Internal resolution of body corporate disputes

Most readers will be aware that before making an application to the Office of the Commissioner for Body Corporate and Community Management for dispute resolution, a party must attempt to resolve the dispute by internal dispute resolution.

This requirement focuses on supporting relationships within bodies corporate and the effective self-management of community titles schemes.

What is internal resolution?

The act describes internal dispute resolution as resolution by the parties, using informal processes or the community titles scheme’s own processes. Internal dispute resolution includes any reasonable endeavour or step taken to attempt to resolve an issue in dispute.

Internal resolution is important because:

• the act requires it to be attempted in most circumstances

• the act promotes the responsibility for self management as an inherent aspect of community title living

• it can prevent the escalation of the dispute

• it encourages positive communication which can preserve relationships within community titles schemes

• it can prevent future disputes from occurring, or if they do occur they may be resolved more quickly

• it can be the quickest and most cost effective means of resolving a dispute.

What are some examples of internal dispute resolution?

The act provides three examples of internal dispute resolution processes. These are:

• communication between the parties (talking)

• writing to the committee

• presenting a motion for consideration at a general meeting.

If the issue is between one owner and another, the first step to resolving the issue might be to talk to the other owner or occupier to communicate the issue of concern and attempt to resolve the issue together. If the issue requires a committee or body corporate decision, the first step might be to write a letter to the committee outlining the circumstances of the issue. The committee can then advise of the next step to take, which might simply be committee approval or a more formal step, such as submitting a motion for the next general meeting.

If the issue requires a determination by the body corporate in a general meeting (such as an owner seeking permission for an improvement to common property for the benefit of their lot), it will be necessary to submit the motion to the body corporate for consideration at the next general meeting, prior to making an application with the BCCM Office.

What processes can a body corporate adopt for internal dispute resolution?

Many disputes that reach the BCCM Office could be avoided if the parties in dispute knew who to take their concerns to or how to have their concerns considered by the body corporate. To assist in this, a body corporate can consider establishing an internal dispute resolution process for its scheme. The body corporate would simply need to pass a motion by ordinary resolution adopting the process. The details of this process would be up to the individual scheme to develop, but may include:

• a communication process where one of the members of the committee is the first contact person for specific concerns

• timeframes indicating how long a committee will take to respond to requests

• the use of informal or formal mediators (at the parties’ expense) to attempt to resolve the dispute.

Tips for communicating your concerns:

Having a process in place and being knowledgeable in the requirements under the Act are two key strategies in resolving disputes. However, successful conflict resolution also requires communication and interpersonal skills which are important to apply when we are in conflict with another person.

Here are some basic tips for approaching negotiations to resolve a conflict.

• Try to approach the person(s) with whom you feel there is an issue as soon as possible and in a place where everyone will feel relaxed and comfortable.

• Explain to the person(s) clearly and calmly what your concerns are and how the issue impacts on you.

• Before offering suggestions as to how to solve the issue, ask the person(s) what their views are and suggest that they work with you to find a solution.

• Listen to the other person’s feedback calmly and try to understand his/her point of view (even if you don’t agree).

• Once you have listened to each other’s point of view, try to come up with several options to resolve the matter that meet everyone’s needs.

• Remember that in most negotiations, some give and take on both sides is required, especially when people disagree about the problem and/or how it should be resolved. Try to include all acceptable options and not just those options that you think would be best for you.

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