Where the health and happiness of a strata community depends heavily on the success of the relationships within it, it is important that disputes are resolved the way which is most likely to preserve those relationships into the future. This is why self-resolution features so prominently in community management legislation across various jurisdictions and why it is often a prerequisite for other types of dispute resolution.
In New South Wales, the Strata Schemes Management Act 1996 and the Community Land Management Act 1989 set out the process for resolving disputes.
It is incredible how often tensions rise to unhappy levels where the parties in dispute or disagreement have not communicated with each other about the issue. In some situations, communication may solve the problem completely. For example, an owner may be unaware their habits are causing headaches for another owner, and a polite request may be all that is required to solve the issue.
Try the following steps in communicating with someone you have a problem with:
If communication with the other party cannot resolve the issue, the next step is to bring the issue to the owners corporation.
Owners corporations will often have an internal dispute or grievance resolution process set out and it may be expected that this process is attempted before the issue is taken to an external body. This may involve discussing the issue at a meeting of the owners corporation.
Bringing the problem to the attention of the owners corporation is a way of escalating the issue, without resorting to external bodies. Where the dispute is over a breach of by-law, the owners corporation can issue a notice requiring the person to comply with the relevant by-law. If this still does not resolve the problem, a fine may be imposed by the Consumer Trader and Tenancy Tribunal.
But what if your dispute is with the Owners Corporation?
The process of mediation involves the use of a neutral and independent person who assists the disputing parties in achieving a solution. This approach to dispute resolution is fast becoming a preferred option given its accessibility, lower cost and efficient use of time. Mediation is suited to disputes between owners and owners corporation such as alterations to common property, appointment of managing agents, repairs, water penetration, pet keeping and caretakers.
The result is binding for those involved.
You can access qualified mediators experienced with community and strata scheme disputes through NSW Fair Trading.
If mediation has not resolved the issue, you can apply for adjudication – however you must attempt mediation before applying for adjudication.
Unlike mediation, parties are not required to appear at the Tribunal. Submissions are made by interested parties in writing to an independent adjudicator and a decision, with accompanying reasons, is given in writing within 6-10 weeks. An adjudicator’s order is binding and failure to comply will result in a penalty. Dissatisfied parties can appeal the adjudicator’s decision to the Tribunal within 21 days.
The Tribunal can rule on appeals against an adjudicator’s decision, as well as other disputes such as changes to unit entitlements and changes to the management statement. Tribunal hearings are similar to Local Court hearings, although they are not quite as formal. Solicitors are not necessary; you may argue your case by yourself. A decision of the tribunal can only be appealed in the Supreme Court.
If you need more details or any assistance negotiating a dispute within your strata community, call your SSKB Body Corporate Manager or contact NSW Fair Trading.
New South Wales Fair Trading
Telephone: 13 32 20