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NQ Strata Law Reform Seminars – What did we learn?

Friday July 14th, 2017

The Smart Strata tour for 2017 has come to an end. Starting on the Gold Coast in mid-May the caravan made its way north to finish in Cairns just before the end of June.

Each seminar covered the ‘now’ in terms of towing cars, pets and smoking in bodies corporate and moved to the ‘where’ for each the QUT recommendations with a summary of the discussion points covered in the May SEQ wrap up.

The presenters reiterated that the recommendations paper is not law however; it is what has been suggested to the government as being worth considered as law. That being said, we think it is very unlikely that any draft changes to legislation will proceed during this term of government. Once we see the outcome of the next state election, we will know for sure what is going to happen.

Both the Commissioner Chris Irons and Hynes Legal Director Frank Higginson placed a lot of focus on what they think was the most important part of their presentation which was what people should do to live in a greater degree of harmony in their communities right now.

Smart Strata were happy for the presenters to run the sessions the way they thought would be most effective and which was to finish with some practical tips to community living. Interestingly enough, when they were coming up with the list of what they think causes fights, their opinions were remarkably identical.

At the core of most disputes there are the same issues which are not necessarily legal issues, instead they are relationship breakdowns.

An overview of the practical tips for avoiding strata disputes presented are:

Community living involves compromise

The statutory standard for conduct that you can prevent under the BCCM Act is that which interferes unreasonably with the use and enjoyment of a lot. That means that conduct, which interferes reasonably with your use and enjoyment, is not unlawful.

When you are living with a bunch of other people in relatively close physical proximity there are going to be times when you get annoyed. Doors slamming, dogs barking, cats meowing, food cooking, kids playing and so on.

That is the price that comes with density. Having the ability to accept those interruptions to your tranquillity is very important.

The 24 hour rule

This is Frank Higginson’s personal favourite. Every new lawyer at his office gets a lesson on it from him when they arrive.

People can be snarky. Trolls abound. It is a bit undignified when the so-called leader of the free world (no not Malcom Turnbull – Donald Trump) joins in that behaviour, but we are in the age of the internet and immediate communication.

Trolling inside bodies corporate is obviously not as public as what the Donald does, but there are going to be times when people say something they shouldn’t. Usually that will be in an email, but it can also come in minutes or separate correspondence. It might even be at a committee or general meeting.

If what is said is about you, it can wind you up. It might be factually incorrect. It could be based on someone allegedly saying something to someone, which never happened. It might be defamatory. It is #fakenews (the last of the Trump references, we promise).

If it is in writing, you can hammer your keyboard and punch out a response to it there and then. That helps you vent. But, and this is a very BIG but – park it for 24 hours. Save your work, walk away from it, sleep on it.

As sure as you are reading this now you will change some of it the next day, or you might not even send it at all. That simple action will save you a good deal of potential grief, as a lot of what the Commissioner and Hynes Legal see in strata fights starts this very way.

Once things get said, they are hard to unsay. You are not going to lose the right to respond as firmly as you want the next day, but once you do it you cannot retract it. A tempered response is always better than a knee jerk (and emotional) one.

Reply all

This runs hand-in-glove with the 24 hour rule. It is even harder to back down (or calm things down) when you have gone back to someone, smashed them publicly and copied in a range of other people.

You also start to get into the territory of defamation when you publish statements to everyone. It is fine to come back to the person who has sent an email to you and tell them that you guess they must have got their purported qualifications from a cornflakes packet just to annoy them (or something a little harsher if you are inclined). That is just between you and that person. When you copy in the 60 other lot owners, you have defamed that person if what you have said is not true

Copying the Commissioner’s Office on emails does not help either. They don’t ‘police’ bodies corporate. They conciliate disputes by putting people in a room together and they make decisions on applications. Unless there is something formal in their office about your issue in terms of an actual application, your email will be discarded.

Talk

Simple. Yes. Patronising? Possibly, but we tried to not make it come across that way.

It is a lot harder to channel your inner keyboard warrior when you actually have met the person you are about to assassinate in your correspondence. If you know them and they know you, there is a far greater chance of resolving your issues without difficulty.

You need to remember that there are two sides to every story and you have to consider their point of view. Never be immediately aggressive. You never lose the right to be angry, but once you do that, the other side will more than likely respond the same way. Bad language and name calling are two things you want to avoid. You also need to remember that element of compromise you may need to figure out.

If you have an issue try to thrash it out. That is much better than descending into legal fights and applications.

Before you can make an application to the Commissioner’s Office you need to have had a go at sorting out the issue yourself. If you haven’t done that, your application will be bounced.

Get involved in your community

The world is run by those that show up. Never a truer word was said in strataland. Committee members are usually volunteers doing the best they can in a lightly policed environment. They are not going to get it right every time and rather than throw stones from the sideline at them when they don’t get it right, get involved and do your bit.

Make the effort. Leaving aside the constant need to learn everyday, this body corporate stuff can be really interesting. It also helps that you are protecting your investment in the property, and that investment (being your lot) is probably one of the bigger ones in your life.

In summary

All of these things indicate you might need to be the bigger person. Be that person. It will save you time, energy and money if you do. It will also make your home environment a much happier place if you aren’t talking about your body corporate disputes.

I know that some people can be irrational and that these suggestions won’t work 100% of the time. None ever do. But they will work most of the time and if that saves you being involved in an application or coming to see me, then they are worth it.

Good luck!

Some final resources:

Thank you to those who came to the seminars. It is always disheartening if we don’t get a roll up, and you rolled up in droves: more than 800 of you all told by the end of the series.

Finally – A huge thanks to Frank Higginson and Chris Irons for travelling around and meeting the public providing free general advice and listening to attendees concerns.

Another big thank you goes to all our exhibitors, which have provided valuable information and assistance throughout the seminars.

Should you wish to find out more about the services our foundation partners and exhibitors provide, please click on their names below:

Archers the Strata Professionals, CMBM Facility Services, Hynes Legal, Marsh Advantage Insurance, Programmed Property Services, StrataLoans, thyssenkrupp Elevators Australia

Session presentations for your reference can be downloaded here. You can also see pictures of the seminars on our Facebook page and see what questions where asked via the events sections:

Townsville
Cairns

Exhibitor Lucky Door Prize Winners Announced

Programmed Property Services winner is Tony from Heritage Gardens.
ThyssenKrupp Elevators Australia winner is Zoran at Metro Quays (Townsville) and Carolyn at North Shore Towers (Cairns).

This article was co contributed by Grant Mifsud of Archers the Strata Professionals, Frank Higginson of Hynes Legal and Chris Irons – Commissioner for Body Corporate and Community Management.