Security Bars: Common or Lot Property?

In the matter of Cestaro v The Owners – Strata Plan No. 457 NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal of 12 February 2019 (unreported), it was held that security bars affixed to the external windows of a lot were common property.

The lot owner applicant alleged that security bars that they had installed in 2004 and that were removed by the Owners Corporation in 2015 during remedial works, were lot property and should be replaced by the Owners Corporation.

There was no common property rights by-law permitting the lot owner to install the bars, however, the lot owner had been given permission by their strata manager to change them in 2004. Although the Owners Corporation was subject to model by-law 5 regarding locking or safety devices (which permits lot owners to affix locking or safety devices to common property) this fact was not expressly mentioned in the reasoning of the Tribunal, rather, the reasoning primarily turned on the definition of lot property being the inner surface of the boundary wall and the fact that the security bars had been affixed to common property. The Tribunal further reasoned that the security bars were lot property installed at cost to the lot owner until they were affixed to the common property at which time they became common property.

It was also held that the decision of the Owners Corporation to approve a remedial works contract that expressly included the removal of the existing security bars but not their reinstallation, was a valid decision, and that the Owners Corporation decision to delegate decisions regarding the remedial works to the strata committee was authority for the strata committee’s decision to not allow reinstallation of existing or old security bars, but only to allow lot owners to install new security bars in a style and design of the strata committees choosing.

The reasoning in this decision did not consider whether security bars installed pursuant to a common property by-law would have changed this outcome, however, it is our opinion that it would have dramatically altered the outcome. If a lot owner wants permission to deal with security bars, the security bars should be authorised pursuant to a common property rights by-law that includes terms which provide for the costs and ownership of the bars and any conditions as to style, colour and of course repair, maintenance, and replacement.

Kerin Benson Lawyers advised the Owners Corporation in this matter.

NSW FACT SHEET 4: Compulsory Strata Management: How does it affect you and your scheme?

The NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) has the power under section 162 of the Strata Schemes Management Act 1996 to appoint a compulsory strata managing agent to a strata scheme. This power is also contained in section 237 of the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 which, but for part 11, will commence on 30 November 2016. The sections, which differ slightly, empower the NCAT the make an order that either all, or part, of the functions* of the owners corporation are delegated to a strata manager.

What does compulsory strata management mean?

The simple answer is that it means different things in different cases. For instance, NCAT may order that all the functions of the owners corporation are to given to the strata management agent or, it may order that only a certain power or function is given to the strata managing agent.

If all the powers of the owners corporation are granted to the strata managing agent meetings of the owners corporation are not necessary. Instead of you, as a lot owner, voting to decide matters the strata manager will exercise their delegated power. If they do so they can raise levies, pass resolutions on behalf of the owners corporation and pass by-laws pursuant to section 65A. A by-law could also be passed pursuant to section 52 by the compulsory strata manager with the prior written consent of the lot owner granted the exclusive use right or special privilege.

On the other hand if the strata manager were only granted the powers of the executive committee, they could call meetings, pay invoices (unless restricted by the owners corporation at general meeting from doing so) and conduct the day to day affairs of the owners corporation but could not pass any resolutions that are required by the Act to be passed at general meeting. This would include resolutions to pass by-laws, to accept an easement or to alter or amend the common property.

Who can apply for an order for compulsory management?

A wide variety of people can obtain an order to appoint a compulsory strata manager and it need not be a lot owner. They are:

  • anyone with an interest or estate in a lot in the scheme or if the scheme is a leasehold scheme, a lease of a lot;
  • anyone who has obtained an order under the 1996 or the 2015 Act that has not been complied with and that imposed a duty on the owners corporation, executive/strata committee or an officer of the owners corporation
  • an authority that has the benefit of a positive covenant requiring a duty of the owners corporation; or
  • a judgment creditor to whom the owners corporation owes a judgement debt

When can the NCAT make an order for compulsory management?

Both the 1996 and 2015 Acts provide that the NCAT may make an order only if satisfied that:

(a)  the management of a strata scheme is not functioning or is not functioning satisfactorily, or

(b)  an owners corporation has failed to comply with a requirement imposed on the owners corporation by an order made under the Act, or

(c)  an owners corporation has failed to perform one or more of its duties, or

(d)  an owners corporation owes a judgment debt.

What does “not functioning or is not functioning satisfactorily” mean?

CTTT (the predecessor to the NCAT) Member Moore in Coote v Sharpe, Wentzel & Owners Corporation Strata Plan 55434 stated that imposing a compulsory strata manager upon an owners corporation is a “draconian” measure as it “removes the democratic process which has been established” under the Act. As such, the reasons for a finding of dysfunction must be based on objective evidence. For this reason, these orders are not lightly granted.

Instances where an order for compulsory strata management has been made show that the following behaviour can be a sign of a failure to function when affects the management structure of the scheme:

–          a failure (or inability) to pass resolutions to raise contributions;

–          a continued failure to carry out required maintenance and repairs

–          a long history of acrimony, deep seated discord and or violence in the scheme;

–          the presence of a voting block, for instance, where divisions within the scheme see a 50/50 stand off meaning resolutions cannot be passed;

–          a pattern of strata managers terminating their appointment; and

–          a pattern of improper decisions making (i.e. decisions not made in accordance with the Act)

* The Dictionary to the Act defines “function” as “function includes a power, authority or duty.”

Any further questions about strata or community titles law?

Call Kerin Benson Lawyers on 02 8706 7060 or email allison@kerinbensonlawyers.com.au or enquiries@kerinbensonlawyers.com.au

NSW FACTSHEET 3: Dispute Resolution & NCAT

The Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 (NSW), which is now expected to commence on 1 October 2016, makes some significant changes to the existing statutory dispute resolution procedures that strata manager’s, owners corporations and lot owners should be aware of. These are detailed below but first, we look at the existing dispute resolution process.

The Current Dispute Resolution Process

The current Act, the Strata Schemes Management Act 1996 (NSW), requires most strata disputes to be mediated prior to an application being accepted by the NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) registry. There are a few exceptions including applications for interim orders and applications for the compulsory appointment of a strata manager. Mediations are usually conducted by mediators from the Office of Fair Trading. Mediations can take between one to three weeks to arrange.

Adjudicator’s Orders

If an agreement was not reached at mediation, or, if the mediation agreement has been breached, in most instances the next step is to file an application for Strata Scheme’s Adjudicator’s orders. These applications are “heard on the papers”. This means that the applicant, respondent and any interested parties must file written submissions and evidence in accordance with the timetable provided by the NCAT registry. Evidence is usually by way of a statutory declaration. To view submissions made by interested parties you must contact the NCAT registry and make arrangements to view the file. NCAT copying fees will apply if you wish to make copies. After the closing date for submissions, an Adjudicator is assigned and they review the filed documents and make a written decision which is then posted out to the parties.

If you wish to appeal the decision of an Adjudicator then you must file an application for NCAT orders. Strict time limits apply and legal advice should be sought on the date the order takes effect and the time limit for filing an appeal. Leave to appeal outside of time can be applied for however it can be difficult to obtain. Costs orders are not available in this type of application.

Interim Orders

These are Adjudicator’s orders that are made on an urgent and usually ex parte (meaning without the other party being present) basis. They are generally reserved for matters where an order is required to preserve the status quo prior to an Adjudicator making final orders. Interim order applications must be filed together with applications for Adjudicator’s orders.

Tribunal Orders

Applications for Tribunal orders are filed with the NCAT Registry. The Registry serves the application and a notice of directions hearing. Unlike Adjudicator’s orders, the parties must attend NCAT for hearings. Applications can be made for telephone hearings in some circumstances.

There is no right of appearance in NCAT and leave to appear must be sought at either the first directions hearing or in writing beforehand. At the first direction hearing, orders setting out a timetable for the progression of the matter are made. These will include dates when submissions and evidence are due. The Registry will also re-list the matter, for a further directions hearing or for final hearing.

Although the rules of evidence do not apply (except in civil penalty matters such as for a breach of a notice to comply) the proceedings are similar to court proceedings in that both parties are to appear and argue their case before a NCAT member. The Member may restrict each parties’ time to provide arguments and adduce its evidence. At the end of arguments the Member may reserve their decision or give an oral decision when the arguments have closed. You have the right to request written reasons for the decision.

Appeals are strictly limited both in time and the types of appeals that can be made. We recommend you seek legal advice before instituting any appeal.

 The new NCAT Process

The Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 provides for a new dispute resolution process. Owners Corporations can establish their own independent dispute resolution process and the NCAT is given wider powers. Mediation is still required however prior to applying for orders for most types of matters.

Arguably the largest change is that there will be no more applications for Adjudicator’s orders and all applications must be made for Tribunal orders. This means that all applications will now be heard in person (or if leave is granted over the telephone) and parties will need to attend the NCAT to present their arguments and evidence. Leave to appear is still required and the same provisions of the Civil & Administrative Tribunal Act 2013 (NSW) apply to applications for leave. The process for Tribunal orders detailed above will remain the same although it is expected that there will be an increase in the number of matters listed at each directions hearing (meaning more time should be set aside to attend directions hearings) due to all matters now being heard by the Tribunal.

The ability to appeal from a Tribunal decision is unchanged.

Date: 22 March 2016

 

 

When being unreasonable isn’t enough: NCAT’s discretion in the reallocation of unit entitlements

Section 183(1) of the Strata Schemes Management Act 1996 (NSW) (the Act) confers a discretion on NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal to reallocate unit entitlements when the original allocation is found to be unreasonable. The recent case of Rita Sahade v The Owners Strata Plan No 62022 & Ors [2015] NSWCATCD 5 emphasises the discretionary nature of this power.

Background

 The case was originally brought by the applicant before the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal in 2012. The Tribunal dismissed the application. The applicant appealed to the District Court, and its decision was then the subject of appeal to the Court of Appeal, who remitted the case back to the Tribunal in respect of the following issues:

  • Whether the original allocation of unit entitlements (UE) was unreasonable;
  • If so, whether the UE should be reallocated; and
  • If so, the appropriate allocation of UE.

Relevant Considerations

 In making its determination, the Tribunal identified several considerations relevant to the decision to alter UE:

  • Market value of the lots (noting this is a mandatory and primary consideration, though not the only consideration);
  • UE forms part of bundle of rights as part of realty and ownership of unit;
  • UE forms part of market value due to the degree of control and fees/responsibilities associated with UE;
  • Units are sold and bought on the basis of known rights (i.e. known UE);
  • UE forms basis for liabilities and payments; and
  • UE controls power of management of OC and determines quorum.

The Tribunal found that the original UE allocation was unreasonable based on market value yet decided not to exercise its discretion to alter UE on the basis that:

  • Control of the scheme would change fundamentally with an altered UE;
  • By purchasing the property with 40% of the schemes UE, it was clear to the applicant at the time of purchase that she wasn’t buying a controlling share;
  • It was likely to result in compulsory management and/or deadlock if one unit given such control – which was not the legislative intent of the Act; and
  • The unopposed evidence of original owner showed the original reason for UE allocation was to prevent one lot acting without the support of at least one other lot.

The Tribunal also reaffirmed that in such matters it is the applicant who bears the onus not only to demonstrate that there was unreasonableness in the original UE allocation, but also to persuade the Tribunal why it should order a reallocation of UE, with the Act conferring a discretion and not an obligation on the Tribunal to alter UE allocation.

For information about unit entitlements generally or responsibilities of lot owners in relation to their unit entitlements, please contact our office.

Allison Benson Angie Rennie
Legal Practitioner Director Lawyer
Ph: (02) 4032 7990 Ph: (02) 8706 7060
E: allison@kerinbensonlawyers.com.au angie@kerinbensonlawyers.com.au