It is inevitable that in strata living strata disputes will arise as everyone is different with their own values, interests and relationships. As a rule of thumb, the best way to resolve strata conflicts is through simple decision, good will and common sense between the parties. However sometimes it’s not that easy. In this article we will outline 6 steps to help overcome strata disputes if you find yourself in the middle of one.
Common Strata Disputes:
Strata Disputes typically arise between 3 different groups. They can arise between unit owners themselves (owner-to-owner). The most common owner-to-owner disputes are typically over noise, lack of appropriate maintenance of their property or the use of common property (eg. Car parks). Disputes can also arise between Owners Corporation committee members (committee-to-committee). Committee disputes are typically over long-term maintenance issues and fees. Lastly disputes can arise between an owner and their neighbour (owner-to-neighbour). Owner to Neighbour issues vary from overhanging trees to construction noise.
6 Steps to overcome a Strata dispute:
1. Have a discussion
The first step is to simply have a discussion. Never underestimate the power of talking an issue out. It is so important to make sure the parties involved in the dispute sit down with each other and have a conversation to hopefully resolve the issue calmly. Remember everybody is different so some people, when they feel threatened, will go into battle rather than approaching the people, talking an issue out and explaining their side of the situation.
Evidently, for a dispute to be resolved amicably this often relies on both parties making some compromise. For this to also be the case both parties need to listen to each other’s point of view and see if you can reach a happy agreement. Not fairly negotiating will mean there is no way to resolve a disagreement in a civil community.
2. Handling difficult people
No matter how nice or understanding you can be some people are and will remain difficult. How another party wants to conduct themselves is beyond your control, but you can control how to respond and react to them.
Some people are influenced by responses they receive and others will push your buttons to the max. It can help to set boundaries on their behaviour.
It can be important to give yourself sometime after intense situations to think about how you are going to react. Flying off the handle will not solve anything and is likely to aggravate the situation and make the person angrier.
Some ways you can diffuse situations is to:
- Let both parties say their point. Make them feel heard and understood.
- Take a step back from the situation and don’t act irrationally. This can help shed new light on the situation.
- Try to remember the situation is most likely not personal. This person’s personality stems from something and getting to know them better might help you understand the situation more greatly.
3. Get SSKB involved
If strata disputes cannot be handled person to person, they may need to be escalated to the Owners Corporation. This can include taking a dispute to a meeting to help reach a dispute resolution. However, this needs to be a mutual decision between parties and the resolution suggested by the Owners Corporation will be accepted as final.
It’s important to note that if a dispute is over a by-law or rule, the Owners Corporation can issue a written notice to the tenant/owner. There is also a chance if the notice is disregarded the matter may be taken to the tribunal to seek an order to impose a fine or ratification.
Evidently, if your strata dispute is with the Owner’s corporation the next step is mediation.
Another step that can be utilised is strata mediation. Strata mediation is becoming more frequently used by the legal system as a primary point of contact for dispute resolution. This is due to the potential time and cost savings of not having to go through the courts for a simple matter.
Strata mediation involves an independent moderator assisting the quarrelling parties to reach their own solution. This service is reasonably inexpensive and is very accessible through your state/territory but this process is not legally binding but agreed in good faith.
In NSW, Fair Trading’s provides a free mediation service to resolve dispute issues. This involves a form that can be submitted to apply for free mediation.
An extra step, in New South Wales, is to complete a process called adjudication. Adjudicators tend to hear strata disputes related to issues including ie. repairs and unapproved parking. Parties involved are required to make submissions to the independent adjudicator but they they aren’t required to appear in front of anyone. An adjudicators decision is commonly returned within about 10 weeks and their decision is legally binding.
6. Tribunal hearings
The next step in NSW is to undergo a government run tribunal. Essentially, tribunals run like mini courts with similar processes and protocols although it’s less formal. In NSW, this is through NCAT (NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal). You will need to apply to be heard and the authorities will make legally binding decisions about how strata disputes are to be resolved. Typically, solicitors are not needed however parties state their case themselves. Furthermore, applications are available online and all relevant information is submitted.
Tribunal rulings include:
- Ordering a party to do something or stop doing something
- Impose a financial penalty for breaking a rule
- Ordering damages to be paid to required party
- Adjusting a contract or ruling that the contract is now void
- Appointing or removing a manager, chairperson or secretary
- Appointing an administrator