Increasing numbers of people are calling strata properties home and this is particularly the case for migrants.
It is in the interest of all owners to pay more attention on how to make apartment buildings work for residents from many different cultural backgrounds.
Living in close proximity to strangers increases the likelihood of tension. Issues can range from complaints about noise and parking to disputes about levies and budgets. Cultural and language differences can aggravate these conflicts.
Successful strata living requires cooperation and compromise between residents. People often find themselves living in strata and interacting with folks who have different priorities and expectations to themselves. This can be challenging when it comes to communication between residents and between owners.
In Australia, we have a range of very diverse cultural backgrounds from which strata owners and tenants come that can make situations even more complex.
Australia is one of the world’s most multicultural societies.
- According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Census, 26% of Australians identified as being born overseas. That represents a higher proportion of overseas-born people than the United States (14%), Canada (22%), United Kingdom (13%) and New Zealand (23%).
- More than half of apartment residents – 56%, compared to 33% of all Australian residents – are migrants. Of these, the biggest group (26% of apartment residents) are migrants born in Asia.
- A 2018 report from City Futures Research Centre, UNSW found that only half of all Australian apartment residents speak English as their first language at home.
- The report also identifies that only 43% of all apartment residents are born in Australia, with China and India at 7% and 5% respectively, leading the list of birth countries for strata residents.
Challenges of Apartment Living
Australian apartment living expectations and norms can be quite different to what many migrants are used to, and conversely, for many Australian-born residents, apartment living is also very unfamiliar.
Social and cultural differences can contribute to tensions within apartment buildings. These can range from issues about shoes left in common areas, washing hung on balconies, or “strong” cooking smells.
This is not limited to different ethnic or cultural backgrounds but also includes tensions between residents of different ages, household types and working schedules. Cultural difference is but one of many factors that can contribute to tensions in apartment buildings.
One of the common complaints made by owners in a multicultural strata community is that the newly arrived migrant owners never come to the Annual General Meeting or volunteer to be on the strata committee.
Australian strata regulations and bylaws reflect a particular understanding of what it means to own or live in an apartment. The obligations and rights as an apartment owner- for example, the right to vote on motions at meetings – will be very different in other countries.
Sometimes new arrivals may not even be aware of basic strata responsibilities such as the need to pay levies. Commonly this is a result of body corporate rules and regulations not having been adequately explained to them.
New arrivals’ lack of English and lack of familiarity with Australian regulations had prevented them from fully participating in their body corporate.
This is to be expected as language barriers and cultural differences can make it extremely discouraging for new arrivals to come along and contribute to the benefit of the strata community.
Breaking Down Communication Barriers
After an incredibly challenging 2020, communities all around Australia have benefited from leaders and institutions who communicate clearly. One of the biggest hurdles in successful strata living is the clear and concise communication between community members.
In a diverse community with many languages spoken, it is in the interest of the entire strata community to endeavor to break down communication barriers. Beyond creating a more inclusive community, there’s a host of important reasons why communication must be a priority.
Following the 2014 Lacrosse building fire in Victoria, the Melbourne City Council identified communication barriers as a significant problem in the safe evacuation of tenants, during and in the aftermath of the evacuation.
And just last year, during the height of the pandemic, residents in Melbourne strata buildings faced challenges in understanding lockdown rules and social distancing guidelines in part due to poorly translated health resources.
Breaking down cultural and language barriers does more than just ensure good communication and compliance in our strata communities, it also helps us to learn from one another.
How to Promote Multicultural Inclusion
Try utilising some more inclusive practices such as:
- translating documents and meeting discussions,
- conducting surveys of building residents,
- providing a range of opportunities for participation – will benefit all residents and owners, regardless of their background.
Do a quick survey of residents to get a better idea of the diversity among your neighbours. If many people are of a particular cultural group this knowledge can help you plan communication and events accordingly.
For example, you could arrange for an owner to act as a translator at meetings and relay information to others who may struggle with English. Or you can plan communal activities around important dates such as Chinese New Year, Diwali or Eid.
Committee in diverse communities should try to issue AGM papers in several languages to help all community members play an active role in voting
Find out what languages are spoken in your community – get help from a translator if needed. This can help when issuing important building notices and ensuring compliance with evacuation notices and warnings.
Using Facebook or WhatsApp groups is also great way to encourage communication and this may also be an easier method of communication for those with poor spoken English.
Be Careful Not to Single Out a Group
Translating important documents will help your neighbours who have poor English skills, but be careful not to single out a specific language or cultural group.
An example would be issuing a warning on behaviour that is only in the one language. This may cause offence and open up the body corporate to claims of discrimination.
Apartment living offers great opportunities to enhance understanding between cultures. However, without efforts to properly communicate it can also exacerbate tensions and hostility.
Promoting harmonious relations within a strata scheme is increasingly vital for a thriving community. Bodies corporate need to pay more attention to innovations, ideas and strategies for achieving this goal.