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 Victoria, the Owners Corporations Act 2006 sets out a three-tiered complaint and dispute resolution process involving:
Owners corporations should prepare conducive dispute resolution environments by encouraging communication between neighbours. Communication can often prevent disputes, but even if it does not, a community that communicates effectively will be better equipped to resolve disputes quickly and with minimal damage.
The owners corporation must implement procedures which its members can follow to resolve grievances without resorting to legal action. This internal procedure must be followed by the owners corporation before applying for conciliation or a ruling by an external body (VCAT).
The Consumer Affairs Victoria website (www.consumer.vic.gov.au) sets out the procedures an owners corporation must adopt to assist dispute resolution by its members:
Grievance Procedure Rules
The owners corporation can either adopt the Model dispute resolution rules (available on the Consumer Affairs website) or create its own rules for resolving disputes (which must be recorded at Land Victoria to be enforceable). These rules may require a written statement to be given to a grievance committee or to the owners corporation, and may set out a time frame in which the disputing parties must meet and discuss the issues.
A written record of facts should be kept to accompany a formal complaint submitted to the owners corporation. An Issue log sheet is available on the Consumer Affairs website and should be used for this purpose. This written record will also be required if the complaint is escalated to Consumer Affairs Victoria or VCAT. These records should be kept for 7 years.
Formal Complaint Procedures
A formal complaint about a lot owner, occupier or manager must be submitted in writing to the owners corporation in an approved format (document available on the Consumer Affairs website).
Where the owners corporation decides to take no action following receipt of the formal complaint, it must provide written reasons to the person lodging the complaint. If the owners corporation does act on the complaint, it must give written notice to the subject of the complaint advising the breach must be rectified within 28 days. If the problem is not resolved within that timeframe, the owners corporation may send a final written notice which states the individual has 28 days to comply, otherwise the owners corporation may escalate the matter to VCAT.
If you are a lot owner, occupier or manager, you do not have to use the owners corporation internal dispute procedure, you can make your complaint to Consumer Affairs Victoria. However, they may refuse to consider your matter if you have not first attempted this process. Conciliation through Consumer Affairs Victoria is voluntary and they cannot force a party to participate.
The tribunal can hear complaints from a wide range of persons including managers, lot owners, the owners corporation, occupiers, mortgagees and the Director of Consumer Affairs Victoria. However, an owners corporation must have first followed its internal grievance procedure before making an application to VCAT.
Disputes that can be heard by VCAT include those about owners corporation fees and levies, repairs and maintenance, how meetings are conducted, and disputes between the owners corporation and its manager.
VCAT has the authority to order a party to do something, to require that payment be made on money owed, appointing or removing a manager, and appointing or removing a chairperson or secretary.
If you need more details or any assistance negotiating a dispute within your strata community, call your SSKB Owners Corporation Manager or contact Consumer Affairs Victoria on 1300 55 81 81 or visit their website www.consumer.vic.gov.au.