Travelling back east from a mini break in WA I was thinking about participation rates in some strata schemes, particularly those with many investor owners. This was in light of attending a string of highly emotional and contentious general meetings just before my break.
Two common denominators of the meetings were:
- The owners corporation (or at least several strong willed lot owners) were at loggerheads; and
- The majority of lot owners had chosen either to not attend or had voted by proxy.
A key reason why lot owners chose not to participate was due to a fear of confrontation and having to take sides. I was asked several times whether a lot owner could have someone else attend on their behalf (the answer is yes – provided they complete a proxy form naming that person as their proxy), and whether they could have a support person attend (the answer is yes – unless the owners corporation passes a motion to restrict the meeting to lot owners, their proxies, and those who are otherwise entitled to vote (such as mortgagees or covenant chargees or company nominees) only. The follow up question was always whether the support person could speak at the meeting (the answer is not necessarily). Technically, as it is a meeting of the owners corporation people who are not either a lot owner, proxy, company nominee, first mortgagee or covenant chargee are not entitled to attend the meeting and, if they do, they need to be invited to speak, they do not have an automatic right to be heard at the meeting.
What to do if you feel intimidated or want to avoid confrontation at a general meeting?
- Have someone attend with you either as a support person or as your proxy. If you want to have someone speak on your behalf you should nominate them as your proxy. Why? Your proxy is essentially standing in your shoes and has the same rights that you would have. You can still attend the meeting however if you vote, your proxy cannot also vote on the same motion.
- If you cannot attend, and the person you would like as your proxy cannot physically attend the meeting, then you should complete a proxy form (making sure you provide your lot number, name and the name/position of your proxy on the form and date and sign the form) and submit it to the Secretary of your owners corporation in time (in NSW for large schemes this is 24 hours before the meeting or for small schemes of under 100 lots, it is prior to the commencement of the meeting). If you want to vote in a specific way for a certain motion then specify this on your form.
- Speak to your strata manager beforehand and let them know of your concerns. Your strata manager, if warned can intercede to try to keep emotive comments to a minimum and to keep comments constructive.
- More generally, play the ball and not the person. Try to stay away from making comments on individuals and keep your comments on issues constructive and encourage others to do the same.
- Finally, if the discussion starts getting heated or off track, reminding everyone of the motion to be voted on and time constraints can often cut through arguments.
Remember, the important thing is that your vote is counted. Your home is often your biggest investment you will make and as part of managing this investment it is vital that you are informed and active in your owners corporation. This includes attending meetings whether in person or by proxy.
Let’s hope the long awaiting strata reforms provide increased options for meeting attendance to take advantage of options such as teleconferencing, videoconferencing or even web based chat sessions. These will hopefully assist in preventing confrontations and intimidation at meetings and increase participation. After all, in the age of technology, there is no reason why a lot owner in Perth couldn’t participate in a general meeting in Port Stephens.
Although the expectation of instantaneous access and advice brought about by technology is a good reason for strata lawyers to find remote places (i.e. The Ningaloo coast) to dive off…. Sorry, but the obligatory show off whaleshark video is here…