There are two types of people who should never live in an apartment.
The first I will call the periscope. You know the type – they have no peripheral vision. They live in their own little bubble, oblivious to the impact they have on those around them. On the road they are the one who won’t let you merge, not out of spite, but because they didn’t see you. At the beach shower they are the one who spends five minutes rinsing their feet, oblivious to the growing queue. And in an apartment, they are the one who wears high heels on their timber floors, parks their car across two spaces and spreads their laundry so far apart there is no room for anybody else to hang their socks. They aren’t bad people as such, they just don’t see things they aren’t looking for. If you gently point something out to them, they are more than likely to make some space or move aside happily, but don’t expect them to behave differently the next time. Consideration is not their strong suit.
The second I will call the nit-picker. They believe it is their role to make the world work as it should. On the road they are the one who will hoot at you if you try to merge, as if they own the lane. At the beach they will scold you for kicking that ball and chastise your kids for digging a trench in the sand. And in an apartment building they are the ones who will always be on the strata committee, where they delight in making rules for everybody else to live by. They also aren’t bad people, they just see the world in black and white and insist that others should too. Tolerance of others is not a quality to which they aspire. You will usually find someone like this in the middle of any apartment neighbour conflict.
In Sydney today, one hundred suburbs have more people living in apartments than houses. And the proportion of strata-dwellers is increasing. If we are to continue to enjoy living in this city, we are all going to have to learn the two secrets to avoiding apartment neighbour conflict – consideration and tolerance.
Let’s face it, while we humans are social animals, we like to be the masters of our own domains. And while this may have been theoretically possible when we all lived on quarter-acre blocks, apartment living requires that we learn to share. In a strata scheme, all you really own is the air space inside your unit. Everything else, the corridors, stairs, foyers, driveways, gardens, clotheslines, pools, rooftops, etc – are shared. And inevitably from time to time (regardless of the by-laws) you are going to be impacted by the activities of others. Life is messy. Sounds and smells don’t respect boundaries, people have different dress codes, children play, cats pee, old women walk slowly, young men drive fast. We all need to recognise the impact that we have on our fellow building occupants and be as considerate as we can.
At the same time, we need to learn to live with shades of grey. Strata by-laws are like those ‘everything prohibited’ signs at the beach. They are there as a reference when things go too far – they are not an invitation to jump on our neighbours for the slightest infraction. If your neighbour occasionally leaves his boots outside his door or you hear his radio in the morning, let it be. Tolerance of a level of non-compliance is not the thin end of the wedge. It is a prerequisite for harmonious strata living.
A good Strata Manager understands this balance. As an objective, independent voice they are well-placed to help manage apartment neighbour conflict, either by gently reminding a resident of the reason for a particular by-law or by quietly telling the committee member that they are not there to police the building. If you have a good manager, don’t hesitate to ask for their involvement if your strata community needs a little more harmony.