QUESTION: Is it realistic to expect co-operation in observance of the strata by-laws by residents of apartment blocks? Our strata management agency recently told us that it is useless to request that the by-laws be observed because the legal cost of enforcement is too great. By-laws prohibiting the display of laundry and storage of large items on balconies are ignored by many and others applicable to our building, such as use of footballs and cricket equipment in the common garden, fail to be enforced. Is the strata managers’ advice correct? If so, do the strata by-laws need more teeth?
ANSWER: Whether or not the strata laws need more teeth is a moot point but your strata managers could sure use a little spine, not to mention a bit more brain. There is a deceptively simple and inexpensive process for pursuing people who flout by-laws. All you need to do is have an executive committee meeting to establish that by-laws have been breached and by whom.
Then go to the Fair Trading website and download the proper form for a “Notice to Comply” which is an official warning to the miscreants that if they don’t stop breaking by-laws (and you have to be specific about which by-law is being breached and how) they will be liable for a fine. At this stage, most people will pull their heads in – the prospect of a $550 fine is enough to make them reconsider the error of their ways. In fact, for many people it’s the first time they realise that: a) there are by-laws, b) that they are breaching them or c) that there are penalties for doing so.
If they fail to mend their ways immediately or start misbehaving again any time within a year of a notice to comply being issued, you can go straight to the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal and ask for a fine to be imposed. Last week this column criticized the lack of clarity on the Fair Trading website – and this is a perfect example. A step by step guide of how to issue a notice to comply, what it should contain and what happens next would be a huge help. If even strata managers don’t know how simple it is, the message clearly isn’t getting out there.
A READER WRITES:
Having just finished reading your column this week, I feel compelled to comment in response to your advice targeted at Owner’s Corporation Executive Committees.
I am the Chairperson of the OC Executive Committee for the strata plan in which I live and, as a result of this posting, believe I have a fairly sound understanding of the remedies available to the OC should By-Laws be breached.
I was disappointed that discussion with the offending resident did not rate a mention as the absolute first course of action. I have seen first hand how ineffective and damaging to neighbourly relations it can be to jump straight to formal and/or legal action to correct some of these breaches, which are as you point out, often caused by the fact that the resident is uninformed about the obligations attached to living in a strata complex.
Perhaps your article assumes that the Executive Committee has exhausted all other options and you are attempting to provide instruction to deal with the ‘last resort’ situations. If this was the case then it should’ve been stated.
In my view it is increasingly the case that people are not being exposed to or encouraged to develop an important life skill and that is assertiveness. This includes the ability to deal successfully with confrontation in a sensitive and diplomatic manner. It’s not a wonder that we live in such a litigious society !
Granted that talking in person or over the phone with offending residents does not always remedy the breach and is not always appropriate, especially when it comes to repeat offenders. However, it is my experience that it usually works well, i.e. remedies the breach and maintains the peace and harmony within the complex.
Thank you for your column.
JIMMY’S RESPONSE : Unfortaunately, given size restrictoions, I wasn’t able to explain that in these circumstances every other avenue of communication had been tried and exhausted. So, yes, talk to each other. and try to make people understand how they are affecting you (which is another issue regardless of the by-laws). But there are people who will not listen and will not be told and think they have the right to do as they please regardless of how it affects other people. In that case, it’s good to know there is a mechanism that is straightforward and effective.