The first casualty of war is said to be truth and some say the first casualty of living in strata is privacy. More and more residents of strata complexes are complaining about invasions of privacy whether it be from closed-circuit television, drones, or recording devices.
The fact that personal details of owners and tenants on the body corporate roll are freely available also remains a thorny issue.
The Queensland Government is considering the recommendations made by the Queensland Law Reform Commission tabled on June 29, 2020, in implementing criminal prohibitions on the use of surveillance devices and technologies in both civil and workplace environments. Queenslanders were invited to provide a written submission in response to the consultation paper by May 31.
Trevor Rawnsley, the CEO of the Australian Resident Accommodation Managers Association (ARAMA) said while strata living had many benefits – often including improved living conditions, better locations, and better facilities – personal privacy was often a sacrifice.
“People can look into your home or your yard pretty easily in strata and they can often see and hear what you’re doing without much difficulty,” Mr Rawnsley said.
“So there is no surprise when people feel intruded upon by things such as closed circuit television which is a security measure to protect people, but something which can also make people feel threatened.
“It’s not the closed-circuit television or the drones being used in high-rises that are the problem, it’s the way some people perceive the way that they are being used.”
Chris Irons, the director of Strata Solve, Queensland’s leading dispute resolution and problem-solving firm, was the state’s Commissioner for Body Corporate and Community Management for five years.
He says transparency from the body corporate is the key to preventing many privacy conflicts.
“From my experience, the use of drones in strata buildings is an increasingly practical and convenient way for bodies corporate to do building inspections, particularly in high rises,” Mr Irons said.
“It’s much cheaper and far safer than sending people up on ropes. They send a drone up to look for cracks in the building walls, but where it goes wrong is when the communication isn’t good.
“Everyone might be quite on board with the idea of drones being cheaper and more practical, but if you don’t communicate with your residents properly then one day they are sitting on their balcony (or worse in the bathroom) and they see a drone outside. The natural tendency is to get suspicious and think ‘what else are they doing?’”
Mr Irons said there were also many privacy disputes around body corporate records, in particular the body corporate roll – the list of all owners.
“Every owner or tenant in the building has to be on the roll and there is no capacity to be anonymous or to redact information on there,” Mr Irons said. “The legislation is very clear, if you qualify as an interested party you are entitled to access that roll, and there are no privacy concerns applicable. The details are accessible to all owners, tenants, and agents.
“There are a lot of complaints about this issue. There are a lot of people who start from the position that ‘I don’t want anyone contacting me’. Then they get a very rude shock when they find out they can.
“There are also a lot of complaints when people want to record a body corporate meeting and others object, it’s a really big issue now, especially with meetings held on Zoom.
“If you record a meeting and someone says something controversial or something they might later regret – too bad it’s there and then you have defamation issues and sometimes people can take a recorded comment out of context.
“Sometimes the recording is for a legitimate reason – the unit owner might have hearing problems or English might not be their first language.
“Being transparent about that can solve a lot of the problems but then you have people who are found to be recording secretly.”
Mr Irons said there were many people on body corporate rolls who had a legitimate claim to want to remain anonymous – domestic violence victims being one instance, but he said he was not in favour of too many changes to the privacy laws.
“A strata building is a community at the end of the day. You need to know who the people are in the building and be able to speak to them, especially if something serious happens.”
The Queensland Government’s Department of Justice and Attorney-General says surveillance devices are constantly evolving and, over time, have become more sophisticated, accessible and affordable.
In a statement the department said: “Their capacity to impact on individuals’ privacy grows as the devices develop and become more widely available. Surveillance devices and technology that are discussed in the consultation paper include CCTV, tracking and digital recording devices, as well as recreational and commercial drones with advanced optical and audio recording capabilities.
“Feedback is sought from the community on the best way to achieve the right balance in the use of surveillance technologies to benefit community safety, while limiting their potential use in harmful situations, such as theft, stalking, harassment, and a range of commercial espionage activities.”
Laura Bos, the General Manager of the Strata Community Association (Qld) said: “It is critical that any reforms give thought to shared spaces within bodies corporate. It is important to remember that a scheme is private property and people rightly expect privacy within private property.
“It is incredible how sophisticated technology has become and given the pace of change it is inevitable sometimes that the law will fall behind. We hope the government use this opportunity to protect appropriately the privacy of the millions of Queenslanders who reside in strata.
“It will be interesting to see the proposals that emerge from this review, and we will watch with interest how strata may be affected.”
Grantlee Kieza OAM has won three Queensland Media Awards, two Australian Sports Commission Awards and has been a finalist for the Walkley and News Awards and for the Harry Gordon Award for Australian sports journalist of the year. In 2019 he received the Medal of the Order of Australia for his writing. You can find more of his work in our AccomNews & Resort News print magazines.
He has written 22 acclaimed books, including bestsellers Hudson Fysh, The Kelly Hunters, Lawson, Banks, Macquarie, Banjo, Mrs Kelly, Monash, Sons of the Southern Cross and Bert Hinkler.