A body corporate dispute can be challenging and leave you feeling frustrated and alienated. Where can you get help?

Who Can Help When You Have A Body Corporate Dispute?

body corporate disputeThe most common questions I get on my website are questions about what to do when you have a body corporate dispute.

Finding help when things are going pear shaped within your strata scheme can seem like a mammoth task and I know a lot of people end up feeling frustrated and alienated.

This article is intended to help, only, once I started writing I found I couldn’t stop. This is a very complex subject. So what I’ve decided to do is break it down into a series of (hopefully) interesting articles on different aspects to give some help on what to do when you have a body corporate dispute.

Who Is Watching?

The place to start is to understand the environment within which the body corporate dispute takes place.

There is no oversight in the body corporate environment, other than that provided by the lot owners themselves.

What does that mean exactly?

In our wider community we have laws and those laws are policed by … well, the police.

That’s what I mean by oversight. We have rules (laws) and there are systems to both enforce compliance (police) and punish rule breakers (courts).

A building orientated example of oversight is fire safety installations.

All “public” buildings, which will include some body corporates, are required to meet and maintain a certain level of fire safety installations. Regular inspections of the installations are required to ensure they remain functional and ready to go.

There’s also oversight to ensure buildings are complying. It’s provided by an independent body, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES), with powers to inspect, direct rectification of breaches and issue penalties if the breaches are not rectified.

The Public Good

Fire safety is a great example of oversight to protect the public good.

Strictly speaking, it’s no business of mine if my neighbour has a fire. The only thing I share with my neighbour is a boundary fence so the likelihood of the fire spreading is slim, but I’d be fairly concerned all the same. And so would our other neighbours.

Of course if you share more than a fence your neighbour’s fire readiness is of critical interest to you.

Let’s be honest, our concern is only peripherally for our neighbour; mostly we’re worried our properties will burn down to.

And that’s what makes fire safety such a public concern. The term “spreading like wildfire” springs to mind here.

Systems then that control fires are good for all of us and there exist government bodies that oversee compliance with those systems.

There are all sorts of different bodies from local Council to Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to pool safety inspectors who have some sort of oversight of our collective behaviours, for the good of everyone.

Disputes Between Entities Don’t Affect Others

Disputes between people (and their entities) are a different matter altogether.

If two neighbours have a dispute about their fence it’s not going to impact anyone else. Neither can they call the police or local council to have the matter resolved.

Civil disputes, must be handled by the parties involved.

Of course, people being people, that isn’t always possible, which is why we have the civil court system.

Civil courts do not punish however, or at least not in the ways in which we think of punishment in the criminal court system. Civil courts adjudicate. The facts of the case, as presented by both parties, are heard and a ruling is made with reference to the law. There is a winner and a loser but no punishment as such.

How Does This Apply to a Body Corporate Dispute

You may have spotted by now that the body corporate environment is a civil environment.

That means disputes between lot owners, even those arising from blatant attempts to gain an unfair advantage, are civil matters and consequently are between the individual body corporate complaintsparties.

This is a good point to pause and say criminal behaviour is still criminal regardless of where it’s perpetrated. It is illegal to steal or trick people (or a corporate entity) into giving you their money. Intimidation, threats or other forms of bad behaviour border on abuse which again is a criminal matter.

For the most part though disputes in body corporates are civil matters between entities and it must be handled by the individual parties.

That applies even if the disputes are between lot owners within the body corporate as well.

The BCCM Act 1997 and its various amendments creates a framework within which bodies corporate and their lot owners must act. That framework is intended to protect the rights of as many people as possible.

The key factor to take away from this article is that no one is watching to enforce that legislation, only the other lot owners.

There is no oversight. There is no government body to call and they’ll nip round and sort things out for you.

None of that exists.

Any dispute you have will need to be either resolved between yourselves or taken to court for adjudication.

The Office Commissioner Body Corporate is a specialist adjudication service set up to decide body corporate matters and my next article will be “How and When to Make an Application For Adjudication”.

NOTE: If you have an ongoing body corporate dispute contact the Commissioner Body Corporate to discuss your matter.

Office Commissioner Body Corporate

Information Service 1800 060 119

Email: bccm@justice.qld.gov.au

Another option is to consider seeing a specialist strata lawyer.

THE BASICS OF BODY CORPORATES

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

Comments

  1. Thank you for the insight into BC processes & approaches to resolving disputes.

    I own a duplex unit which I lease to tenants. The other unit was bought by a man who clearly has some mental health issues. It would seem that he did not anticipate the annual Strata Title Insurance fee. He does not want to pay his share & each year when it is due it is a major saga, often resulting in threats of violence to me & threatening behaviour to my tenants. In the end, I have to pay the entire bill as I do not want to be exposed to risk. I then have to pursue the guy for months for reimbursement. The 2015 bill, it seems he is refusing to reimburse despite 3 follow up requests.

    Seems to be 3 different agencies that I need to consider in order to resolve this dispute & I need to work through them to determine jurisdiction. I guess I have two issues now. 1 being the refusal of the other unit to contribute to the insurance bill & 2, reimbursement of what I have paid.

    I would be happy to pay for an adjudicator to manage this as an ongoing service as I really do not want to have anything to do with the other owner. Also, there are behavioural issues (excessive noise, probably drug use, etc) that the other owner has which causes issues to my tenants & others in the community.

    Any advice or suggestions about where to head to resolve would be greatly appreciated. I am Australian but live in Indonesia so am further challenged by being offshore.

    Thanks for any help you can provide.

    • Hi Angus

      Oh dear. That sounds like a very unpleasant problem and, if it’s any help, appears to be pretty common across duplexes, probably because most of them do not have professional managers. Its part of a body corporate managers remit to chase up the unpaid levies.

      Making an application to the Office Commissioner Body Corporate for an order to appoint a body corporate manager to handle the collection of levies and enforcement of by-laws is an option. A BCM will then create a budget, hold meetings, issue and collect levies and then chase up any unpaid contributions. Your tenant would also have someone to turn to when they have problems with the neighbour, though rectification of those issues remains as difficult.

      The downside, you’d have to win your application in the first place. The other owner would have the option to submit to the Adjudicator, and then, assuming an administrator was appointed, would be able to vote at general meetings as well. And of course the big one, your holding costs would significantly increase because now you need to pay the BCM.

      Regarding collection of the outstanding contribution for insurance: maybe you could refer the matter to a debt collector. A Solicitor’s letter might generate more action than you’ve been able to get. Again the trade-offs will be increased cost to you and the matter may need to proceed to small claims for judgement. This is the procedure most BCM’s use to recover overdue levies.

      Its a constant challenge Angus, what to do when other people behave poorly and unfortunately there is no easy answer. Persistence is key. And keep a written record of all interactions, should the matter proceed to court. Try and work within the remit of the legal system.

      I hope that’s helpful.

  2. Janice Warren says:

    Hi Lisa,
    What is the best way to deal with a caretaker who is not carrying out his cleaning duties? It has been pointed out to him, he says the cleaning get done every morning at 6.30 am and the rooms get used. Photos clearly show the cleaning is not being done the filth is building up week after week?
    There are other issues with him. What should we be aware of if we serve him a breach notice?

    • Hi Janice

      You need to be aware that what you’re talking about is most likely a breach of contract and not a breach of the BCCM Act. That means an Adjudicator cannot help.

      First review the contracts to ensure you know the procedure for disputes. You must comply with it.

      Keep track of all the ways you’ve spoken to the caretaker. Write if you can. Verbal conversations don’t carry the weight of written. Have the discussions minuted in committee minutes. Give them an opportunity to get better. If you breach the Caretaker and it comes to legal action, which is the usual response, then you will need to be able to make your case. In all instances the body corporate must be able to demonstrate they have given reasonable notice that has not been complied with.

      I also suggest you speak with a solicitor. When you breach a building manager the first thing they usually do is talk to a solicitor. This is legal action in breach of a contract and you will be well served with professional help.

      The steps are to try and negotiate the problem. If not complied with issue a formal breach notice (best prepared by a solicitor). If that is not complied with start the process to terminate the agreements. Be aware, most termination attempts do not succeed. However, it does usually end up with the manager selling which tends to resolve the problem as well.

  3. William ROBINSON says:

    Hello Lisa,

    Our Standard Format in Queensland, recently had some parts of buildings deteriorate to the point of uninsurablity (and our insurance was denied !). The deterioration was caused by neglect of the part of the owners. The owners effected Repairs and Maintenance and the R and M was inspected and certified by a building inspector. Our insurance was re-instated.

    While the owners paid for the R and M (the works were entirely within their lot boundaries), some have claimed that the costs of Inspection and Certification are to the account of the Body Corporate.

    They quote Section 180 of the Body Corporate and Community Management (Standard Module) Regulation 2008, which deals with the requirements of insurance.

    There is nothing in Section 180, which states that the BC is liable for the Inspection and Certification costs as a result of R and M performed (and paid) by lot owners in the raising a lot up to insurability, or for any other action.

    Do you know of any legislation which covers this issue, or know of any cases of this nature.

    Any advice would be appreciated.

    William

    • Hi William

      Most body corporate by-laws will include a by-law “Damage to Common Property”. This by-law says something to the effect if you cause damage to the common property you are also responsible for the cost of repairing said damage. The by-law is aimed at ensuring fairness to all parties. If one party does something that impacts the common property then it’s their sole responsibility to rectify the damage at their cost.

      It’s exactly the same if you drive into someone with your car. You will be responsible for repairing you own damage and whatever damage you caused to other property or persons.

      I believe the same applies in this situation. The need for certification would not have arisen but for the actions, or in this case inaction, of the lot owner(s) in question. They created a situation that unfairly impacted on all the lot owners (cancellation of the insurance) and the need for certification arose because of it. It is therefore part of their rectification costs. Its quite possible they would also be responsible for any other damage that arises from the problem they caused, say for instance damage claims that could not be processed because the scheme had no insurance.

      That is of course my opinion and I am not a legal professional. It seems logical to me though. Damage to common property is the responsibility of the person who causes it regardless that the body corporate is responsible for common property. To apportion costs otherwise is unfair to the other owners.

  4. Julian hay says:

    Hi Lisa

    We are constantly being harassed by our body corporate as we changed our fence from wood to colour bond, this was due to our fence being damaged from our neighbours fence.

    The body corporate we have seem to think it’s ok for them to choose wat colour the fence should be even though they are not offering a cent to pay as the fence is on private property and not common.

    Any advice

    • Hi Julian

      Bad news Julian, it looks like you’ve breached the by-laws. You need to refer to your own scheme’s by-laws but its most likely that there is one controlling the appearance of the scheme. The idea of body corporates is that much of the value comes from the uniformity of the appearance. Individual lot owners cannot change the appearance as it devalues both your own and your neighbours properties. That’s the theory anyway.

      Now that it’s done what can you do about it? This is a curly one. Its unlikely that ignoring it will make it go away. I’m not sure what remedies they will be seeking but wouldn’t be surprised if removal was one of them. You must try and negotiate with them, and they with you. If negotiation doesn’t work the next step is mediation, through the commissioners office, then if that doesn’t work adjudication (a judge decides).

      Your best bet is to seek permission for the colour bond fence. Send them a letter in writing asking for permission. They will likely refuse but it’s an important step to show you have been seeking to remedy the problem. Then if it goes to adjudication you look like you’ve made some effort.

      Also, FYI, if the fence is on the boundary between your property and the common property then dividing fence rules apply and you can seek half the cost from the body corporate. That’s a whole other can of worms though because there are things you needed to do there as well, including submitting a quote to them before proceeding.

  5. Marlene Dowling says:

    Hi Lisa,

    Six months ago, I put my townhouse for sale, supposedly sold but unfortunately after the building inspection was carried out , the contract was cancelled due to rising dampness underneath the subfloor that caused termites damaged on which I replaced the whole floor board . In other words, there’s water penetration along side of the brick wall coming from the common property on slightly sloping driveway outside . I emailed the body corporate in numerous occasions in regards to the problem, but seemed to me all my letters & phone call has been ignored. So, 4 weeks ago, I went to see a solicitor asking him to write a letter to the Body Corporate, the same thing ,they have not response . It really cost a lot of money for doing this. I really don’t know what to do as I would like to sell this unit as soon as I can. Any, advice would be appreciated.
    Thanks.

    • Hi Marlene

      I would continue with your efforts to contact the body corporate manager or committee. If you’ve had no response from them don’t assume they have received the correspondence. Your next step will be to attempt adjudication to force the issue.

      In the meantime I would get quotes for repairing the issue, though don’t yet take any action. You can then submit the quotes to the body corporate, perhaps as a general meeting motion with alternatives, to get the scheme to pay for the works.

      Before you can move forward with adjudication you will need to prove that you have tried multiple times to address the issue. The Solicitors letter will help. Maybe resend it. Check you committee meeting minutes to see if the matter is tabled. If there are no committee meeting minutes the problem could be the committee is not meeting or engaged. Consider joining the committee yourself to get things moving.

      • Marlene Dowling says:

        Hi Lisa,

        Thank you for taking your time to reply, very much appreciated. For the meantime, I will get few more quotes .

  6. Hello Lisa, I bought a lot in a Strata six months ago. There are 40 lots in 6 buildings and common property. Three of them own three committees member including the chairman. Their tenants use a part of common pathway for their personal purpose (gardening – pots with plants, sitting on the chair, there is a table, the shelf and other stuff, chatting, smoking). It is possible to use appox. 2/3 of the width of the pathway only to pass their items. Many times I cant get home with my bags or other items trough, therefore I have to go on the lawn to get to my lot. I have written about it to the committee. And their answer have been – that width is reasonable, – me to take by-laws easy and – their advice has been me to use on of folding Magna Cart devices. I couldn’t believe!!! I have had a few issues with two of the tenants – sitting and chatting on the pathway just by my entry door and the pathway has been totally blocked. I have been bullied verbally many times, which has been recorded and I have taken a few pictures about situation there. I have written the complaint with it to the committee and the situation has improved. In couple weeks later, both ladies have moved their activities on the pathway by the entry door one of them. Situation repeats. Last a few weeks I have been looking information about how to sort it out. I am aware of the process of the dispute and I think I am prepare to go through. But I see a problem with the committee. The committee do not act reasonably (I guess) and their criteria are to create environment nice to live instead of safe environment and equality. I required to get the tenants names for form 1, but the committee do not give me them. After that I have got a few emails from the committee (the chairman). He really do not want me to take a legal process and he try to persuade me to solve it internally. I do not trust him. It is clear enough that the CORE of all the disputes is the breaching by-laws many times and do not enforcing by-law by any others owners. I guess, that 99.9% people there close their door. But not me. I really appreciate your advice. Thank you.

    • Hi Jirina

      Happy New Year.

      As part of the Adjudication process it is the responsibility of the party bringing the suit, that would be you, to try and resolve the matter through negotiation first. In both cases, Adjudication or negotiation, you need to be clear about what it is you want.

      The Chairman is doing the right thing by trying to resolve it internally and by telling you so in writing he is making the body corporate’s legal position stronger.

      What will resolve the matter for you? For instance, in my opinion the footpath should be cleared as its a safety hazard and infringing on common property. For you there might be other matters that you would like done differently. If you want the by-laws enforced be specific. Which by-laws? How are they being broken? How will it look if they’re being enforced? T

      The challenge with disputes like this is to get clear on what each party wants without the emotions that go along with them. I understand its sometimes difficult to get past, especially if you’ve been bullied. The clearer you are on what you want the better. Unfortunately a lot of things might not be enforceable but clarity will give you a better chance.

      • Hello Lisa,
        Happy New Year to you too!
        Thank you for your advice and I will write a letter to each of them. I am still fighting with English, but I am able to go though.

  7. Graeme Ritchie says:

    Hello Lisa,

    I have recently joined the body corporate committee. One of the flats in our 40 flat complex has a small water leak in their bathroom ceiling causing damage to the plaster. Two quotes were submitted to the committee and our body corporate managers for repairs costs. The people who submitted the quotes are committee members. The repair costs were around the $6000 mark and they were inferring the shower base in the flat above was leaking and also pipe work in the lower ceiling cavity.
    I know the person in the flat with the leaking ceiling and ask to take a look at the situation. The plumber had cut an access hole in the ceiling plaster and I was able to observe the situation. I ask the tenant in the flat above to turn on his shower whilst I watched in the flat down below. I saw drips of water coming from a poor pvc pipe join but no leak coming from the shower base situated in the flat above.
    The flat above is owned by these committee members.
    I challenged them about the quotes and they admitted there was no leaks from their shower base but they still submitted the quotes with the plumber saying the cost to tile their shower base and waterproof it was around $2500.
    I am yet to get another plumber to give a quote but will organise this soon.
    Does giving a quote which is misleading fraud? If it is fraud what should I do about it?

    • Hi Graeme, Happy New Year

      If they submitted the quote knowing it was a lie then yes it could be fraud. Is it worth pursing? Meh. It would be hard to prove and there was no loss to speak of, luckily. It certainly confirms my lack of faith in the human race. Well done you for spotting the issue.

      You must be careful when reporting the matter to owners through the committee minutes. On one hand its great way to deal, letting the other owners know what they tried to do. On the other hand it opens you up to a claim of defamation and without proof it could get nasty. Its a touchy line to walk so do so carefully.

      I’m unsure why the scheme is considering the tiling cost for the shower base and waterproofing. Surely that relates to the lot? Certainly the damage to the plaster in the ceiling below the leak is a body corporate issue but unless the people above pursued the works to find the leak then there doesn’t seem to be a reason for the body corporate to pay.

      • Graeme Ritchie says:

        The body corporate getting involved with the shower base repairs is another issue I am facing. The body corporate paid a shower base to be repaired a few months back and I doubt it was even leaking. The flat was owned by the same two committee members. They own two flats here. From my reading of the legislation it clearly states that the shower base is the lot owners responsibility to maintain. Our body corporate management disagree and state the waterproofing membrane under the tiles in a shower base is body corporate responsibility. I see the waterproofing membrane as part of the shower base. I am still not finished with this yet and it may have to go to conciliation again.
        Life should be simple but its not.

        Graeme

  8. Hi Lisa,
    Body Corporate and Management Act in QLD has a process of dispute. Also the Commissioner for Body Corporate explains process of dispute.

    My question is, whether the committee of BC may create their process of dispute? I mean, that any dispute between the owner of the lot and the tenant of other lot has to be solved through the tenant’s owner? It has just happen, what the committee had voted.
    Thanks you for your help.

    • Hi Jana

      The committee is not involved in a dispute between owners or residents. If one or the other is breaching body corporate bylaws then they will need to address the breach but otherwise it’s between the two individuals.

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