New rules regarding the mandatory wearing of masks inside apartment blocks are set to cause widespread confusion unless out of date government information is updated according to a leading strata law expert.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 penalty.
Strata lawyer Amanda Farmer, who is the director of Lawyers Chambers on Riley, said she supported stopping the spread of the highly transmissible new variant of the virus, but was worried the public health order could be taken the wrong way.
“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,” she said.
“That is absolutely not the effect of the amended public health order.
“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.”
Ms Farmer said building managers were no more entitled to turn those not wearing a mask away than they are to chase them out of their local supermarket.
“Such action is a matter for the police or, in the case of a business, the premises owner,” she said.
“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’, which is quite a different concept to making mask-wearing mandatory on common property.”
Ms Farmer said it was frustrating that there was no single source of reliable information apartment residents and managers could turn to for clarification on their rights and obligations during the pandemic.
“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,” she said.
“Fair Trading is supposed to be the regulator for strata communities but the COVID-19 page on their website is completely out of date.”
Ms Farmer said Victoria was streets ahead of NSW when it came to writing urgent health orders that dealt specifically with apartment communities.
“Right from the start of the pandemic, the Victorian health orders mentioned apartments,” she said.
“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.”
“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.”