Law of nuisance: what it means for community living

In strata or body corporate properties, getting along with your neighbours is paramount. Where one person’s actions can be a nuisance for another, knowing one’s rights, responsibilities and what restrictions apply can make all the difference to ensuring a harmonious community living.

Strata or body corporate properties are home to people of different backgrounds, temperaments and personalities. At times, neighbour disputes are a common occurrence and issues can range across the board – from sharing boundaries and fences, to owning and managing pets, noise control, smoke drift and parking space problems to name a few.

Ideally, by-laws and rules cover most aspects of strata community living and offer guidelines that help owners and residents know the extent of what’s allowed and what’s not. Sometimes they are effective in maintaining decorum, but a lot depends on how people keep track of them and choose to follow them.

What is ‘law of nuisance’ in strata?

In New South Wales, the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 states that every owner has the right to enjoy their private property in their own way, but they should take care not to interfere unreasonably with the use or enjoyment of any other owner’s private property or cause trouble for others that may affect their safety and well-being.

The same issues around nuisance in body corporate properties are covered within the Queensland state legislation as per Section 167 of the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997.

In Victoria, the law further describes how disputes may be resolved in an owners corporation – the owner with the complaint must make a written statement in the approved form. The grievance committee of the owners corporation must be duly notified of the complaint and if there is no such body, the owners corporation may meet within 14 working days of the complaint being made and take a decision.

The point to note is that other owners and residents have the same rights as you to enjoy their property in peace. Hence, it is important to be respectful and considerate, so as not to create a nuisance for others.

This is where the law of nuisance gets tricky – it’s hard to define what could be a ‘nuisance’ and every dispute and disagreement may not be covered under this law. This means what you call a ‘nuisance’ may not necessarily be the same for the other person as long as they’re compliant with the law.

While you share common property, infrastructure and amenities in strata, it is important to keep the following points in mind:

  1. Every owner has the right to enjoy their private property in their own way
  2. Owners and residents also have a responsibility to be respectful of other’s rights to enjoy their private property as they wish. For example, even if you smoke within your property, smoke may drift into your neighbour’s apartment and subject them to health risks – that could cause a nuisance for them.
  3. You should always follow your by-laws and rules, and know your rights, responsibilities and restrictions while on strata property
  4. If you’re letting out your property, you should make sure your guests and tenants have a copy of the by-laws and rules once they move in – they are also responsible for maintaining peace while on the property
  5. When in doubt, get in touch with your strata manager or committee and make sure you are always aware of the by-laws
  6. Before making a complaint against your neighbour for creating a nuisance, you should take care to find out if they’re within their rights or not and follow the right process to get the matter before your committee. For instance, if your neighbour is smoking within the confines of their own property, it’s hard for your committee to restrict them. If they’re smoking on common property such as hallways, staircases, lifts, courtyards, gardens, etc. your by-laws may apply, and your committee may be able to take action.

The law of nuisance is not a ‘catch all’ but should be treated as cautionary framework to guide strata community living. It helps owners and residents understand the extent of their responsibilities and limitations as specified by the law and the property by-laws and rules.

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