Information is a commodity and, for many, information is power.
As you would most likely know from personal experience, the right information in the right hands can mean the difference between winning and losing a crucial vote at a body corporate meeting. Without sufficient information on a key issue to be voted on, many lot owners often succumb to that common human affliction, apathy.
Apathetic owners tend to not vote on issues (they just don’t bother to turn up) or they are swung by the last opinion they hear. In these circumstances, a vocal minority will often win a vote where a more just and beneficial outcome for the majority should and could have been obtained. This also means it is in a minority’s interest to prevent the distribution of information when it would inform and lead owners to vote against it.
At a body corporate meeting, there will usually be two minorities present that may have a large stake in the outcome of the resolutions being passed – the strata manager and the caretaker/manager. Though minorities, the distribution of information by these parties to owners can be very influential on meeting outcomes and have a large influence on whether voters stand up and be heard, or slide away in apathetic disinterest.
The caretaker/manager is generally in a position to regularly distribute information to owners in their rental pool if they need to rally votes for a cause. A caretaker/manager’s existing relationship and ability to communicate directly with most owners places the caretaker in a strong position to distribute influential information to owners – information the caretaker/manager wants the owners to see.
The strata manager also communicates regularly with the owners and has access to the contact information for all owners courtesy of the strata roll that it maintains. With communication channels already in place for the caretaker/manager and strata manager, they are in a much better position to influence a body corporate meeting than an individual owner or even a collective of owners.
If an owner wants to distribute a letter to all the body corporate members, that owner will first need the contact details of all the owners. In most cases, an owner can only obtain these contact details from the strata roll. This means the strata manager, as gatekeeper of the strata roll, has to some extent, a degree of control over what information individual owners can distribute to the body corporate members. If the strata manager receives a request for the strata roll information from an owner and they are slow to distribute that information, it could mean that a crucial letter lobbying for votes at an upcoming meeting might not reach the voters in time.
Privacy laws applicable?
Can the strata manager be held at fault if it distributed the strata roll information to the owner in a not so timely manner though still within the legislated time limits? Would your answer change if the resolution to be voted on was to reinstate the strata manager?
In a recent Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal matter, a NSW strata manager was ordered to provide an owner with a copy of the strata roll, including the names and addresses for service of all the lot owners and their agents. The owner had requested the strata roll information from the strata manager so that it could distribute information about the performance of the strata manager to the other owners before a body corporate meeting. The matter ended up in the CTTT as the strata manager refused to provide the strata roll information on the grounds that it would breach privacy laws to give out such information.
A request by an owner to see the strata roll is not a breach of privacy laws. The body corporate must comply (within ten days in NSW and seven days in Queensland) with such a request or the body corporate may be fined – a fine you can expect the body corporate will want the strata manager to pay!