Can a bylaw silence angry owners, banning them from contacting strata committees?
Domain
Jimmy Thomson
23 June 2017

The irresistible force meets the immovable object – that’s how intractable internal conflicts in strata schemes are often characterised.

But a more accurate description might be the megaphone meets the earplugs, as some strata committees are trying to ban owners from contacting them, invoking the old Hollywood casting rejection, “don’t call us, we’ll call you”.

According to a flurry of recent correspondence on the Flat Chat website, a new tactic in Strataland is to pass bylaws forbidding owners from writing to the committee, individual committee members or the strata manager. 

Alternatively, they are saying that the committee won’t read their angry letters or emails and in some cases they try to ban owners from contacting committee members individually.

Here’s an example of a proposed bylaw that dropped on to our desk this week:
An owner or tenant of a lot must not send unreasonable, unnecessary or excessive correspondence or post unauthorised material on the common property.

The Strata Committee will not be required to read or reply to correspondence which is repetitive, excessive, disorganised, addresses issues that have already been resolved or is unreasonable.

Obviously, the chances are this is a scheme where one or more owners have a grievance, legitimate or otherwise, and they just refuse to take “no” for an answer.

But you can imagine the daily or even more frequent heart-sink committee members feel when their email pings and it’s another rant from Mr Ropeable in 702. Committee members are volunteers, after all. They don’t get paid to put up with this nonsense.

On the other hand, what if the owner has a legitimate complaint and the committee either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care and the resident refuses to give up because he or she knows they are in the right.

Let’s not forget that an apartment is probably not just the biggest financial investment of the angry owner’s life, it has all the emotional components that go along with the concept of “home”.

So, to get back to the initial point, is it even legal for the Owners Corporation to pass a bylaw telling owners not to write to them?

“A bylaw cannot be unjust … harsh, unconscionable or oppressive,” the law says, right at the top of that section. Well, there you have four words that could each launch a torrent of angry emails on their own.

And can you really instruct someone not to exercise their God-given right to communicate with other humans?

The second part of the proposed bylaw, the bit that says the owners don’t need to read the correspondence from Mr Ropeable, is actually quite sound.

OK, it may be the strata equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and loudly chanting “La-la-la, I can’t hear you”, but just as you can’t force people not to write, there’s nothing in the law that says the secretary MUST respond to communications (only that they should).

However, if the owner is writing to the strata manager and they are charging like wounded bulls for the work involved in reading and logging the letter, then the committee could instruct the manager to either bill the owner personally or at least not charge the owners corp for processing the mail (meaning they probably wouldn’t read it.)

these proposed bylaws are a sign the communications have broken down in the building

Obviously, these proposed bylaws are a sign the communications have broken down in the building. You may be dealing with someone who has serious emotional or psychiatric problems. Or it could be a legitimate whistle-blower who won’t stop blowing their whistle until the committee does the right thing.

The bylaws, meanwhile, may just be a way for the committee to bring abusive communications out into the light of day, so that all the other owners can hear what they have to put up with.

the more you rant and rave, the less they can hear you

If you are in a position where your committee refuses to listen to you, remember that the more you rant and rave, the less they can hear you. If your issue is important enough, save your energy and take it to a higher authority.

And if you are on a committee afflicted by a daily torrent of unreasonable abuse, try giving mediation your best shot. But then yes, by all means, return the letters unopened, put the spam filter on your emails and ignore all but the most offensive posters on the notice board.

But don’t try to pass a bylaw that might not work anyway and is just going to add fuel to the fire.


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