Dispute resolution in strata

As Sydney’s Strata Landscape Booms, Effective Dispute Resolution Takes Centre Stage.

Sydney’s strata living scene is surging, with a significant portion of the population residing within strata communities —a number projected to escalate even further by 2040.

As more people from diverse backgrounds and varying levels of strata familiarity come to live in close proximity, managing disputes and engaging in proactive measures to avoid them, becomes increasingly important.

Common strata disputes

Some of the more prevalent disputes in strata complexes include:

  • Noise complaints from music, TVs, pets, alarms, power tools
  • Parking violations on common property or in visitor spots
  • Pet-related issues like excessive noise, damage, unsociable behaviour
  • Damage to or misuse of common property areas
  • Unapproved alterations or renovations
  • Enforcement of by-law breaches related to noise, parking, pets, etc.
  • Disputes over exclusive use of common property rights
  • Issues with committee decisions, meeting procedures, or resolutions
  • Garbage storage and collection conflicts
  • Damage from water penetration between units
  • Fencing and boundary disagreements & unit entitlement allocations
  • Contribution and levy payment disputes
  • Building defect concerns

Noise: A two-way street in strata living

Noise disputes are among the most common complaints in strata schemes, largely due to the close proximity of neighbours.

An example that underscores the challenges of noise disputes involves an Art Deco building with wooden floorboards throughout due to numerous owners removing outdated carpeting without approval and getting proper acoustic testing. In this case, residents were caught in a vicious cycle of complaints – each person was equally bothered by their neighbours’ noise, without realising their own activities were just as disruptive.

No one was the sole offender, yet everyone felt aggrieved by the noise levels. This type of scenario exemplifies how quickly noise issues can devolve into conflict when there is poor sound insulation and a lack of perspective from all parties involved.

Incidents like these demonstrate why open communication, mutual understanding, and a willingness to compromise are vital for effective strata dispute resolution. Excessive noise, whether from footsteps, music, or renovations, has the potential to create a perpetual loop of grievances if not addressed collaboratively.

By working together, strata managers and committees can help facilitate dialogue, suggest reasonable sound-proofing measures, and ensure that noise by-laws are clear and enforced equitably. This balanced approach can transform vicious cycles into better living environments for all residents.

Resolving strata disputes

Strata disputes can range from simple disagreements to full-blown tribunal or court hearings.

Internal resolution

Addressing minor issues within strata schemes often begins with internal dispute resolution, rooted in simple, friendly conversations between neighbours. Many times, breaches occur due to unawareness rather than defiance. A gentle approach, such as slipping a polite letter under the door, erecting clear signage, or utilising both digital and lobby noticeboards to remind residents of meetings and by-laws, can be effective.

It’s also important to make sure that both long-term residents and short-stay guests are fully informed about the by-laws, fostering a community of mutual respect and cooperation. If the behaviour is harmful or dangerous (for example, reckless driving on a shared driveway), you should report it straight away.

Notice to comply

If conversations fail, the owners corporation can request the strata manager to issue a Notice to Comply—a written warning asking the person to stop breaching the specific by-law.

Mediation through Fair Trading

For persistent disputes, strata mediation through NSW Fair Trading enables negotiation with an impartial mediator with the goal of reaching a mutually acceptable resolution.

Mediation is free, and you can apply online. Fair Trading’s mediation service is only available for disputes governed by strata law, which means if the Tribunal can make an order about the issue. The matters that can typically be addressed through mediation include:

  • Issues related to the upkeep and repair of common property, including water damage and renovations.
  • Disputes regarding the installation, operation, or noise from air conditioning units.
  • Concerns about the validity of strata meetings and the decisions made during these meetings.
  • Disagreements over the creation, enforcement, or interpretation of strata by-laws.
  • Conflicts related to the strata scheme’s financial management and insurance matters.
  • Common disputes that affect the peaceful enjoyment of property by residents, including noise complaints, parking issues, pet ownership, and smoke infiltration.
  • Disagreements regarding the implementation and compliance with fire safety measures within the strata scheme.

Tribunal hearings

As a final resort, the owners corporation, a lot owner, tenant, contractor or owners corporation can take the matter to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) for a formal hearing and legally binding decision based on the evidence presented.

Proactive measures

Building a thriving community within a strata scheme requires proactive measures and a deep commitment to understanding and respecting each other’s rights and responsibilities.

Michael Price, our Head of Strata, offers the following valuable strategies for resolving disputes and fostering a positive environment:

Fostering a community built on respect

Strata committees can draw valuable lessons from renowned author and leadership expert, Rachael Robertson who lead a diverse team during an Antarctic expedition. Her team, composed of individuals from varied professional backgrounds including scientists, engineers, IT specialists, tradespeople and weather experts, faced intense interpersonal pressures and limited privacy. In such an environment, striving for complete harmony was impractical and also detrimental to team dynamics and innovation.

Rachael emphasises that aiming for mutual respect and professional courtesy is more critical than maintaining an appearance of harmony, which can mask underlying dysfunctions and stifle new ideas. In strata communities, where residents also come from diverse backgrounds and must live closely together, fostering a culture of respect is essential. Agreeing to a code of conduct based on respect, may be a good starting point. We are happy to provide a tailored one for your scheme.

Understanding by-laws

Regularly review and ensure all residents are familiar with the strata scheme’s by-laws. Consider periodic education sessions or newsletters that highlight key by-laws. Use the digital noticeboard in My Property to highlight specific by-laws on a monthly basis. We invite owners and committee members to reach out to us at clientservices@strataplus.com.au for any strata matters requiring further clarification or if they need a specific communication drafted.

Transparent communication & active engagement

Establish and maintain clear channels for residents to voice concerns, suggestions, or queries. Utilise digital platforms, notice boards in lobbies, and meetings to keep everyone informed and engaged. A number of our buildings hold annual community bbqs which also serves as a platform to update the strata roll, communicate future plans, and get to know each other. Strata + committee members can also use the digital noticeboard on My Property to communicate to residents.

Meeting awareness

Prior to meetings, committees should thoroughly review the agenda to identify potential contentious issues. Circulate agendas well in advance to allow residents to prepare or seek clarifications. For anticipated complex disputes, consider consulting legal or strata management experts beforehand to understand the legalities and options available.

Structured meetings

Start meetings with a clear outline of the procedures, expected conduct, and objectives. Encourage respectful dialogue and remind attendees of the importance of mutual respect. Set boundaries for discussions, such as time limits for speaking and a process for addressing the chairperson. This helps ensure everyone’s views are heard without monopolising the conversation.

Encouraging collective solutions

Strata living is governed by a democratic process where decisions are made collectively. Encourage voting on contentious issues after a fair discussion. Whenever possible, guide the conversation towards finding mutual solutions. Suggest alternatives and compromises that could satisfy all parties involved.

By implementing these proactive measures, strata committees can work towards resolving disputes amicably and maintaining a cooperative community environment. Encouraging a culture of understanding, respect, and open communication is key to minimising conflicts and enhancing the quality of life for all residents within the strata scheme.

If you need assistance with dispute resolution, reach out to your strata manager.

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