What is a Body Corporate Returning Officer?

body corporate returning officerIn a lot of ways body corporates act like small democratic countries; they’re heavily legislated, led by an elected governing body, the majority rules and the citizens are (should be at least) watching what happens with an eagle eye ready to cry foul at a moments notice.

And just like for a country, voting in a body corporate is key in gauging the feelings and intentions of the majority lot owners.

But voting in body corporates is much more intimate that federal or even local body elections. Your fellow lot owners know exactly who you are and where you live.

Which makes it’s pretty hard to vote your conscience when your neighbours are all going to know, and have an opinion of, how you feel about a particular proposal.

Particularly as many body corporates are hotbeds of political conspiracy equally intense as any battle raging in Canberra.

Factions are common.

Active campaigning for votes on matters does happen. Regularly.

As does bullying, smear campaigns and even physical confrontations.

In the face of all this pressure it can be difficult for lot owners to follow the stance they truly believe in, particularly if that decision differs from friends and close neighbours.

Which is really to the deficit of the body corporate. “Majority rules” is an equitable leadership strategy unless the votes are being manipulated.

What is a secret vote?

Body corporate legislation acknowledges that this sort of harassment and “stacking of the deck” happens. Of course it’s up to each group of lot owners to steer their own course, however the line is drawn with regard to some matters.

In Queensland, that relates to Management Rights agreements (LINK).

Caretaking and Letting Agreements in Queensland can be entered into for up to 25 years, depending on the regulation module, and for considerable sums. Obviously this represents considerable liability for a body corporate.

The legislation intends to promote honest and open voting by all lot owners to accurately pole the wishes of the body corporate. Consequently to enter, modify or cancel any of these agreements the body corporate must have a secret vote.

A secret vote is exactly what it says: a vote cast secretly.

Each lot owner votes exactly as their conscious dictates in a way that the vote of any particular entity is not recorded.

Body Corporate Returning Officer

Body corporate legislation around voting, both secret and otherwise, evolved over a long period of time to weed out all the different ways in which people … well, cheat.

To cast a vote at a general meeting a lot owner must first be validated as an owner, then as an owner capable of voting. The vote must then be cast in a manner consistent with the voting process.

The idea is to stop multiple votes being cast by one lot, or the votes being manipulated in some other way.

The same is true for secret votes.

You may be seeing the problem here:

  • Voters must not identify themselves on a secret voting paper
  • No vote can be counted unless the owner is identified

To get around this problem body corporates appoint returning officers.

A body corporate returning officer is an impartial party appointed to attend a general meeting to validate, open and count secret votes.

A body corporate returning officer must not be:

  • a lot owner
  • a relative of a lot owner
  • a body corporate manager or anyone who works in the body corporate management office
  • a building manager or anyone who works with the building manger
  • any other contractor for the body corporate

Basically the returning officer cannot be affiliated with the body corporate, the body corporate manager or building manager. They adjudicate the vote therefore they must be completely impartial and unaffected by anything the vote may contain.

The process of a secret vote is:

  • Secret votes are cast on a secret voting paper
  • The secret voting paper is sealed in an envelope on which the owner identifies themselves
  • The voting paper is then submitted to the returning officer
  • The returning officer validates each of the voting envelopes
  • At the general meeting the returning officer will open the envelopes and count the votes, reporting to the meeting whether the motion is passed or failed

Impartiality of the returning officer is vital. Their role is to validate, or invalidate for that matter, all the votes received in a way that assures the body corporate that the vote accurately reflects the wishes of the lot owners.


Most secret voting motions relate to Management Rights decisions since those are the motions designated secret by legislation.

The body corporate can however decide any motion by secret vote, if it’s the wish of the majority of lot owners.

Many body corporates are electing to have all motions cast by secret vote which, in schemes where politics, and emotions, are running hot, strikes me as a great idea.



photo credit: International Information Program (IIP) via photopin cc


A little knowledge can go a long way

I see so many stressful and frustrating issues in body corporate records that result from simple misunderstandings it hurts my head. If I could do one thing to help it would be to teach everyone the basic rules, so they can avoid all these dramas.

With that in mind I've put together a short eBook that sets out the basics everyone owning in a body corporate really should know. It won't make those big issues go away, but it will give you a firm grounding from which to communicate.

It's completely free, so please, download it now!

Download Now


  1. […] often act as returning officer for body corporates. A returning officer is an impartial third party who acts as referee in validating and opening body corporate secret […]

  2. […] and Letting Agreements must be secret votes, which have a whole different process and require a Returning Officer to officiate at the […]

  3. […] personally had many experiences as a Returning Officer acknowledging payments received at meetings. So long as the payment is made before opening the […]

Speak Your Mind