Disputes within Strata Plans Are Best Resolved Informally!

Disputes within Strata Plans Are Best Resolved Informally!

The owners in a block of units in Manly faced a significant problem. All the residents’ mailboxes were located in a communal mail room. Each mailbox had a lock. The strata managers received reports of break-ins in the communal mail room by gangs stealing mail. The chairman of the owners’ corporation believed that as a result of residents’ failure to keep the mailboxes locked, criminal gangs were able to produce a master key. The chairman of the owners’ corporation emailed all residents asking them to make sure their mailboxes were locked.

One particular resident did not want to lock his mailbox. After a number of consecutive days with that residents’ mailbox left open, the chairman decided to personally email him to ask him directly to lock his mailbox. The resident took exception to the direct request of the chairman and sent an email to the chairman claiming that the chairman had a "fixation on the issue". The resident told the chairman that in light of his "email hobby" the chairman should stop receiving mail by post and have everything delivered by email.

In a dramatic escalation, the resident then proceeded to send an email to all other residents in the strata complex claiming that the elderly chairman was a "small-minded busybody who wastes the time of fellow residents on petty items". The Chairman sued the resident for defamation!

The Chairman was initially awarded $120,000.00, as the Court agreed that the resident had defamed him. Following a lengthy appeal process, this finding was overturned, and the chairman was made to pay the legal costs of the resident. This case shows the importance of avoiding bitter disputes with fellow members of a strata plan and highlights how seemingly trivial disagreements can easily escalate into drawn out legal action.