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VCAT history and the Litigious neighbour
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jaybee
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30/11/2017 - 3:00 pm
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I live in a Melbourne block of 8 units and 1 of the units has been vacant for 3 years and the owners NEVER pay their fees until they are taken to VCAT every year, when they are instructed to pay overdue fees.

They are constantly at VCAT or in court with us and others apparently, but really don't care and I think actually enjoy upsetting their neighbours with their games.

Last week the owners had their VCAT hearing adjourned for 3 months and this has happened several times before.

Does VCAT keep a record of how often the same people appear before them, and is that considered in their decisions?  No doubt they are supposed to be unbiased and not influenced by history, but  what about the 7 other owners who do the right thing but historically are penalized again and again?

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Austman
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30/11/2017 - 4:48 pm
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At the next hearing you can certainly remind VCAT of all the previous appearances when the same OC has been involved each time.

But, provided they don't ignore the VCAT orders, I suspect that each case is considered individually.

Have you ever asked VCAT for written reasons?  Which might mean that VCAT decides to publish the case.   A public record of ones poor behaviour would be something many would not want.

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JimmyT
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30/11/2017 - 5:53 pm
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Have a look at the document linked here.  It outlines the fairly new laws on vexatious litigants. It seems that you can ask a superior court to declare someone a vexatious litigant when they use the court or tribunal system purely to create a nuisance for members of the community.

Obviously, if you wanted to pursue this you'd need to talk to a lawyer - but it's all there.

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Sir Humphrey
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30/11/2017 - 6:20 pm
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Have you informed your insurer that the unit is vacant and the situation appears to be long-term? If the insurance premium would be higher, there may be a mechanism to charge the unit owner more for that. In the ACT there is a provision for charging an owner more if they cause the OC to incur additional expenses due to a wilful or negligent act or omission or a breach of the OC rules.  

In the ACT, possibly similar in Victoria, the Act requires: "A unit owner must give the owners corporation for the units plan written notice of the details of any of the following events within 14 days after the event happens: ... a vacancy in occupancy of the unit that is expected to be longer than a continuous period of 30 days."

One of the default rules (aka by-laws) is a catch-all requirement that all unit owners must comply with laws in force in the ACT. That includes our strata Act. Therefore, it is a breach of the rules to leave a unit unoccupied without notifying the OC about what is going on. Failure to the comply with the Act and consequently the rules and thereby causing the OC an increase in its insurance cost, for which you can charge the unit owner, might be way to up the ante if you have similar provisions. 

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tharra
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30/11/2017 - 8:51 pm
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Not exactly sure if this will work in VIC but every year our NSW based OC votes at the AGM to adopt a debt recovery process for levies in arrears. We've had much less hassle with levies in arrears since instigating this process. Votes are overwhemlingly in favour of the motion and our treasurer loves the improved cash flow. The process starts with letters/phone calls/emails & winds up in the hands of a debt recovery agent. All costs & interest incurred during the debt recovery process fall to the lot with the debt.

From this info:

https://www.consumer.vic.gov.au/housing/owners-corporations/finance-insurance-and-record-keeping/fees

it looks as though a similar process would work in VIC.

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Austman
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01/12/2017 - 10:10 am
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I can't see how the Vexatious Proceedings Act 2014 (VIC) could help?  That seems to me to be about litigants continually commencing legal action for vexatious reasons.  The OP's situation is the reverse - they are the ones that are forced to start the action.

AFAIK there's no rule in the OC Act (VIC) that requires an owner to inform the OC that their lot is vacant.  I can't see that it affects OC building insurance although it probably affects lot contents insurance.

There is a new vacancy tax recently introduced into parts of Melbourne: http://www.sro.vic.gov.au/node/6094

As per the link in post #5, an OC in Victoria is very limited on how it can charge fees for levy debt recovery:

Note: An owners corporation cannot charge a lot owner any other fees or charges, such as an 'administration fee', for overdue owners corporation fees.

Strictly speaking, AFAIK, only VCAT can approves such costs.  What one of my OCs in Victoria does is to approve a motion at each AGM for debt recovery costs to be charged against the lot.  That means the strata manager is approved to actually do that and the in-debt lot owner would have to challenge the costs at VCAT.  It does seem to work.  The debt recovery costs would have to be reasonable.

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JimmyT
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01/12/2017 - 10:39 am
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Austman said
I can't see how the Vexatious Proceedings Act 2014 (VIC) could help?  That seems to me to be about litigants continually commencing legal action for vexatious reasons.  The OP's situation is the reverse - they are the ones that are forced to start the action.

I wouldn't dismiss this so readily based on the original post ...

jaybee said
They are constantly at VCAT or in court with us and others apparently, but really don't care and I think actually enjoy upsetting their neighbours with their games.

That said, the professional debt recovery route is a good tactic, especially when they also get hit for "reasonable costs" and, perhaps, their credit rating takes a slug too.

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Austman
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04/12/2017 - 5:33 pm
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JimmyT said   I wouldn't dismiss this so readily based on the original post ...

Perhaps the OP can clarify but I took the original post to mean the OC is forced to repeatedly take the owner to VCAT for not paying their fees.   And not the other way around. (which means the OP has the thread title a bit wrong)

Unfortunately, as VCAT has stated many times, previous cases have been decided penalty wise so can't be used in the current case.

I think what's needed in the Victorian OC legislation is the possibility of a penalty for repeat offences.

Note that if VCAT orders are actually ignored, VCAT have been known to issue $10,000 fines for contempt of VCAT.

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