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A HAMI HILL flat owner who suffered mysteriously huge power bills for two years has been hit with a double-whammy, with maintenance costs for his ageing strata complex set to cripple him.

While battling to get to the bottom of his crazy power bills, which at one point hit more than $500 for a handful of appliances, Jason Sheffield waged a one-man campaign to get serious structural problems addressed at the 36-unit Charlemagne Gardens.


Like many of the state’s early strata complexes, it’s getting pretty shabby: balcony railings are too rusted to be trusted, concrete cancer has eaten walkways through to the reinforcing steel and a crack runs the length of Mr Sheffield’s kitchen.

He says for years he was treated like a pest for raising the issue until Cockburn council backed him and told the strata managers to pull up their socks.

That was more than three years ago, and after going through a couple of strata managers, the owners recently got the sobering news from an engineering firm that they’re up for a minimum of $38,000 this year. That will only cover the most urgent of the concrete cancer; the full treatment adds another $100,000 on top.

Mr Sheffield, who recently came off a disability pension and onto the dole, says that after dipping into his superannuation to help get by during his electricity bill dramas, he’s got nothing left in reserve and is already behind in his strata fees.

Despite his power bills returning to normal without any discernible change to his lifestyle, Mr Sheffield says no one’s been able to offer an explanation, and with no money to hire a lawyer he’s unlikely to see any compensation and that’s left him worried about his future.

He’s loathe to sell his unit to cover his bills, saying a neighbour recently dropped the price of their unit to under $200,000 and still couldn’t find a buyer in a tight real estate market.

Western Australia is in the throws of adopting new strata laws which are anticipated to be implemented next year and aim to overcome issues such as those facing Charlemagne Gardens.

Under one proposed change, apartment owners can be offered long-term leases of between 20 and 99 years, with freehold reverting to the land owner when the leases expire.

Another option is known as community title, which will enable multiple strata schemes over one land parcel or in one building, each with their own bylaws and community corporation.

The State Administrative Tribunal will also be given greater power to help resolve disputes, while a new voting process will end the stranglehold a single unit owner can have on a strata company’s ability to sell up and redevelop.


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