New rules regarding the mandatory wearing of masks inside apartment blocks are set to cause widespread confusion unless out-of-date government information is updated according to a leading strata law expert.
From this week it is now mandatory for anyone indoors on residential strata common property in Greater Sydney to wear a mask.
If they fail to comply they will be in breach of the public health order and liable to a penalty.
Whilst I support this new law in the interests of stopping the spread of this highly transmissible new variant of the virus, I am concerned this could be misunderstood as giving power to building managers and committee members to turn people away from their homes if they happen to have forgotten a mask.
I have already seen emails from various strata management companies sharing links to NSW health posters proclaiming ‘Wear a face mask'.
It's a condition of entry, encouraging buildings to put these posters up in their common areas.
It is not a condition of entry and such posters should not be put up in residential strata buildings.
Here is a link to the correct poster
Building managers are no more entitled to turn the mask-less away from their homes than they are to chase them out of their local Coles: such action is a matter for the police or, in the case of a business, the premises owner.
Businesses can make mask-wearing a condition of entry: they are private enterprises and make their own rules about their own premises.
But owners corporations are different beasts.
Every owner has a share in the common property and should therefore have a say in how it's managed.
This includes whether or not mask-wearing should be made "a condition of entry" - quite a different concept to making mask-wearing mandatory on common property.
Frustratingly there is no single source of reliable information that apartment residents and managers can turn to for clarification on their rights and obligations during the pandemic.
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Managers and community leaders are just stumbling along, doing their best to keep everyone safe, but at the same time not knowing exactly what the rules are and how to enforce them.
Fair Trading is supposed to be the regulator for strata communities but the COVID page on their website is completely out of date.
Victoria was streets ahead of NSW when it came to writing urgent health orders that dealt specifically with apartment communities.
Victoria now also requires owners’ corporations to implement COVIDSafe plans. It has an up-to-date website setting out the steps communities should take to get that plan in place.
This is precisely what we need to be urgently mandated in NSW.
Surely, it's not hard to replicate what has been done down there?
Since the pandemic broke in March 2020 various parts of the strata industry - most notably the Owners Corporation Network - have been calling for special attention to be given to apartment communities.
Until now, the NSW government has resisted, saying strata apartments are just the same as any other private residence and residents can manage themselves.
That’s just not the case. We have unique, shared spaces that don’t otherwise fall within the health order definitions.
The new mask-wearing rule is the first-time apartments have been specifically mentioned in an NSW public health order, but I fear it may be too little, too late.
The announcement of the new rule has been closely followed by an outbreak in a Bondi apartment block in Sydney's eastern suburbs where eight cases of COVID-19 have been identified in recent days. Cases were spread over five different units in the block of 29 apartments.
I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt this is the last we’ll hear of significant outbreaks in apartment buildings.