How to deal with owners corporation and body corporate bullying

Best practice tips on how to handle bullying in strata

When living in close quarters such as in a strata, owners corporation, or body corporate property, differing views and conflicts are more likely to arise. However, when these differences escalate to the point of bullying and inappropriate behaviour, the question arises – what do you do? Here are some tips on how to deal with owners corporation and body corporate buillying..
The rise of digital interactions brings new challenges, one of the most prevalent being cyberbullying within owners corporations and body corporates. Knowing how to address and manage such situations becomes essential to maintaining respect and harmony within the community.

In this article, we explore the laws and building rules designed to help protect residents and best practice tips on how to handle bullying if it occurs in your body corporate or owners corporation:

The rising issue of bullying in strata properties

Inappropriate and disruptive behaviour is an issue that can affect everyone from owners to committees and strata managers. Most owner corporations and body corporates use email as their primary communication, while others also leverage platforms like WhatsApp or Facebook groups. As the digital age continues to evolve, an emerging issue within the industry is online harassment, threats and bullying amongst co-living communities. In the past, neighbourly disagreements were addressed directly, potentially through verbal communication, or indirectly through thoughtfully written letters for those less comfortable with face-to-face confrontations. Despite any existing differences, these methods embodied a human touch. Disagreements are an inevitable part of any community living. In the past, residents could usually find sanctuary within the confines of their own homes. Sadly, this is no longer the scenario due to the rising popularity of online communication channels. An owner can now enter their private lot and still encounter harsh or hurtful messages that most would hesitate to express in person.

How to handle strata disputes related to bullying

Let your voice be heard

Often, when an owner, resident, or manager resorts to harassing or intimidating tactics, it can affect the community. If people’s health, safety, and mental well-being are affected by uncivil behaviour then consider immediately bringing it to your committee’s attention. Urge them to call an extraordinary general meeting to find a solution.
You may seek to file a motion on the agenda that addresses bullying behaviour and amend your by-laws or building rules with this provision – aligned to federal and state laws. Make sure you keep any evidence that may help your case – pictures, emails, messages, screenshots or recordings that help to prove bullying or threatening behaviour is occurring.

Know your strata by-laws and building rules

Often, when an owner, resident, or manager resorts to harassing or intimidating tactics, it can affect the community. If people’s health, safety, and mental well-being are affected by uncivil behaviourthen consider immediately bringing it to your committee’s attention.Urge them to call an extraordinary general meeting to find a solution.
You may seek to file a motion on the agenda that addresses bullying behaviour and amend your by-laws or building rules with this provision – aligned to federal and state laws. Make sure you keep any evidence that may help your case – pictures, emails, messages, screenshots or recordings that help to prove bullying or threatening behaviour is occurring.

The Strata Schemes Management Act, 2015 (section 153) mandates that anyone owning, renting, or otherwise residing in a strata scheme must refrain from causing any disturbance or hazard that might negatively impact others. This includes misuse of individual properties and common areas that might interfere with others’ rightful use and enjoyment of the shared spaces.

Under the Body Corporate and Community Management Act, 1997, committee voting members must perform their duties honestly and fairly, safeguarding the body corporate’s information from unjust or unreasonable disclosure. Further, it prohibits any activity that might constitute a nuisance, hazard, or unjustified disturbance to other residents on the scheme land.

If there aren’t specific building rules in place, the Model Building Rules apply to owners corporations in Victoria. These rules forbid any lot owner or occupier from creating health, safety, or security risks for others. Furthermore, it is the lot owner’s responsibility to ensure that their guests do not disrupt the peaceful enjoyment of the common property for other residents.

Under the Unit Title Schemes Act (NT) 2010, it’s specified that an occupant or owner of a unit cannot participate in or permit activities that negatively affect others’ lawful enjoyment of the scheme land. Additionally, they must not disturb the common property physically without prior approval from the body corporate.

Tasmanian law includes model by-laws that state that no occupant should behave in a way that impedes other occupants or their guests from reasonably using and enjoying the common property. Moreover, every owner or occupant of a lot has to ensure that their lot isn’t used in a manner that causes nuisance to others.

Strata mediation options

Handling bullying issues in the property management realm can be a daunting task, regardless of whether you’re in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, or the Northern Territory. The good news is that state-specific resources are on hand to guide you through dispute resolution. These resources can offer strata managers, property owners, and committee members a lifeline, presenting focused solutions to reestablish peace within your community.
Choosing mediation is a wise move. It can help to defuse conflict and promote constructive dialogue, clearing a path to resolution and understanding. It’s also an effective tool for turning a problematic environment into a place where everyone can thrive.
Below are some mediation services available to help address bullying issues following relevant state legislation.

Formally address strata committee bullying

Bullying behaviour does not always happen on common property. It also occurs in emails, phone calls, and intimation from within, so what is the recourse?

Under the Fair Work Act, the Fair Work Commission can make decisions and orders about bullying in the workplace. A worker is deemed to be bullied at work if, while at work, an individual or group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards the worker, and that behaviour creates a risk to health and safety. The definition of “worker” under the Fair Work Act is given a much broader meaning than just the traditional employee/employer relationship.

Bullying is more than a social concern. It may also impact a person’s health and safety, as outlined by Safe Work Australia. Harassment can range from abusive or threatening behaviour to offensive language, insulting comments, unjustified criticism or complaints to malicious gossip.
This type of behaviour can negatively affect a person’s psychological, emotional, and physical well-being. This is especially impactful for older owners and committee members who are less accustomed to this type of online behaviour and may not know how to disengage from the situation.
Given that mental health is paramount, strata committees need to align their operations with legal stipulations, taking active measures to ensure the property’s tranquillity and curb disruptive behaviour. The focus is not just on maintaining peace but also on safeguarding the holistic well-being of community members.

Case study

In an application by Ms A [2018] FWC 4147, a strata management company in Brisbane, successfully obtained an order to stop bullying behaviour from the chairperson of a strata committee. The Commission ruled that a "war engaged in by email" was inappropriate for raising management issues. Notably, the use of sarcastic and derogatory language in emails, combined with the excessive amount of emails and the publication of those exchanges to other committee members, was unreasonable.

Understand your protection and rights against strata bullying

When dealing with bullying in a strata property, solutions may include using communications by-laws and following legal codes of conduct. These are crucial to a healthy environment in an owners corporation or body corporate. However, rights and protections against such behaviours differ across states, each providing distinctive procedures and laws to combat this issue.

If you're a committee member or owner in a strata, it's important to know the specific rules for your region:

The New South Wales Government recently amended the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 to protect the rights of tenants who may be victims of domestic abuse. If you are a tenant facing harassment at home, you should take note of this provision. The recent changes allow tenants, regardless of their lease type, to instantly end their lease without any penalties if they or their dependents are experiencing domestic violence. They must provide a notice and pertinent evidence to their landlord or agent to proceed with this termination process.

In Queensland, warnings can be for behaviour that can negatively impact other residents’ comfort, privacy, or peace. Under the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008, individuals displaying minor or serious disruptions can be issued a warning with a Notice to Remedy Breach (Form 11). However, a notice of leave or application to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) can be made to end a tenancy for dangerous or severe behaviours.

A landlord or owners corporation manager can issue an immediate notice to leave to the tenant, resident, or site occupant who behaves violently, destructively, or poses a threat. In that case, they can receive an immediate notice to leave the property. For the eviction process to begin, an initial notice to vacate has to be issued, after which an eviction order can be applied for through VCAT, enforceable by law enforcement. However, landlords, operators, and owners can’t evict tenants or residents alone. Alternatively, operators of rooming houses, parks, and site owners can hand out a notice to leave immediately, superseding the traditional notice to vacate. This also allows for the application of a VCAT eviction order.

Under The Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT), owners, tenants, and visitors have a responsibility to avoid disturbing the peace and privacy of other residents, such as causing damage, nuisance or disturbances in the premises. Addressing any disruptive behaviour directly with the owner, tenant, or agent is always recommended. However, if a resolution cannot be found, you can issue a breach notice to the party involved or seek further legal action, and dispute resolution assistance can be made to the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT).

In Tasmania, body corporates are required to take reasonable responsibility to prevent owners, tenants, or third-party agents behaves in a discriminatory manner. Discrimination laws govern certain types of bullying and might be seen as unfair treatment under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas). The Act mandates that it’s illegal to upset, humiliate, intimidate, insult, or mock an individual based on attributes including age, race, disability, gender, intersex, gender identity, sexual orientation, lawful sexual conduct, pregnancy, breastfeeding, family responsibilities, parental status, marital status, or relationship status, if a rational person, considering the circumstances, would expect such a reaction.

Why tackle bullying in strata

Bullying isn’t exclusive to the residents within strata; it also seeps into the professional sphere involving strata specialists and service providers. Though dealing with bullying is challenging, professionals in the industry often have the advantage of structured channels for reporting and dealing with such misconduct. However, the volunteer committee members, body corporates, and owners corporations that we help manage may not have the same luxury.
The success of any owners corporation or body corporate relies heavily on the involvement of its members. Their active participation is crucial to fostering a vibrant community. To help create a safe and collaborative space, it is important to encourage active participation and prevent disruptive behaviour from deterring owners from engaging with property matters. Therefore, strata managers are here to help mediate the situation and provide expert advice on the best practice process for dispute resolution.

If you’d like to find out more on dealing with bad bullying behaviour, download your free Community Living guide on managing disputes. Or for a consultation to review your by-laws by our Kemps Petersons Legal team, click here (NSW only).