Strata life brings together people from diverse backgrounds with different priorities, interests and lifestyles. While this is often a positive aspect of strata living, it can also result in disputes. If and when disagreements or disputes arise, there are set methods and procedures to resolving them.
The simplest and most courteous way of resolving an issue is to communicate and talk to the other people involved in the dispute, whether face to face or by sending a letter. In most cases, disputes will be resolved at this stage, as most people may not be aware of the fact that they are creating a nuisance or problem. Try to resolve the issue with your neighbour first, before bringing it to the attention of the owner’s corporation.
Direct Action by the Owners Corporation
If the initial, informal attempt to resolve the problem is not successful, the next step allows the owners corporation to police its own by-laws by serving an official Notice to Comply with By Laws to the person who is in breach. If the problem remains unsolved, the owners corporation is entitled to apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) who can then impose a fine of up to $550 on the offender.
Alternatively, the owners corporation, individual owner or resident can apply for a mediator to help solve the dispute. Fair Trading has qualified mediators who are skilled and experienced in solving strata related disputes. Mediators are neutral and their role is not to provide judgement, but rather to facilitate an agreement which is acceptable to all parties.
The mediator’s role is to:
- Help identify the issues in the dispute
- Help the parties to come up with options and strategies to address the problem
- Help the parties to negotiate an agreement that is satisfactory to everybody
If the mediation is unsuccessful in resolving the dispute, either side can apply for an order by an Adjudicator or the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT).
An adjudicator is authorised to make decisions to resolve a dispute where mediation was not successful. Using an adjudicator means that the parties do not need to appear before a tribunal. Instead, both parties provide written submissions and attach all relevant documents, including the strata-plan, by-laws and minutes from meetings. The adjudicator will record their decision and inform all relevant parties. This decision is binding and refusal to comply with the terms of the decision will result in penalties.
What if I don’t agree with the decision?
If you want to appeal the decision, you must apply to the NCAT within 21 days of receiving the decision. If there are extenuating circumstances this can sometimes be increased to 90 days, if an application for an extension is made.
A Hearing Before the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal
When applying for an order by the NCAT, you will need to present submissions with all relevant information. The process is similar to the process followed by the adjudicator but the hearing is held in public. The procedure is similar to local court but slightly less formal and a legal professional is not necessary. The decision made by NCAT can only be appealed in the District Court. If you wish to proceed with this process you will need to seek legal advice.