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Owners corporation law

11 Aug 2016

Owners corporation law Image

Strata law goes to the movies

I’ll stick to what I’m good at, being a lawyer that is. However, a recent movie that came to the cinemas piqued my attention, and I’m compelled to write about it. If you live in an apartment, it could be right up your alley or, ahem, garbage chute.

The 2015 film High-rise, directed by Ben Wheatley and starring Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston and Sienna Miller is an atmospheric thriller that details life and society within a high-rise building in London during the 1970s.

The film follows the main protagonist, Dr. Robert Laing (Hiddleston) as he moves into a new 40-storey high-rise tower built by a renowned architect (Jeremy Irons) who also lives in a top-storey penthouse. The building is the epitome of chic, the upper class families live in the top floors, while the more common families live in the lower ones. The high-rise provides its tenants with a swimming pool, gym, spa, sauna, supermarket and even a school. Gradually, the building occupants feel little need to go outside the building (aside from working hours) and gradually become isolated from the outside world.

The euphoria of residing in the swish new building fades as power fails routinely in the building, along with water being shut off and rubbish chutes becoming blocked, mainly on the lower floors.

Needless to say, law and order begins to disintegrate in the building due to the failing infrastructure and increasing tensions between floors. Violence increases, food from the supermarket becomes scarce, and the building devolves into class warfare between floors.

Let’s be clear – this movie (and the book written in 1975 that preceded it) is not a story about high-rise strata living. It’s a social commentary about consumerism, class divide, the scarcity of resources and the frustration of the everyday man. But interestingly enough, the high-rise building has been chosen as the vehicle to make this social commentary. And I’m interested in that commentary, and I can see, in a far less extreme and in a non-literal sense, that art might imitate life after all.

Separate entrances and plushy amenities for wealthy apartment owners are becoming more and more common in Melbourne’s towers. The two-tier trend of a separate foyer and set of amenities for the priciest penthouses, and another for the ‘rest of us’ is symbolic of an emerging ultra prestige trend in the Melbourne apartment market. Eureka tower, completed nearly 10 years ago, is an example. The Capitol Grand and Australia 108 also have split lobbies and facilities, including dining rooms, gyms and pools, for different sections of the skyscraper.

Legally, this is made possible by creating multiple limited owners’ corporations within the same development, so that each part of the building pays levies to its own funds, and to the unlimited owners’ corporation (known as Owners’ Corporation 1 which usually levies for expenses such as concierge, security, insurance and the like).

But to coin a new phrase, those who pay together, stay together. Or more accurately, those who sweat together stay together.

I’m not sure that today’s fast-paced society is in need of such extreme segregation. Certainly not in the strata world. That’s not to say that a market doesn’t exist for these facilities, because clearly there is one. And of course, business class and first class on airplane flights has been around for 30 years, together with separate queues, check-in and lounge facilities.

Let’s all hope that the ultimate unraveling of the building and its occupants in High-rise does not come to pass, metaphorically in society or literally in the case of an actual building, but it is worth heeding the movie’s message in parodying the evolving exclusionary, segregated and separate direction that society is taking. Perhaps developers, town planners and councils ought to consult more with sociologists and psychologists about what type of common facilities are going to work best for vertical high rise communities. Separates aren’t always better.

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