As increasing numbers of Sydney residents move into strata-titled apartments and townhouses, many strata executive committee members are ill-equipped to deal with problems that can affect quality of life and property values, new research shows.

Just over half (51 per cent) of executive committee members have had to deal with building defects in addition to the regular duties of running a strata scheme, the Governing the Compact City study, by the UNSW City Futures Research Centre, has found.

At the same time more than a third (37 per cent) reported difficulty in getting information needed to carry out their duties, while the same proportion said it was difficult to attract people to sit on their executive committee.

Dr Hazel Easthope, one of the study authors, said there is an urgent need for more support and stronger consumer protections for strata schemes to avoid even more widespread problems in the future. An estimated one million, or one in four, Sydneysiders already live in a strata-titled property and that number is set to increase approximately 800,000 by 2036.

"Strata executives are volunteers responsible for making decisions about the future of valuable building assets and things such as the acceptable behaviour of neighbours. They are often working this out by trial and error, often alongside people with different ideas on how things should be done," Dr Easthope said.

Dr Easthope said the high number of people reporting problems with building defects was influenced by two factors: a move to self-certification of construction work that had allowed inadequate work to go unnoticed; and the greater difficulty for strata owners to get defects fixed compared with owners of detached houses.

"Strata schemes are made up of multiple owners, so discovery of defects and decisions on how to pursue remedies can be lengthy and difficult processes. Also, because contracts for a building are between the developer and the builder, an owners' corporation is not able to use that contract to pursue a builder to rectify problems," she said.

The survey also found three-quarters (74 per cent) of respondents supported a formal training system for executive committee members. Strata schemes are largely self-regulated, with executive committee members responsible for ensuring issues are dealt with properly, and for enforcement where problems arise.

Processes for dealing with problems were complex, frustrating and costly, Dr Easthope said, with one in six respondents reporting that mediation had not resolved disputes and 31 per cent having paid for legal advice at some stage.

The study surveyed 413 executive committee members from around NSW.

The City Futures Research Centre is inviting owners of strata dwellings to participate in an online survey.

Media contacts:Dr Hazel Easthope | 02 9385 6041 | Peter Trute, UNSW Media Office | 02 9385 1933 | 0410 271 826 |