We should never underestimate the power of a lawyer’s letter, especially in a strata dispute.
At the very least, it lets the recipients know what the law is and, importantly, that the person with whom they are in conflict has a powerful and knowledgeable ally.
In some cases, it could be the first time the recipient even realises that there is a law or regulations by which they have to abide.
But lawyers are not cheap and a letter could reasonably cost $500 or even more, depending on how much time the professional spends listening to your story, accessing the legal facts and composing the missive.
But how about if you don’t have the money to pay for professional advice, especially when you aren’t even sure whether or not you have a legal leg to stand on?
And, just as importantly, what if the other person in the dispute doesn’t know either, or doesn’t care?
That’s where the Marrickville Legal Centre’s (MLC) free state-wide strata legal service comes in, at least for NSW strata resident owners.
Here at Flat Chat – and at some other strata advice websites and forums – all we can do is tell you what the law says and maybe suggest tactics to help you navigate your problems.
The critical figure missing from this scenario is the person or body with whom you are in dispute. If they don’t know what the law demands, they are unlikely to take your word for it, and they probably don’t even know this website exists.
We can’t get directly involved in strata disputes, for a number of reasons, but the MLC can and does. And a lawyer’s letter from them is often the first step on the road to conflict resolution.
As we explained last week, MLC is one of a number of community law services dotted around the state. Like its counterpart, Redfern Legal Service, it provides general legal advice for local residents but, significantly, MLC provides strata advice to resident owners across NSW.
And to be clear, it’s for resident owners, not strata investors nor, indeed, tenants who have their own services provided by such bodies as the Tenants’ Union (aka Tenants NSW).
Staffed by one full-time and one part-time lawyer, the MLC strata legal service was set up in 2016 in anticipation of confusion and fears over the then new “forced sale” legislation that allowed 75 per cent of owners to sell off their entire block, even if the other 25 percent didn’t want to.
The concern was that seniors and people for whom English was not the first language would be unduly alarmed at the prospect of forced sales or even bullied into accepting unreasonable conditions when they didn’t have to.
However, the scheme turned out to be less of a challenge than feared, and MLC expanded into general strata legal advice, still focussed on seniors and other vulnerable groups.
They will explain the law, provide legal advice, send legal letters where appropriate and, if need be, represent residents at Fair Trading mediations, NCAT tribunal hearings or even in the Supreme Court, where they feel their clients are being unfairly treated and have strong cases.
And while they try never to turn anyone away, they prioritise their support based on the vulnerability of the client. They will also advise you on whether or not you need a fully professional service and will recommend lawyers who can help.
In extreme cases, they can even rustle up a barrister who may do pro bono work
However, and I’m guessing here, they are unlikely to rush to help a hobby litigant who enjoys harassing his or her neighbours with bogus tribunal actions, or indeed a bush lawyer who wants to test some arcane legal theory at NCAT.
Asking MLC for legal advice couldn’t be easier. You go to this web page, fill in the form, outlining the details of your issue and they try to get back to you as soon as they can. And it’s free.
Now, maybe it’s because there are so many deserving causes around rattling their own tins, in the 15 years or so that Flat Chat has been running, we’ve never promoted a Christmas fund-raising appeal.
But this year we thought we’d encourage our thousands of readers to help give a little tax-deductible festive relief to resident-owners suffering levies stress, by-law battles or even domestic violence.
“Give access to justice this year,” is the slogan for MLC’s fund-raising.
“This holiday season will be harder than normal for many, as more and more families and individuals face difficulty with employment, secure housing, and domestic and family violence issues due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Maeve Redmond of MLC.
“As Australia locked down this year, calls to Marrickville Legal Centre tripled in volume,” she explains.
“Marrickville Legal Centre’s state-wide strata service provides free confidential legal assistance to vulnerable owner-occupiers across New South Wales, prioritising clients who experience social and financial disadvantage and people who live with a disability.
“Free legal support creates lasting change for our clients,” Maeve adds. “Your tax-deductible donation or regular gift will help marginalised people who desperately need but cannot afford legal advice and services.”
You can make a donation of any size HERE. We kicked things off on your behalf with a $200 donation last week.
But if you’re stuck at home these holidays, raise your own spirits by helping people for whom home isn’t what it should be.