Dealing With Disputes
In a subdivided Strata development, it is not all that unusual for a dispute to arise between the owners of units. It’s no wonder. Neighbours often disagree about issues of maintenance and nuisance, and neighbours in Strata developments are no different. However, in the case of a neighbourhood or building that’s governed by a body corporate, there are procedures in place that can help to settle disputes. One of The Knight Alliance’s responsibilities is to help the strata corporations it manages settle internal disputes. If that isn’t possible, then the matter can be passed on to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
If you have a complaint…
If you feel that you have a substantive complaint, then the first thing you should do is find out whether or not the behaviour that’s bothering you is a breach of your body corporate’s rules or a breach of one of the applicable acts or regulations. Keep a record of dates, times and incidents. If you discuss the issue with your neighbour (as you should), then record the date, time, what was said and perhaps the tone of the conversation, as well. Before filing a complaint, you should always discuss the matter with your neighbour, calmly and in the spirit of cooperation, and make an attempt to resolve it without outside intervention. You might feel a little uncomfortable about doing this, but nine times out of ten, bringing the matter to the attention of the other party in a calm and friendly way will be enough to resolve it.
What is the role of The Knight Alliance?
The role of the Knight Alliance is to help your owners’ corporation handle the second stage in the complaint process. Once a member of the body corporate has recorded an issue and made unsuccessful attempts to solve it directly, then they can file an Owners Corporation Complaint form. Make sure that you know what sort of resolution you’re looking for before you submit the form. An official complaint needs to be based on a violation of rules or regulations, and it needs to include a clear, desired resolution.
At that point, the owners’ corporation’s internal dispute resolution procedures come into play. The owners’ corporation will decide whether or not to act on the complaint and if it decides not to, it must provide a written explanation. The dispute will be reported on in the Annual General Meeting (AGM). In the model rules, which may or may not govern dispute resolution for your development, if the dispute is judged to be substantive, then first the other party is informed of the complaint and then a dispute resolution meeting must be called within 14 days.
What if the matter can’t be settled internally?
If the dispute isn’t resolved at the internal dispute resolution meeting, then it can be passed on to VCAT. VCAT, like the owners’ corporation, will evaluate the complaint and decide whether or not it has merit. If it does, then if all parties agree, the first step is to bring it to conciliation and attempt to settle it by negotiation. If that fails or isn’t agreed to, then the matter is submitted to the tribunal for judgement. The tribunal has the authority to order someone to do something; order that a penalty, damages or restitution be paid; void terms of a contract; and appoint or remove an owners’ corporation officer.
For more information on dispute resolution in strata corporations, please refer to the Consumer Affairs Victoria website.