Dispute resolution in NSW strata schemes is about to get a lot easier. Whether it will be better remains to be seen.
Under the new strata laws, due to begin in December, the preliminary paper adjudication at the Tribunal (NCAT) will be scrapped and all disputes will go straight to a hearing.
Over the years the preliminary NCAT adjudication has become more of an exercise in form filling than justice or even common sense. It had all the flaws inherent in a system that requires everyone to be fully informed, organized, literate and aware of their rights and responsibilities.
You could put together compelling proof of a by-law breach, with every scrap of evidence a proper court of law could require, but be rejected because you didn’t include one piece of paper such as copy of the agenda of the meeting at which it was decided to issue a complaint.
Meanwhile the subject of the complaint might be just as frustrated when they didn’t get a chance to explain the circumstances that had created the problem. In fact, that applied to both sides when it was only discovered after a decision had been issued, that one document that could have been provided wasn’t there.
Too often, the losing side – and there would always be one – would feel cheated and appeal to a hearing in front of real people with everyone given a chance to put their point of view.
But soon NCAT will cut to the chase. You will go straight to a hearing and all you will have to worry about is whether the Member has a clue about apartment living. Good luck with that.
The other change in the law is that strata schemes can organise their own internal mediations, a move that has the potential to stop issues getting out of hand. It must be better to resolve a dispute in-house, where everybody has at least a basic grasp of the issues and personalities involved, without having to schlep to a soulless office in Parramatta.
It’s all entirely voluntary and Community Justice Centres already provide free mediation services so it’s a viable option.
And if one party has no intention of taking part in a mediation –the ‘defendant’ can’t be compelled to attend – at least you can tick the mandatory “mediation attempted” box on the NCAT form and move to a hearing.
It’s hard to see any downside to these changes. And, hey, maybe we are finally edging closer to that happy day when NCAT has a dedicated strata section.
There’s more on this – and a look at the ACT’s much simpler and highly practical dispute resolution system – on the Flat Chat Forum.