5 Steps to Resolve Strata Disputes
Common Strata community disputes and how to avoid them
Strata groups are home to a diverse range of people with a variety of backgrounds and interests, and living in strata has many benefits for owners and residents. Lots of people appreciate the sense of belonging, security and well-being they get by being a part of a larger community. Being part of a community that shares the load of maintaining and managing common property, reviewing finances and resolving issues together can make for a more carefree lifestyle.
However, as with anything in life, things won't always go smoothly; sometimes, a problem can arise about which residents feel pretty strongly. Knowing how to resolve disputes in your group before they get out of hand is beneficial to everyone involved.
Disagreements typically occur when owners have concerns about the management and renovation of buildings, neighbour noise, pets, parking or general anti-social behaviour.
Finding a resolution is vital to keeping the peace and cooperation within a scheme.
5 Steps towards resolving Strata disputes
Step 1: Understand the issue.
Communications between all parties should be fair and handled with sensitivity. Speak to all the relevant parties so that all sides of the story are taken into consideration and, where possible, keep this conversation confidential so as to minimise their impact on the entire community.
Collate and check your facts to help you understand the dispute. Compliance with by-laws is essential for peaceful community living. Check the Strata Titles Act and your scheme by-laws to help you understand what is and is not permitted within your scheme. If an owner or tenant has breached a by-law, it may be necessary to issue a notice reminding that person of the relevant by-law and requesting they comply.
The best way to ensure your Strata scheme remains a happy place to live is to acknowledge and deal with issues before they
have time to escalate into something bigger.
Step 2: Talk it over.
Often people in a dispute have not sat down together to discuss the issue calmly, so make sure you talk to the involved neighbours or put your concerns in writing to them in the first instance. Check whether your scheme has an internal dispute resolution process set out in the by-laws.
Amicably resolving disputes relies on both sides making some concessions. When people are inclined to go into battle at the first sign of trouble rather than putting forward their case calmly, they miss an opportunity to listen to the other side's point of view and see if there isn't a compromise that will suit you both and ultimately improve your group.
You should attempt to practice tolerance, empathy and understanding of others when involved in a dispute, but if all attempts at communicating with the other party do not achieve the desired outcome, bring it to the committee's attention in writing and ask for assistance to resolve the issue.
A Strata group with an experienced and savvy Strata Manager can ask for their assistance - in many cases they can cool the situation. Initially, your Strata Manager may write to the "offending" owner advising them of their reported breach and remind them of their obligations under the Articles of Act. Your Strata Manager has an in-depth knowledge of particular features of Strata law so that they can offer an impartial point of view.
Step 3: Get your Corporation Committee involved
Taking your dispute to a meeting is the next relatively contained way of attempting a resolution. You can submit a written request to your Strata Company so the matter can be added to the agenda for consideration at the next committee meeting. This step should be mutually agreeable to all parties so that if The Corporation comes up with a solution, everyone will accept that decision.
Where a dispute between unit owners involves a breach of the articles, the strata corporation can intervene. If the argument is over a by-law or rule, the Body Corporate can issue a written notice, and if that notice is ignored, they may, with the support of the majority of unit owners, take the matter further. The Corporation is responsible for taking the matter to the Magistrates court. In the Magistrates Courts, it is unlikely the Corporation would be able to claim any costs associated with the lodgement even if the Magistrate ordered in favour of the Corporation.
Strata Corporations can intercede where there is a breach of the articles. Say if a unit owner repeatedly plays loud music at all hours and refuses to consider other neighbours' wishes, the Strata Corporation could contact the unit owner and highlight the breach of the articles and remind them that, under the Strata Titles Act 1988 (SA) the unit owner or tenant is bound to obey them.
Under Section 41A of The Strata Titles Act, Resolution of Disputes, it is advised who might be able to apply for relief, when an application may be made, and where to lodge the dispute.
If your dispute is with the body corporate, the next step is Mediation. If not, and all of these attempts at communication and resolution are unsuccessful, a mediation service can assist as a next step option.
Step 4: Mediation
If you're still in disagreement, consider alternative dispute resolution methods such as Mediation.
More and more, Mediation is a method used as the first point of call for dispute resolution within the legal system. A neutral or independent moderator can assist quarrelling parties to reach mutually acceptable solutions.
The mediator's role is to assist everyone in understanding the issues and points of view of everyone involved in the dispute. The mediator may then give ideas on how it can be resolved and drive all parties towards an answer. The benefit is that it is relatively inexpensive compared to going to Court, as you only pay the mediator for their time, and it is very accessible. It is important to remember that this process is not legally binding but is agreed upon in good faith.
If Mediation is unsuccessful, an application can be made to the Magistrates Court as a minor civil action.
Step 5: Magistrates
So no resolution came from Mediation? If the parties are still in dispute, an application may be made to the Magistrates Court as a minor civil action to figure out how everyone can move forward. Significant or especially complex matters can also be commenced or transferred to the District Court.
Applications can be made by a strata corporation, an owner or occupier of a unit, someone contracted to buy a unit or any other person bound by the articles of a strata corporation. Controversies dealing with a breach of the Act or the Articles of the Corporation - and many more issues - can be dealt with by the Court.
The strata corporation may appoint a member of the Corporation to represent it in any proceedings [s 41A(8)], or its strata manager may represent it.
The Court can choose to resolve the issues in a number of ways, all of which are binding and can result in a $2000 fine for non-compliance.
In a Body Corporate, Community or Strata situation, disputes will tend to be over noise, lack of appropriate maintenance of the property, how others use common property - like parking in someone else's carpark - or over long-term maintenance issues and fees.
And, of course, neighbours may argue about anything from overhanging trees to parties.
Horner Management proactively helps our clients to understand and enjoy Strata living. We regularly answer questions about living in Strata and resolving issues that may crop up from time to time. Find out how we resolved these issues by clicking the below links:
No matter what you do, some people are and will remain challenging. How they act is beyond your control, but you do have a choice in how you interact with them. Take your time to respond, as losing your temper will not solve the problem and may make it worse. A night's sleep can do wonders to shed new light on a situation.
A good Strata Manager can correct miscommunications and misunderstandings. Engaging with your Strata Manager can clarify what the Strata law says, what people's rights and obligations are, and that can de-escalate many of the disputes that can arise.
However, while your Strata Manager will always try their best to assist you, they cannot become involved with any personal disputes. If, for instance, your neighbour is keeping you awake all the time, it is certainly a good idea to email your Strata Manager so they are aware of your noise complaint, but the best course of action may be to call the Police so they can intervene.
With disputes in Strata or Community Corporations, it's important not to let things fester - be quick to identify conflicts and seek early resolution so they do not escalate.
Want advice on handling an issue in Strata, or are interested in working with a Strata Management Company that can help strengthen communication in your group? Contact Horner Management today.