Strata Privacy= Listen carefully, I don’t repeat myself

There is so much wrong with my swamp that often some of the simpler details get dwarfed by the humongous flourishes of the “stupid” brush. One of the biggest consequences of an inept strata council would be a lack of privacy. A mismanaged corporation is just a perfect place to breach the Privacy Act but it can be masked so cleverly by ignorance that even owners whose privacy has been compromised don’t know it until, well, their information is public knowledge.

Personally, I believe privacy is the easiest thing to ensure. Even so we have legislation to protect us in case other people don’t quite appreciate individual rights. Saying that, it is absolutely mind-boggling how often privacy is trampled on to suit an agenda cooked up by strata councils.

The swamp Green Thumb – remember her, she redefines the strata plan at will- is very smooth about how she breaches privacy. Being a know-it-all, she never stops to think about the long term effects of her verbosity ( actually, she likes the word? “verbage” but that’s another blog) she just feels empowered by the sound of her own voice. It’s very superficial because in order to assert something, she will grab whatever thought places itself first at the base of her tongue and then just exhort and exclaim and expound. She’s like morning-glory gone to seed all over the Privacy Act.

Let me give you an example of a privacy breach that should give all strata owners pause.

We used to be a self-managed corporation. We did a good job. The privacy of owners was, absolutely, the most important priority. One of us was responsible for locking up all the files properly. No information was disclosed without dotting all the “i’s” and crossing all the “t’s” and very careful considerations. All owners were treated the same way – fairly and according to the Act because we all live together in a very small community. But, as happens in a strata corporation, owners come and owners go. As a matter of course, individual owner information no longer relevant to the business of the corporation was purged along with  personal identity information. I was actually very surprised selling owners didn’t request their file from the corporation as well as written documentation confirming return and receipt. I always asked. Mostly owners indicated they didn’t care what we did with the information. Baffles me still!

Often times a new group of owners will be nervous about self-management for all the right reasons. Generally a communicative council will go to lengths to encourage support and confidence by being transparent. Despite the transparency though, some owners feel more secure with a property management company. In our case, the owners voted to hire a property management  firm,initially to provide financial accounting services only and then, full service. I stepped down and carted all the records and documents over to the new Treasurer complete with an inventory sheet. That was it: signed, sealed, delivered and confirmed. I thought the Treasurer would turn it all over to the property management. Silly me!

Now, when a strata corporation pays a management company for full service, part of that service is secure document and records storage. Most management company contracts stipulate the requirement to hold and store documents. The company my new owners hired through the council, did not retrieve the documents because ( I hope you are sitting while reading) they….”didn’t have enough room to handle strata records”. I found this out of course when I asked to see documents under Section 35 of the Strata Property Act and the property manager explained he couldn’t get a response from the council. Further questions finally got an answer: The records are actually in various different council member’s units and not all of them are home and the council executive couldn’t exactly say where the documents I wanted to see were located.Swamp council members don’t like to have their “personal” time interrupted by council business. It actually makes the case for external document storage eh?!

Naturally, that whole episode ignited a flame which soon became a bonfire of privacy breaches and battles for information.You see, Green Thumb took it upon herself to store individual owner files….not all of them, just the ones she could use. Top of the list…..mine. Her catch phrase is always,” I don’t repeat gossip so listen carefully” and she always says it under her  breath while sweeping, or weeding, or planting so it’s not obvious, just part of her business of running things.

Green Thumb likes to make a jungle out of her deck and entertain there as though she were auditioning for a spread in Better Condos and Gardens. She invites previous council members I worked with who would bring along their emails from old council days together with their bitterness, and added to her public reading of my file, would make this a,“This is your strata life” moment for all the newbie council members and their friends and spouses.

I’d follow process and write to the council through its management asking to have my file contents returned to me as they were no longer relevant to the business of the corporation and I was concerned council was breaching my privacy. Nothing. Zip. Nada. As if to prove my point they’d gather following my correspondence and discuss me aloud with whoever would listen.They were talking about issues from previous years and how the self-managed council handled them ( If you ask me she should have given them more study- she’d have learned a thing or two).

The gatherings were always in her strata jungle which happens to be immediately adjacent to my deck and always amidst free flowing alcohol. You can imagine how obnoxious and indiscriminate the comments would become over the course of an evening.

To apathetic followers and newbie council wanting the approval of the Green Thumb, this information train was not discretionary as much as enlightening….know her enemy so you can suck up more efficiently. Gossip is usually one-sided and prejudicial but when you hear it from an authority first,  – or a perceived authority – the tendency is to believe it. The swamp serves an inept, slanderous council very well indeed.

Heres the thing: When you choose to trust a particular group because you believe they know-it-all, it is difficult to admit you made a mistake especially if it means you had a negative effect on someone else by doing so. As I have said before, groupthink is dangerously insidious.

When confronted in a legal setting what happens to Green Thumb do you think? Simple, she pops that big ole dirty thumb in her mouth and sucks the circulation right out of it. Courageous owners attempt to clarify the gossip and suddenly, Green Thumb is a victim – overwhelmed by the pressures and requirements of being a volunteer. Although I’d suggest her sucking affected her ability to weed her grey matter.

Thank goodness for P.I.P.A. No not Kate’s sister. I mean the Personal Information and Privacy Act.

Now, a committed owner should seek assistance from the privacy commissioner. The strata corporation has a duty to protect your information. You MUST have a Privacy Officer especially if you pay full service fees to a property manager. Honest management should ensure a council is aware of this requirement. If not, terminate the contract because chances are pretty good the management will use a lack of privacy policy to its advantage.Mine certainly does. Remember always, the property management can now lay blame for any action at the door of the council. If the council didn’t know, well, that’s not the responsibility of the management company. A good manager will make sure there is a privacy policy and a privacy officer.

If more owners kept council accountability at the forefront of their expectations, privacy breaches would be few and far between. In the meantime, don’t let your file be freely accessed by your more know-it-all neighbours and their suck-up proliferates. Write to council and demand written permissions before your information is mined for nefarious reasons and ask for any information in your file, no longer relevant, to be removed. Get copies of removed items and, if like me you are ignored, go right to the Privacy Commissioner and get some action. Upon selling, ask to have your file returned to you including all correspondence between you and the council. Unless you altered common property with or without permission or were involved in a legal suit directly, the corporation no longer requires your information.

Take a few minutes of time and read through, The Privacy Act for Stratas. No one will protect your privacy better than you especially with an understanding of the tools available for the purpose.

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Posted in Strata Privacy
One comment on “Strata Privacy= Listen carefully, I don’t repeat myself
  1. Johnny Stork says:

    Another GREAT and very practical and informative blog entry for those innept strata councils or agents who are ignorant of the sections in PIPA which apply to them. Although I have not (yet) blogged about the final report from the Office of the Privacy Commisioner regarding my own strata (Marina Estates) and agent’s (Dynamic Property Management) Privacy Act breaches, the conclusion was not a surprise. They DID breach owner privacy protected under PIPA, and they FAILED to respond appropriately to the breach, also a PIPA requirement. So now the agent and strata council have been ordered by the Privacy Commissioner to fully comply with the ACT, which means (among other things):

    1: Provide a written response to the owner who’s privacy has been breached.
    2: Ensure that someone on council is appointed as the Privacy Officer.
    3: Ensure that a Privacy Policy is created.

    Points 2 and 3 (Privacy Officer and Privacy Policy) are actually REQUIREMENTS of PIPA for ALL stratas and agents. I draw attention to this since the blog article indicates that a strata “should have a Privacy Officer”. I could be mistaken, but as I understand PIPA, stratas’ MUST have a Privacy Officer and Privacy Policy.

    So if you are a strata owner and have questions or concerns about privacy, just ask your council or agent for:

    1: Who is our Privacy Officer
    2: May I have a copy of our Privacy Policy

    If you get no response from your strata council or agent, or these items are not available, inform your council or agent these are REQUIREMENTS under PIPA and you would like to see both 1 and 2 within 30 days. If you get no response, file a formal complaint with the Office of the Privacy Commisioner. Below is a link to one example of a strata council and agent who failed to protect owner privacy.

    Dynamic Property Management: Formal (PIPA) Privacy Complaints Filed

    Great article StrataQueen!


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