Sometimes living in strata, or owning a strata property, can result in misunderstandings and disputes. Disagreements can happen especially when a large number of people are living close to each other such as living in strata units, townhouses or apartments. Unlike living in a freestanding (stand-alone) home, strata schemes rely on key decisions being made by the owners collectively. Sometimes, an issue will need to be raised with your secretary to put on the agenda of the next meeting of the owners. This will allow the issue to be discussed and voted on, so that a decision can be made. This article, ‘dealing with problems in strata’, will help with what to do when things go wrong and how to take part in decision making if you are an owner and the ways tenants can stay informed about decisions that may affect them.
Dealing with problems in strata – When things go wrong
A lack of communication can cause misunderstandings and disagreements. If there is a problem, first, try talking about the issue you are concerned about with the person involved. If this doesn’t work or you feel unsafe, contact your secretary to find out if your strata scheme has its own process for resolving disagreements or disputes. You cannot be forced to take part in the strata scheme’s own dispute management process if you don’t want to. You can instead contact NSW Fair Trading about using its free mediation service. If you are unable to resolve the issue using mediation, you can take it to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT). Access application forms and fees from the NCAT website or call 1300 006 228.
Staying informed about decisions that affect you
By attending meetings of the owners corporation, owners can keep informed and influence important decisions about how the strata scheme is managed and which expenses should be met by all the owners. If you would like someone to help you understand the issues raised, consider asking your strata managing agent or secretary to have a family member attend with you. Tenants have the right to attend meetings of the owners corporation, but they cannot speak or participate in the discussions unless the owners corporation gives them permission. A tenant cannot vote on a matter unless an owner has made them a proxy to vote on their behalf. If at least half of the lots (units) in your strata scheme are rented, the tenants can decide to elect a tenant representative to the strata committee (which deals with day to day matters). The tenant representative can raise issues on behalf of the other tenants and pass on updates about the matters that the strata committee has discussed.
Under the laws, strata schemes are self-governing and there are arrangements for owners or occupants who want to raise an issue (see also: ‘Owners corporation meetings and voting’). Whether it is a raising a maintenance issue, the intention to seek permission for renovations (for owners), or raising concerns regarding potential breaches of by-laws, the process to follow is generally the same.
© State of New South Wales (NSW Fair Trading). For current information go to fairtrading.gov.au