Send in the clowns

NB: There’s anothere reader’s horror story at the end of this column.

eedback has been flooding in since we took a pop at the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal a couple of weeks ago.

“We read your article out loud … amidst laughter and nods of agreement. Clowns indeed,” wrote one real estate agent.

“The CTTT and its predecessors have been a sheltered workshop since inception,” said a solicitor.

“The chair was so rude – they would not be allowed to conduct themselves like that in any other place of law,” recalled a strata manager of his last visit to the tribunal. “They seem to be totally uninterested in anything other than if the correct form has been filled out.”

The article also stirred up some bad memories. One reader’s building has been trying for nine years to get the CTTT to curb a neighbour who built a staircase through his ceiling, through common property and on to the roof, where he then constructed a timber deck, all without Owners Corporation or local council planning approval.

The building is under orders from both the council and the CTTT to have it removed but the owner won’t allow access. He denies this and the CTTT’s adjudicators steadfastly take his word over the other owners, even though he’s been caught out claiming to be a Justice of the Peace when he isn’t.

Our reader reckons her building is $60,000 out of pocket in legal costs. Encouraged by the CTTT response, the rogue owner is now building an unapproved extension while, unbelievably, taking the other owners to the CTTT for not removing the stairs.

In another building, an upstairs neighbour appealed against a CTTT approved move to regain access to its common property roof (and views). He then employed a barrister who happened to be known to the adjudicator who, in turn, hadn’t read even the submissions before the case. Needless to say, the appeal was upheld.

There are too many other stories to relate in this tiny space but you can read them in full at the end of the “CTTT Twits” article on this website.

Meanwhile, you have to wonder, who the Hell are these CTTT adjudicators and what planet do they live on? Whatever the answer, some of them seem to be a law unto themselves.


After over twenty years of problem-free living in a strata unit, I bought a unit on the ground floor in a small, older style block. On reading the sales contract, I noted a Restriction on Use of Land which I took to be a special bylaw for the building. It specified that the upstairs units were to have carpet and acoustic underlay of the quality provided by the original owner or better.

I found it reassuring that the issues of noise had been addressed and felt protected. My conveyancing solicitor did not investigate whether this was being adhered to, nor explain how hard it was to enforce.

Sometime after moving in, I discovered that the upstairs owner had removed the carpet and acoustic underlay and installed floating timber floors. She appeared to have no knowledge of the Restriction on Use, and claimed to have received permission from the managing agent and the other owners who supported her. My strata search prior to purchase showed there was no documentation about this. (It was only much later that I received legal advice that the body corporate or managing agent cannot give “permission” to bypass the Restriction on Use or covenant on the building).

After my complaint, the owner laid a rug in the hallway, which was ineffective in controlling the noise. We proceeded to the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal through mediation which was fruitless, and then to adjudication. The adjudicator required an acoustic test and the upstairs owner refused to contribute.

I paid $1000 for a Letter of Opinion re noise levels emanating from carpet vs. wooden floors. This was dismissed out of hand by the adjudicator, who required actual tests on site. I then paid $5000 for acoustic tests which showed an increase in impact noise where the wooden floor was, compared with the carpet which had been retained in some rooms. This result was exactly what one might have expected.

Although the adjudicator found in my favour, he did not order the floating timber floor to be removed, on the grounds that the building was noisy anyway: being an older building, it was constructed with timber floors over wooden joists. I would have though this was a good reason not to make it any noisier, but he ordered that rugs be laid in the hallway, lounge and living areas – the rugs do not cover all the areas where people walk. No underlay was specified, and nothing was specified about the thickness of the rugs. The CTTT ruled that the Restriction on Use was outside their jurisdiction, so the ruling was based on Bylaw 14. Subsequently, we did not notice any improvement in noise levels.

The unit was sold soon after, and the new owners moved in. Strangely, they also seemed unaware of the Restriction on Use, or covenant. When I discussed installing carpet and acoustic underlay, they refused on the grounds that their children suffer from respiratory ailments. Their children, however, are well enough to run up and down the hallway and living area all day, causing the floors and walls to rattle and shake. Several cracks have appeared in my walls and ceilings with the constant pounding. The noise is intolerable.

Several options seem possible: action in the Supreme Court which would be very expensive, even if I won; removing my ceilings, filling them with acoustic material and replacing them, which would also be expensive; another round through the CTTT, in the hope that I might receive a fairer judgment next time.

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