Updated Feb 2023
Dispute procedures vary from state to state in Australia.
Most day to day decisions are made by the committee. More significant decisions need to be made by the lot owners in the scheme voting at a general meeting.
All lot owners have the right to submit motions at general meetings. Motions must be carefully written so that owners can respond with a simple yes or no vote.
The regulations provide that the person proposing the motion must obtain at least two quotations when proposing any significant spending by the body corporate. All quotations should then be submitted as separate motions with all relevant details.
The committee must vote on the motion within 6 weeks, unless they have notified the owner that they need up to an additional 6 weeks (and no longer).
Attempts at self resolution can involve you:
Conciliation is the first step in dispute resolution after you have attempted self resolution.
If you live in a unit and have a dispute with your neighbour, you should try to work it out between yourselves before making a formal dispute resolution application.
Some say it is a laborious but necessary step to get to a tribunal for serious disputes with a 'dysfunctional body corporate'. And still you may not find your dispute solved at the tribunal stage.
In Victoria they have dispute resolution
Dispute resolution is a way of resolving disagreements without going to court. It is a good first step in trying to reach agreement about many kinds of problems, including disputes:
Owners corporations can set up their own internal dispute handling processes to deal with minor disputes.
Fair Trading provides a free mediation service.
If an issue is not resolved by mediation, an application can be made to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the Tribunal).
Steps for collective sale and renewal if not 100% agreement of owners corporation.
The purpose of the legislation was to allow sales when there were some persons within the strata who would not sell. Under the Strata Schemes Development Act an owner who does not wish to sell may be forced to sell and is a "dissenting owner". How much a "dissenting owner" receives is determined and may relate to the market value of the property rather than a proportion of the combined value if all lost are sold.
Given there is limited help for harassment from within the BCCM mechanism here are some practical tips to avoid problems.
Know how to submit motions and conduct business within the BCCM guidelines.
Just because you do not agree on everything is no reason not to get along well with your fellow lot members. Be proactive and supportive of your neighbours. At the very least you will elicit a better response should you have a difference of opinion.
If there is a clash or personalities, do not allow that clash to escalate publicly. It is common for "email wars" to erupt. Develop rules to deal with these so they do not force indecision or decision paralysis. A dysfunctional body corporate committee may be a crude tactic used to disrupt proceedings.
By default living with others under the same scheme, not every decision goes your way. If neighbour 'A' has a particular issue they feel strongly about, consider supporting them. Gardens are a classic source of dispute. Neighbour 'B' notion for a garden may resemble a cactus farm and neighbour 'C' may like a rain forest. These are simply tastes not idealistic values to go to war over. Don't take issues personally.
"I'm not supporting that maintenance because the building is going to be amalgamated and sold" is a comment overheard. If a developer whispers sweet nothings into the ear of your fellow residents you may face a deliberate avoidance of maintenance. Keep the budgets reasonable and avoid the "one day millionaires" dictating spending.
Develop a rule of thumb for worst-case scenarios. Take the time with every item of maintenance work carried out to gather professional opinions about other issues.
Depending on the age, condition and size of your scheme finding reliable tradespeople is important in reducing costs.
In small 3 storey walk-ups a really good handyman is very important. Why? That handyman will take pride in his work and be able to return for a number of issues. Painting should never be left to amateurs. Painting is a trade that benefits from professional preparation and selection of the right products.
Ensure tradesmen are keen to maintain your building by being organised and having motions and quotes organised.
There are strict noise levels required for air conditioners pepending on the state you reside. The enforcement of these laws is often up to councils, so there lies the issue of actually getting a response. Manufacturers of air conditioners provide noise ratings at various speeds. An effective body corporate will not allow a unit owner to install an air conditioner without submitting it for approval. It may be simply a case of specifying the location of the outside unit.
There are a number of financial terms useful in presenting the benefits or otherwise of an investment or project-:
The benefit-cost ratio (BCR) is a ratio used in a cost-benefit analysis to summarise the overall relationship between the relative costs and benefits of a proposed investment or project. BCR can be expressed in monetary or qualitative terms. If a project has a BCR greater than 1.0, the project is expected to deliver a positive Net Present Value (NPV) to the investor. NPV is used in capital budgeting and investment planning to analyse the profitability of a projected investment or project.
Future Value (FV) and Present Value (PV) are useful tools to take into account the time value of money. If you receive $200 today (PV), it is not the same as receiving $200 in a years time (FV).
Similar to Benefit-Cost Ratio, a cost-benefit analysis is a systematic process that businesses use to analyse which decisions to make and which to forgo. It is a formula to help make investment or project decisions.
Practically you may want to present information to a body corporate meeting in a format that allows people to make an informed decision. Another tool is Decision Tree Analysis where you display an outcome based on 3 different projections. A low estimate, medium estimate and high estimate. If a project is feasible for all three levels it would be feasible in a worst-case scenario and clearly be worth it. Use these calculations to present the case for preventitive maintenance. It is not always prudent to not spend, especially when it comes to maintenance.
It is typical to have issues within a body corporate that cannot be resolved by the committee or a manager. Using a specialist body corporate lawyer can reduce issues or resolve issues. There are numerous law firms that work solely to get good outcomes for body corporate committees. They do not act for developers and specialise in body corporate issues.
Typically you would pass a motion that a certain issue will require the expertise of a specific law firm. Get a quote, then advise the advice. And only then take the issue to a general or extraordinary general meeting.