Disputes with Building Managers: Options for Queensland Body Corporates

In the complex task of maintaining a harmonious living environment within strata communities, the relationship between a body corporate and its building manager or caretaker is pivotal.

However, disputes can arise, casting a shadow over the smooth operation of the property. When conflicts emerge, it’s crucial for all parties involved to understand their rights and options for resolution. In Queensland, there are several avenues available to address disputes between body corporates and building managers or caretakers.

Communication: The First Step Towards Resolution

Before delving into formal dispute resolution mechanisms, fostering open communication between the body corporate and the building manager or caretaker is paramount. Often, conflicts can be resolved swiftly through constructive dialogue, where concerns are aired, and solutions are explored collaboratively. Clear communication channels, such as regular meetings or designated representatives, can facilitate this process, promoting transparency and understanding.

Check the Agreement

It’s crucial to check if the building manager is actually obligated to perform certain tasks that may be the subject of any dispute the body corporate may have. Sometimes, it turns out that the building manager isn’t required to do the task causing the tension in the first place. This can make it difficult to mend the relationship.

Committees need to do their homework and understand what the Agreement expects from the building manager. This can be a challenging task and involves considering:

  • Whether the Agreement specifically outlines the duties of the building manager or if they are more general.
  • If there are specific standards set for carrying out these duties, as this can significantly impact the Body Corporate’s stance.
  • Whether the duty requires specialist skills, which might excuse the building manager from performing it.

 

If there’s any uncertainty about the building manager’s obligations, it’s better for the Committee to seek clarification before escalating the issue into a conflict.

Clarifying Roles: Building Manager vs. Body Corporate Manager

It’s a common misconception among owners and tenants within strata communities that the building manager and body corporate manager are inherently linked or even the same entity.

However, it’s crucial to recognise that they are distinct entities with separate roles and responsibilities. While they may collaborate closely to ensure the smooth operation of the property, they operate independently and are not affiliated with each other.

Understanding this distinction is essential for owners and tenants as it impacts how they interact with each party and where to direct their concerns or inquiries. Clear communication channels and awareness of these separate roles foster better cooperation and efficiency within the strata community, ultimately contributing to its overall well-being and harmony.

See more: https://stratacare.com.au/whos-who-in-your-body-corporate/

 

Mediation: A Facilitated Dialogue

When direct communication fails to yield results or if tensions escalate, mediation can provide a structured framework for negotiation. Mediation involves a neutral third party, the mediator, who assists both parties in reaching a mutually acceptable resolution.

Limited involvement of the Office of the Commissioner for Body Corporate

In Queensland, the Office of the Commissioner for Body Corporate can only play a limited role in caretaker disputes. This is mainly because disputes involving caretakers are often connected to their engagement with the body corporate and are defined as ‘complex disputes’ under the legislation. The Body Corporate Commissioner does not have jurisdiction to deal with complex disputes.

Litigation: Initial Consultation

If mediation has failed to reach a mutually acceptable resolution, while not mandatory, it is considered best-practice to seek an initial consultation from a body corporate lawyer. The consultation could be as little as 1 hour to explore the body corporate’s legal options in relation to their dispute with the building manager and potentially save on significant legal bills down the track.

Litigation: The Last Resort

While rare, some disputes may escalate to the point where litigation becomes necessary. Litigation involves taking the matter to court, where a judge will adjudicate based on the evidence and applicable laws. Litigation is often costly, time-consuming, and adversarial, making it the least preferred option for resolving disputes within strata communities. However, in cases involving serious breaches of contract or significant legal issues, litigation may be unavoidable.

Typically, in Stratacare’s experience, the involvement of lawyers tends to cause a breakdown in the relationship of body corporate members that proves exceptionally difficult to mend and should be avoided where possible.

Termination by remedial action

The legislation enables a body corporate to terminate their engagement with a service contractor, or the authorisation of a letting agent, if that person is:

  • engaging in misconduct
  • grossly negligent in carrying out their functions under the engagement
  • not performing their contractual duties
  • not complying with the relevant code of conduct or disclosure requirements.

 

Before moving to terminate on any of these grounds, the body corporate must first issue a remedial action notice. The decision to give the notice must be made by the committee or the lot owners at a general meeting – an owner cannot make this decision independently. The chief function of the remedial action is to notify the building manager and give them an opportunity to remedy the matter.

While we regularly advise clients that the format of the notice is an internal matter (as there is no prescribed form), the legislation clearly outlines what information must be included in the notice.

The remedial action notice must firstly state that the person has acted in one of the ways listed above and provide details of the person’s actions that adequately identify the problem. The notice must also specify a period of not less than 14 days within which the issue is to be rectified, and state that the body corporate can terminate the engagement or authorisation if there is non-compliance within that period.

Although the committee can vote to issue the initial remedial action notice, a committee-level decision is not sufficient to terminate the engagement if they believe the notice has not been complied with. An ordinary resolution at a general meeting is required for termination.

 

Pursuing Resolution for Sustainable Communities

Disputes between body corporates and building managers or caretakers can disrupt the harmonious functioning of strata communities, impacting residents’ quality of life and property values. By understanding and utilising the available dispute resolution mechanisms, such as communication, mediation, and as a last resort, litigation, parties can navigate conflicts effectively, preserving relationships and promoting the long-term sustainability of the community.

 

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