Strata living can sometimes be an exercise in diplomacy.
Keeping everyone happy in a multi-unit dwelling is no easy task.
However, when problems arise and relationships sour all hope is not lost.
Today we look at the most common tenant complaints and how to overcome them.
You wouldn’t think having a vegetarian living upstairs from a meat lover would pose a dilemma- but it can, as Archers Body Corporate Management business development manager Michael Ryall recently discovered.
The issue went as far as conciliation, a mediation process, to assist both parties in reaching a solution.
The meat lover agreed to cook on the barbecue between specific hours of the day and the vegetarian agreed that she would keep the windows of her apartment closed during those hours.
Ryall says this is just one issue in a wide range of complaints he has encountered as part of his job, from the odd and bizarre right through to accusations of illegal activity.
However, he says there are some common complaints that are usually shared across most multi-unit dwellings.
The top four are referred to by the acronym CLAP – children, landscaping, animals and parking.
Complaints that fall within these four areas are fairly standard practice when it comes to strata living.
“These are the biggest cause of problems in tenanted areas,” Ryall says.
In addition to these, let’s look at an expanded list of 10 common tenant complaints encountered by body corporate entities.
Children running amok in a unit complex are bound to attract the attention of other tenants.
Complaints regarding children can be targeted at those who live on the premises or children who are visiting the complex temporarily.
“When friends come around with kids and they’re running and screaming and diving into the pool, this can be a problem,” Ryall says.
He says children are also more likely to go ‘door knocking’ – either purposely or intentionally knocking on other tenants’ doors, irritating and frustrating those in neighbouring units.
Depending on the complex location, Ryall says some areas are more tolerant to issues involving children.
“If it’s a townhouse complex in the suburbs, where there are more families and tenants with children, they’re more accepting of the noise compared to a complex with predominantly older residents,” he explains.
“They tried a ‘no children’ policy on Hope Island (at Queensland’s Gold Coast) a few years ago but it was deemed freehold property and it was placing a restriction on its use. A body corporate can’t refuse to let a dwelling to certain groups of people.”
The quality of landscaping in common areas, as well as the style and type of plants used, can result in tenant complaints.
Ryall says it’s not uncommon for a body corporate to receive complaints about lawns not being mowed, the frequency of the landscape maintenance, trees blocking the view, and weeding and tree roots causing damage to paths.
“Even in the smaller complexes we find landscaping issues are one of the major factors for complaints,” Ryall says.
“Often people can’t agree on the level of maintenance required and the frequency of it.”
Tenants parking in the visitor bays, tenants parking in the wrong bays and visitors who overstay their welcome by using a parking space as their own private space are all potential causes of dispute.
Nothing is more frustrating for a unit occupant than finding a stranger’s vehicle in their car space, especially when they have groceries in the back seat and nowhere else to park in the street.
“It’s very common for people to rent a one-bedroom apartment but own two cars.
Their second car is then parked in the visitor bay or someone else’s park and this causes a lot of issues,” Ryall says.
4. Maintenance and Upkeep of Building
It’s the body corporate’s responsibility to maintain the building and ensure the upkeep of common areas.
“Things like leaks and mould build-up are the subject of a lot of complaints,” Ryall says.
However, he’s quick to point out the condition of each individual unit isn’t the responsibility of the body corporate.
“Anything inside the unit needs to be addressed by the owner or property manager,” he says.
“However, leaks and mould aren’t usually restricted to one unit and are a bigger, complex issue.”
The issue of animals being kept in unit dwellings has long been an emotive topic which has generated heated debate among both tenants and the wider community.
“People either love them (animals) or hate them,” Ryall says.
He says common complaints in relation to animals stem from dogs barking and cats jumping across balconies or defecating in common areas.
“It’s now much more common to have pets in multi-unit dwellings.
A body corporate can’t reasonably refuse to allow someone to keep a pet.
“If it’s a large dog and a small apartment, that may be seen as “unreasonable”, but if it’s an appropriate pet for the apartment, a body corporate can’t say ‘no’.”
Ryall explains that under the law a landlord can prevent a tenant from housing a pet as the legal owner of the unit, however a body corporate can’t.
He says there has been a lot of debate around what’s considered to be ‘reasonable’ and what isn’t, in accordance with the wording of the by-laws.
“There were previously conditions, such as the pet being no bigger than 10 kilograms, but it depends on the size of the apartment and the level the apartment is on.
Restricting it to just one pet is also considered unreasonable as once again it’s all about the size of the apartment and whether it’s appropriate for the circumstances.
The regulation simply states ‘the body corporate cannot act unreasonably’ which can be a little ambiguous.
“Generally, we find if a body corporate allows a pet under certain conditions, there’s no problem. It’s when they dig in their heels and say ‘no pets’, then we have issues with owners getting upset and that’s when disputes happen.”
Excessive noise is always an issue and isn’t just restricted to the unit dwelling. Loud, excessive noise can originate from other units, nearby buildings and generate off-the-street racket.
Ryall says in his experience most noise complaints are the result of just one regular offender.
“More often it will be just one particular tenant that’s causing the problem – one bad apple,” he says. “They’re the ones that frequently cause ongoing problems. Generally complexes don’t have more than one tenant repeatedly making excessive noise and complaints are often because of a party.”
Tenants should also consider the location of their apartment.
“If it’s inner city, there’s more noise generally and a younger demographic of tenant is usually more tolerant of these things than people living in the suburbs,” Ryall says.
To help limit noise complaints, Ryall suggests multi-unit dwellings be designed in such a way that bedrooms are located away from living or entertainment areas.
7. Immoral and Improper Use of a Dwelling
Most body corporates have a by-law that states a unit can’t be used for immoral or improper purposes, Ryall says.
“We do get the odd complaint about what a unit is being used for. In one situation, we had a complaint about a young girl using the spa late at night for things she shouldn’t be.
A complaint was made, and it was very embarrassing for all concerned.”
Ryall says he has also encountered complaints regarding prostitution and drug use.
“Units being used by ‘ladies of the night’ is quite a common complaint surprisingly. In this situation, we advise tenants to call the police and let them manage those sorts of issues. This is much more effective than a body corporate stepping in.
Generally, when people become emotional or make things personal, disputes arise,” he says.
It isn’t uncommon for strong cooking odours to waft through mechanical ventilation systems and impact larger areas, but containing or preventing this from happening is extremely difficult in a strata living situation. Tolerance is the key in this circumstance.
“We do get complaints about odours; people from different ethnic origins cooking foods that have strong odours.
We also get the odd complaint about smells coming through mechanical systems, but a lot of that is linked to proper ventilation in order to eliminate or reduce this issue,” Ryall says.
9. Damage to Common Areas
Children drawing on walls or sticking gum in lifts is enough to raise the ire of any tenant.
When a communal area is used by dozens of people there’s an expectation to maintain and present these locations to a high standard.
According to Ryall, the most common complaints regarding communal areas stem from issues with people using pools and barbecue areas and not cleaning up after themselves.
“We also get complaints about what tenants are using a common area for and the time of day they’re using it.
Generally, these complaints are when people are using the areas late at night outside of the allocated time,” he says.
Smoking in enclosed areas of common area of common property is prohibited by law under the Tobacco and Other Smoking Products Act 1998.
According to Ryall, many other schemes have gone further and passed by-laws prohibiting smoking on all common property, for example in and around the swimming pool.
“There have been some recent rulings regarding smoking within units where the smell escapes through the balconies, under doors or into the extraction system,” he says.
“The rulings have found a body corporate doesn’t have the authority to prohibit smoking within a unit including on balconies as these are private homes.”
Ryall says some schemes have passed by-laws stating residents can’t smoke on balconies where it causes a nuisance to neighbouring units.
“Unfortunately, these by-laws are very difficult to enforce. The rulings have noted for smoking to be considered such a nuisance restrictions on the use of private property should be imposed, the smoking must be excessive.
The rulings have actually gone further and suggested an onus on the neighbouring lots to attempt to minimise the smoke coming in by closing their balcony doors.”
How to Resolve a Dispute
If an issue can’t be resolved verbally through open and honest discussions, the ‘wronged’ tenant or owner has the option to submit a form to the body corporate advising a breach has occurred.
If the body corporate is in agreeance, then a breach notice is issued.
If the body corporate considers a breach hasn’t occurred the party can make an application to start proceedings through court.
An adjudicator appointed by the Commissioner’s Office will issue an order stating the tenant must stop the behaviour that’s constituting the breach.
If an order issued by the adjudicator is ignored or the breach continues, the body corporate can pursue the matter through the courts which can impose a maximum penalty of $44,000.
The Magistrates Court can impose a fine if a party is deemed to be in breach of the by-laws, which can be up to $2200.
However, Ryall says there’s a conciliation process that usually helps avoid going to these lengths and problems can be solved by having an independent third party assist with the negotiations.
How are By-Laws Enforced?
The body corporate is responsible for enforcing the by-laws of its complex.
The committee as the administrative arm is usually responsible for ensuring all owners and occupiers comply with the by-laws.
However, owners and occupiers can also commence with the issue of mandatory notices, however there are limited circumstances in which the service of a notice isn’t required.
It’s preliminary procedure that contravention notices must be issued before any formal enforcement action is taken.
The decision to serve a contravention notice can be made by the committee or by the body corporate.
TYPES OF CONTRAVENTION NOTICES
1. Continuing Contravention Notice
The body corporate may give a continuing contravention notice to an owner or occupier where it believes the person is contravening a by-law and where it’s likely the contravention will continue.
An example of this type of contravention is where an owner is parking a vehicle of common property without approval.
The purpose of this notice is to require the person to remedy the contravention.
2. Future Contravention Notice
The body corporate may serve a future contravention notice if it believes the person has contravened a by-law and the circumstances of the contravention make it likely the contravention will be repeated.
This notice would be appropriate when an owner has a noisy party that contravenes the noise by-law.
The body corporate may give the owner notice that if this contravention is repeated, proceedings can be commenced without any further notice.
The purpose of the future contravention notice is to require the person not to repeat the contravention.
3. Consequences of Failing to Comply
If an owner or an occupier fails to comply with a contravention notice, the committee, or the body corporate in a general meeting, can decide to commence enforcement proceedings in the Magistrates Court or in the Body Corporate and Community Management (BCCM) Office.
The BCCM Act empowers the Magistrates Court to impose a financial penalty for failure to comply with the notice.
When an Owner or Tenant Complains
If an owner or an occupiers reasonably believes’ another owner or occupier has contravened the by-laws or it’s likely the contravention will continue, he or she must take a preliminary step before taking action in the BCCM office.
The owner or occupier (‘the complainant’) must ask the body corporate to issue a contravention notice to the person who is allegedly contravening the by-laws.
If the body corporate doesn’t advise the complainant that the contravention notice has been issued within 14 days after receiving the request, the complainant may take action in the BCCM office.
This article was written by Heidi Davoren and originally published in Australian Property Investor Magazine and has been republished with their permission.
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