British wit and raconteur GK Chesterton made the pithy observation, ‘when you break the big laws, you do not get liberty; you do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws’.
When it comes to living in a strata title community, the rules ought to be ‘the big laws’ – the broad common sense rules agreed to by all owners to maximise the enjoyment of all residents.
In Victoria, legislation provides model strata title rules which many communities have in place. But just as all communities are different, so too are rules, and these inevitably differ from property to property.
Where a community has custom rules specifically relating to their property, these should be specifically highlighted to potential purchasers and tenants to avoid inadvertent breaches. Rules aren’t merely suggestions – they are legally binding on all residents.
Common sense also applies to enforcing Rules. A quick verbal reminder of the rules in passing is likely to be enough for most residents, including those who may be simply unaware of a particular rule, or to jog the memories of those who have conveniently ‘forgotten’. However if the breach occurs on a regular basis, or too many residents are falling foul of a particular rule, a letter from the committee should be sent to every property and perhaps placed on a community bulletin board.
If a particular resident is being recalcitrant, the matter can be taken to the owners corporation (or the Grievance Committee). Where basic dispute resolution fails to resolve a breach matter, an owners corporation can issue a breach notice. This notice can be issued as an official warning where there are reasonable grounds to suggest a breach has occurred, and requires the breach to be rectified inside 28 days. These notices and dispute resolution processes are generally the upper limit of an owners corporation’s power to enforce a rule, but this is often enough to induce compliance.
If the matter is unresolved after 28 days of the breach notice, an owners corporation can do one of three things: extend the time period, give a final notice to the resident, or take no action. A final notice, which is issued in writing, requires the breach to be resolved in 28 days and if it is not, VCAT action may be taken. VCAT may impose a penalty of up to $250 if satisfied a person has continued to breach a rule.
Only VCAT has the power to issue fines to residents who continue to breach rules. Some committees in the past believed they have the power to set and issue fines, but this is not the case! If you require assistance in dealing with breaches of rules, speak to your SSKB owners corporation managers. They can guide you through process in a detailed, legally correct and community-wise manner. Further information on enforcement of rules can also be found on the Victorian government website.
To avoid the tyranny of the ‘small laws’ — those nasty, micro-managing, nit-picky restrictions that can make a complex feel more like a prison camp than a home – it is important to get the rules right. A committee should consider a rules review every couple of years to ensure they continue to meet the needs of their community. Next month we’ll be looking at whether your community’s rules need a New Year’s overhaul and process for updating them.