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Strata communities generally have either a formal committee, or at least a group of active residents who take on the task of resolving problems that invariably occur in their Owners Corporation. If the strata complex does not have an experienced strata specialist in place, problems can arise if the owners’ committee can not (or will not) agree to deal effectively with such problems.
Unfortunately it is a fact of life that complaints can occur, and managers and committees must have policies and procedures in place to manage and resolve such complaints and disputes.
Disputes within an Owners Corporation are far more common than many people realise. Complaints occur for a number of reasons, most generally involving vehicle parking and noise, however it is impossible to predict the issues that can arise and cause problems. And when nobody is prepared to act to resolve the problem… it generally escalates. This is where the experience and skills of a strata specialist can be invaluable in calming the situation and ensuring that the needs of all residents are heard and communicated .
A strata specialist will initially recommend that basic communication is common sense. Sometimes residents who fail to obey the rules sometimes simply do not know the rules. As a starting point, your committee should ensure that all lot owners and tenants are provided a copy of the Owners Corporation rules. As a follow-up, the committee should encourage neighbours to talk about their concerns to resolve disputes.
If this strategy fails, then the strata specialist will know how to take communication to the next step, which can be arranging for mediation or conciliation, made in good faith by all parties, or if all else fails, applying to VCAT to make a legally binding decision about how the dispute is to be settled.

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How to deal with smoking neighbours

There is nothing worse for non-smokers than inhaling the waft of second-hand smoke from someone’s cigarette. And it can seriously affect your lifestyle in apartment living, as well as your health.
Currently, Victorian laws only allow Owners Corporations to make rules that completely ban smoking in common areas such as shared courtyards. Smoke emanating from private property can be more difficult to control for the Owners Corporation.
As owners are still permitted to smoke on their private property and consequently, it can be difficult to rule against them even if their second-hand smoke is entering common property.
Notwithstanding, the Victorian Owners Corporation Regulations 2007 (Model Rule 1.1) stipulates “A lot owner or occupier must not use the lot, or permit it to be used, so as to cause a hazard to the health, safety and security of an owner, occupier, or user of another lot”.
On that basis, your Owners Corporation Manager could reasonably assess that any smoke emanating from private property has exposed you to second-hand smoke, which represents a health hazard to you and therefore placing the other owner in breach of this regulation.
The best process is to try to raise this issue with your neighbour and come to a resolution amicably.
If this fails or is not possible, check that your Owners Corporation rules contain Model Rule 1.1, then you may lodge a formal complaint with the Owners Corporation in relation to their alleged breach of the Model Rules.
Your complaint should be on a Formal Complaint form and outline the alleged breach, noting that your health is being negatively impacted.
You may also request that your Owners Corporation creates a specific rule about smoking to be banned on Common Property. This will require a special resolution.

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27 Jan 2021

Disputes within an Owners Corporation are far more common than many people realise. They can occur over major problems but also too frequently they arise over petty issues that should be able to be quickly resolved by mature adults. Disagreements occur for a wide number of reasons and it can be particularly difficult for everybody when one or more owners decide to unilaterally make decisions about ‘how things are done around here’. The result is that other owners don’t have an opportunity to voice their opinions and feel bullied and belittled.
Disputes frequently arise over repairs and maintenance. The question frequently arises over whether it is an individual owner’s responsibility or something the entire strata community should contribute to. If owners are unsure, they should seek the advice of a strata specialist.
Despite the occasional owner putting themselves forward as experts in understanding ‘the law’, disagreements frequently occur over misunderstanding or ignorance of the Owners Corporations Act (2006). This Act, together with a strong knowledge of the strata’s Plan of Subdivision, together with the strata specialist’s many years of practical experience, provide a framework for a full understanding of the issues and how to best resolve them.
The opportunity for such issues to be resolved is at the annual general meeting (or a specially convened owners’ meeting) at which these issues are discussed and decisions are made in a democratic process about how to resolve them. When these meetings fail, when disagreements remain unresolved and the strata community becomes divided it is time to call in a strata specialist to assist.
The strata specialist will point out that there is a three-step formal process to help Owners Corporations deal with grievances:

  • Internal dispute resolution
  • Conciliation through Consumer Affairs Victoria
  • Applications to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
Resolving issues without resorting to the financial and time cost of taking the matter to VCAT is obviously preferable.