democracy and in bodies corporate. In bodies corporate, the committee deals with many decisions on behalf of all owners such as authorising maintenance or giving approvals for requests in line with by-laws.
There are limits on the decisions committees can make. The Owners Strata Schemes Management Act 1996 outlines restricted decisions that the committee cannot make, for example, changing levy contributions. Additionally, the owners corporation can decide at an annual general meeting that some issues are reserved, that is, they must only be decided at a general meeting of all lot owners.
Annual General Meeting
The annual general meeting (AGM) is an example of a more direct form of democracy, where decisions are made by all members of the owners corporation community, not by those they elect to represent them. A number of significant issues are raised at the AGM, and owners should take the opportunity to exercise their vote at this meeting.
Committee elections are held at the AGM. As the committee is responsible for a large number of decisions throughout the year, it is incredibly important that you attend and vote on the nominations.
The AGM agenda also includes a number of essential financial decisions. As any financial decisions of the owners corporation have financial implications for you as an owner, you should make the effort to attend and be informed. The budgets approved at the AGM will be the basis of your owner levies for the year, so attending the meeting will give you insight on how your levies are determined.
Owner Input – Lot Owner Motions
You might still feel like your input in owners corporation decisions is minimal, or at least restricted to a select number of issues. A large number of lot owners are unaware that they can put forward their ideas to the committee or the AGM by submitting a lot owner motion. Lot owners should ensure their motion is realistic, achievable, and something that other owners are likely to support.
Lot owners often forget that significant power rests with them. If you are dissatisfied with decisions made in your community, remember that the process is not out of your reach – you have the power to make a change.