Don’t Buck the System – Mike Spencer of Platinum Global

I have had a couple of emails and phone calls from Trustees about difficult owners who think that they can do what they like when they like.  I am sure that you know what I am talking about. The owner and even sometimes a tenant, who has three cars and cannot understand why it is that he cannot park his third car outside his garage or in the visitors parking. Some of the other complaints that I am getting are such things as people just going ahead and installing closings to their balconies, fitting airconditioners willy nilly or installing gutters in buildings designed not to have them. In one case I was asked about an owner who has told everyone that he is going to paint his boundary garden fence a different colour from the rest of the scheme because he does not like the colour chosen by the owners at the AGM.

 Owners must understand that the outside of the building belongs to everyone. Changes and additions to the outside of the building HAVE to be approved (in writing) BEFORE starting with any changes. The process for normal additions and changes is really quite simple. Write or email to the managing agents or in smaller buildings the Trustees and ask for permission to do what you want.  For very small things the Trustees should be able to make decisions. For bigger things it should go to a general meeting. So if you want to enclose your balcony, the first person would have to get permission from a general meeting. At this meeting owners would be able to discuss the desirability of the enclosure and then decide on what materials and design it should be. Once this has been approved they should confirm that they agree to anyone else who wants to do a similar change to be able to get written approval from the trustees providing that it looked the same, was the same design and construction etc.  After that getting permission to do the same change should be a simple process of applying to the Trustees.  It is vitally important that the “standard” is readily available. A proper drawing giving the design must be available and include whatever details will be needed by the next applicant. It is not sufficient to say that the frames must be painted Dark Green. The make and colour number of the paint must be given.

 In our buildings we often arrange permission from owners at a general meeting for the Trustees to give permission for the installation of such items as airconditioners and to use their sense about where the compressors should be fitted. For example with an upstairs unit you don’t want the compressor sitting outside the downstairs bedroom window. You also want to prevent unsightly pipes leading all over the outer walls.

 What happens if somebody is being difficult and doing things without consent?  The rules of the Body Corporate (standard rules – yours may be more stringent) is quite clear that you MAY NOT make any changes to the outside appearance without FIRST obtaining permission from the Body Corporate. I always say that such request and permission MUST always be in writing so as to avoid any misunderstanding. If an owner does make changes then the first thing to do would be for the Trustees (via the managing agents) to write to that owner and point out the error of his way. This should be done in a business-like and polite manner. Be plain and simple in the way that you write so that there is no misunderstanding to what must be done. The trustees are entitled to insist that the installed structure/aerial/colour change is removed and the property is repaired to its original condition – irrespective of the cost involved to the owner.  If the owner refuses it may sometimes be possible to make the change for him. For example if he has painted a green fence red it may be possible for the body corporate to repaint the fence green and send him the bill – added to his levy account. If he fails to pay he is in arrears with his levy and could be handed over.  Where the problem is more substantial say the installation of an upstairs air conditioning unit it may be necessary to declare a dispute and call in an arbitrator. This person must then look at the merits (and rules) of the situation and make a decision. The owner would have to comply with this decision and if he or she lost also cover the costs of the arbitration. This arbitration can also be made an order of court if he still persists and he would be in contempt of court if he/she still fails to comply.  All said where and when possible let one or more of the trustees meet with the owner and try and get the owner to understand that he may not interfere with the common property and get him or her to comply with the rules of the Body Corporate. If they won’t then you need to take further firm steps to stop this problem spreading to  other owners. At all times Trustees should remind themselves that they must be fair, reasonable and allow the owner to argue his point before making a decision on behalf of the Body Corporate.

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