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strataman says
"Strata living can often lead to disputes between the various strata owners.  These should be addressed in a calm and proper manner and dealt with as quickly as possible before they have a chance to necessarily escalate into something more serious.  Here are a few ideas and some information resources to assist you in dealing with disputes."
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The different forms

Disputes in a Strata Scheme can take on many forms.  Sometimes they can arise between owners because they live in such close proximity to one another.  At other times disputes can start because some owners default on their responsibility to pay their levies or comply with the scheme's by-laws.  And then there can be disagreements between owners and the Strata Committee over the way some aspects of the scheme are being handled.  These examples are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

But, whatever the reason, the harmony of the Strata Scheme is negatively impacted and a resolution needs to be found before the problem escalates into something it shouldn't.  From experience, it would seem that most disputes have to do with the breaking of a scheme's by-laws but, obviously, this is not always the case.

Some helpful sources

To get a few ideas, have a look at NSW Fair Trading's Resolving Disputes & Mediation Fact Sheet.

Don't miss the section entitled "If Things Go Wrong" which starts on page 38 of their Strata Living booklet either.

Here's just ONE screenshot (from the Strata Living Booklet) on what to do to resolves disputes AND there's also a great table of the most common "issues" faced AND the steps to take to resolve them.  Wonderful stuff.


The section on DISPUTES is truly amazing and so helpful - so I REPEAT - DO NOT MISS IT!!
Oh so many links and so little time lol...
but before I move on, have a look at an excellent article titled "Strata Strife: The not-so gentle art of complaining" from Jimmy T of Flat Chat fame.  It's all about the right way to complain and he makes a whole lot of sense plus he has some other very helpful tips and links.  Definitely worth a read.

The Inner City Legal Centre (ICLC) has a great PDF on Disputes and while it's not specifically only about strata it does provide some really worthwhile 'generic' advice on how to handle certain situations, what to do, who to contact and so on.  Make sure you have a read of this one...and, while you're in this 'dispute' zone, have a look at NSW Govt Justice Dept - Neighbourhood Disputes

And don't forget our good friends at NCAT (NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal) - formerly the CTTT.  There's some really interesting stuff on this site so make sure you have a look.  I have put plenty of NCAT links for you to have fun with in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) links section below.

TIP  - As the mediation and adjudication process can be quite involved, lengthy and often very time-consuming, it may be best to seek assistance from a strata law specialist who can guide you through the maze especially if the dispute is overly complex or serious.  The cost might just be worth it in the long run.


A by-law issue....

If the dispute involves a breach of a by-law, the best (and sometimes quickest) way to resolve most differences is for the warring parties to talk through the problem with each other 'face-to-face'.  If this isn't possible then the sending of a polite letter from the Strata Committee or the Strata Manager (if you have one) to the offender might be enough to make some of them realise they've actually done the wrong thing.

The letter should outline the breach, details of the by-law breached and seek compliance with the relevant by-law by describing, in detail, what needs to be done to rectify the situation and what will happen if the expected conditions are not met.  In this way, there is no doubt in anybody's mind as to what the next step will be.  In many cases, the offender wouldn't have been aware the by-law even existed let alone that they were in breach of it.

NOTE - While the techniques described above can be used for most disputes (and not just by-law breaches), you must first comply with the NSW Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 - Section 146 - Notice by OC to owner BEFORE a letter or notice to comply can be issued which states that a resolution approving the issuing of the notice must be passed by the OC at a general meeting.  Might be best to give 'face-time' a go first.

Jimmy Thomson's FLAT CHAT FORUM gives a terrific rundown for the handling of by-law issues and I think you should read this guide titled: By-law breaches: Your options. With this, you get a virtual 'step-by-step' procedure to follow - some of which can also be used for the other more severe disputes.

Other types of disputes

Disputes arising from situations other than by-laws can tend to be a little more complex and while the 'face-to-face' approach should always be tried in the first instance, be quite prepared for it not to be either practical or successful.  For the more stubborn cases, you may find the only way to solve the impasse is via some sort of 3rd-party intervention as I will discuss later on.

The latest round of legislative changes state that Face-to-face MEDIATION needs to be attempted by the Strata Committee BEFORE involving NCAT in dispute resolution.  This is officially known as "Internal Dispute Resolution".  (See NSW SSMA 2015: Section 216).  Therefore, the responsibility is back on each individual Strata Committee to TRY and get a resolution to the problem via internal procedures first and, if that fails, an application to NCAT for Adjudication can then be submitted.  (See NSW SSMA 2015: Section 227).

The current legislation has expanded the powers of the tribunal and there's a table of the 'types of orders that can be made and who can apply for them' - which I thought you might like to have a look at in case you DO have to face the whole tribunal thing.  See SSMA 2015 - Notes to Part 12 for details.

You can read about all this in Part 12 : Disputes & Tribunal Powers - Sections 216 to 248.  I've found that MOST of these Sections apply only to very specific circumstances that shouldn't occur very often...but, as always, there's a couple of 'gems' in there that deal with the more common issues so make sure to look at Sections 216, 217, 218, 223, 227.  The others are there if you happen to run into those particular situations - especially the whole section on what happens when the Tribunal does its thing (Sections 239 to 248).  Remember: You can always come back here and look at them again if you need to.


Somewhat stronger actions

Only after the more 'friendly' avenues have been tried, and the parties still cannot come to an amicable solution or they simply refuse to comply or agree, should the 'more serious and less friendly' alternatives be looked at.  However, it's amazing what CAN be achieved if the warring parties CAN actually get together and talk out the issues.  Don't underestimate the power of this and every attempt should be made to arrange a meeting before taking the next step.

Even so, if a dispute cannot be resolved between the owners by the 'simpler' methods, mediation via a 3rd-party might just be the answer.  Such a service is available for FREE through NSW Fair Trading (FT) and more details can be found on its Resolving Disputes and Mediation page.  And, according to Fair Trading, over 65% of all disputes that are handled by this service, are successfully resolved.

You can go to the Applying for Strata Mediation page to make an application.  Just follow the links...

If the 'Mediation via a 3rd-party' method also fails, an application may then be made to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal's Strata Schemes Adjudicator.  For detailed information about the adjudication process, see NCAT's section on Strata Schemes application AND Community Schemes application

Obviously this should be your LAST resort due to the time and effort (and cost) required.  But, there IS even another step - the District Court. Thankfully, I know of very few cases that have been forced to go this far and we won't be getting into a discussion on THAT here, so let's hope it never comes to this for your strata scheme.

A Small Word About Mediation Costs - Each party attending a mediation session is fully responsible for their own costs regardless of the outcome - which means that one party cannot be held liable for the costs of the other party, no matter what those costs might involve


What types of disputes can arise?

As varied as the world of Strata is, so are the types of disputes.
And here are just a few of the more common ones.

  • Parking on Common Property without approval or for too long
  • Damage to or the misuse of Common Property
  • Keeping Pets without approval and/or pets being a nuisance
  • Excessive Noise from any number of sources
  • Enforcement of by-law breaches
  • Changing of by-laws
  • Exclusive use of Common Property (now known as Common Property Rights)
  • Disagreements on decisions made by the Owners Corporation
  • Issues about Meetings and Resolutions
  • Storage and collection of garbage issues
  • Alterations or repairs to Common Property
  • Damage to ceilings or walls due to water penetration and/or renovations
  • Internal fencing & boundary issues
  • Validity of meetings or procedures
  • Variation of insurance and Unit Entitlement allocations
  • Contribution and Levy issues
  • Enforcing restrictions on the use of Common Property
  • Appointment/Dismissal of a Strata Managing Agent
  • Appointment/Dismissal of a Strata Committee member
  • Building Defects

Parking & Noise

Ok, now 2 of the BIGGER 'dispute' issues revolve around PARKING and NOISE and Jimmy Thomson's FLAT CHAT forum has some great articles on these - and here are just 3 of them - the first covers PARKING while the others deal with NEIGHBOUR NOISE and TIMBER & TILE FLOORS.  Makes for entertaining reading as well as giving you some great insights into these issues.

And don't forget to have a look at Jimmy's "Move it or Lose it" parking violation poster (on the Parking page) which you can print out and use.  Too lazy to look for it? Well here's the link : Move It or Lose It.

And while we're talking about NOISE, there's an excellent fact sheet on Dealing with Neighbourhood Noise from the NSW EPA (Environment Protection Authority) covering what it is, what you can do about it and who to contact.  The Flat Chat article does make reference to this guide as well but I have put it here for you - as it's so good - and I didn't want you to accidentally miss it.  Now, obviously, every case of 'Noise Disturbance' is unique but it's an excellent place to start.


Extra information resources

Here are a few extra resources to help you learn and understand a bit more about what's involved in handling disputes.

In the NSW Legislation on Disputes section below, the 1st reference covers the entire topic of Disputes in the latest legislation but it gives you the full picture of what needs to be done to handle disputes and what powers the tribunal has.  Quite interesting stuff really.

Some of the links below may disappear at a moments notice following the release of the NEW legislation on November 30th 2016 as everybody is trying to bring everything up-to-date asap - but some might still "slip through the cracks".

So PLEASE be patient if some of the links refer to some of the old legislation or they've simply disappeared.
I will do my best to correct things as soon as the other guys fix their info.

NSW legislation on Disputes

Other NSW Fair Trading links

NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) links

You will find lots of goodies in this section - everything from fees to fact sheets to PDF's to application forms.  You just might have to do a little digging around to unearth them - although I have done MOST of the work for you.  Have fun!!!

Strata Title Terms and Jargon

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