Taking ownership of multi-unit living
Owning an apartment comes with a host of responsibilities around managing the property. When owners fail to engage, disaster can result – but there is growing awareness of the need to be hands-on, writes JOANNE HUNT
WE ALL remember them. Boom-time billboards with glamorous couples clinking champagne flutes in their perfectly appointed kitchens – they were selling us not just a property, but a lifestyle.
Hulking above the heaving dual carriageway on a wet November evening, their slogans promised if you lived here, the living would be easy.
Stand-offs over service charges, rogue managing agents and anarchy at the agm – the potential pitfalls of living in a multi-unit development were never mentioned. And with the responsibility for their upkeep now resting squarely with owners, it doesn’t always make for easy living.
“Things just started to get very ugly,” says Ciara of a debacle among the residents of the northside development where she bought an apartment in 2003. She doesn’t want to be identified, because the debacle in question is ongoing. Two years ago, tensions over landscaping led the resident-run management company to abdicate, leaving a void until a new committee was formed.
“There was such bad feeling, the person doing the accounts [a resident] wouldn’t even talk to the new committee. People still aren’t talking to each other.”
Such are the potential travails of living in multi-unit developments, where property owners are not just living side-by-side but also effectively run a company together. The 2011 Multi-Unit Development (MUD) Act was designed to make life for these people more harmonious.
Made law on April 1st last year, the Act means owners in multi-unit developments, whether they are a resident or an investor, now each hold one equal share in an owners’ management company (OMC) for each unit they own. As such, they are invited to an agm to elect a board of directors from among themselves, which is then legally responsible for managing the development.
The directors typically hire a managing agent to look after maintenance, the collection of service charges and the keeping of accounts. But with collaborative decisions to be made about everything from bin collection to hedge heights, colour palettes and vermin control, it’s easy to see how relations can fray.
In Ciara’s case, an elected committee of owners had for years successfully managed the development itself, without a managing agent. But when the committee took a decision to bulldoze mature trees and pave gardens to lower landscaping costs, not everyone was happy.
“The gardens, I think most people would say, were the selling point,” says Ciara. “The committee decided to bring in a guy with a digger and it was only discovered when people looked out their windows. People were standing in front of the digger and calling the guards and solicitors – it got very ugly.”
She says other owners felt the decision was too big for them not to be consulted. “Work was stopped half way through and we had to spend a large amount of money out of the sinking fund to repair the damage.” Relations since have been less easy to repair.
“Be very aware that your committee does have power,” says Ciara, who has since become a director in the new OMC. “They can make decisions about your development that could affect its value. It really pays to be involved.”
One of the most pressing issues dealt with in the Act was the retention of ownership by some developers of common areas. They could legally retain that ownership, and control of managing the estate, until the last apartment was sold – with no time limit for transfer of control to apartment owners.