Body corporate law might sound a little ‘dry’, but not when Hynes Legal Partner Frank Higginson is talking about it.
Frank, a presenter at the upcoming QLS Property Law Conference, comes across as unashamedly passionate about his practice area.
His conference session, ‘What the new body corporate and community management (BCCM) Regulation Modules mean for practitioners’, will explore what has changed following substantial changes to administrative and other processes in March this year.
QLS Proctor sat down with Frank to delve into the depths of body corporate law…
QLS Proctor: Do you think the recent body corporate module changes have been positive for the industry?
Frank: Yes, really because more than everything else they’ve allowed formal electronic everything – decision-making, voting, meeting participation, all that sort of stuff.
That has increased the participation rate, but there’s also some other things in there. They’ve tidied up some of the loose ends about forcing committees to make a decision, but there is still a lot of big ticket stuff to go, which is on the agenda for next year.
QLS Proctor: How did COVID affect the strata community?
Frank: Complete panic for everyone from March last year! Can committees close common property facilities? What are we doing for additional cleaning? Lifts?
In your own house you can lock yourself away and you’re OK. In a strata title building, particularly a high-rise, you’re sharing all of those facilities with who knows how many dozen or hundred other people.
So it was an information vacuum and carnage for a couple of months until it settled down. It was very intense. And I’ve just written an article this morning to say that you’d call those the COVID wars, and what we’re about to have is the vaccination wars.
Do people have to be vaccinated to go to committee meetings, general meetings? We’re talking about buildings potentially being pet-friendly or pet-unfriendly. Are we going to have vaxed and non-vaxed buildings?
That’s a bit facetious and I can’t really see it happening, but that’s the stuff we are going to get asked.
QLS Proctor: What aspect of strata law is in need of immediate reform?
Frank: While vaccination will be a part of it, the big thing is going to be dispute resolution. The Body Corporate and Community Management Commissioner’s office is very under resourced in a relative way – it hasn’t grown in the same proportions that the strata community in Queensland has.
The commissioner has primary jurisdiction for every strata dispute in Queensland, so if you have a blue, you’ve to go in there. If you have a fight with your neighbour that’s where you’ve got to go.
Strata disputes have an interesting nuance in the sense that you’re arguing with a fellow occupier of a building, and you’re both living there.
So with commercial disputes, if you and I have a blue we never see each other, it’s done on the papers etc. Strata disputes become very emotional very quickly and very personal. If you have a dispute in strata, you’re reeling. If you don’t get a result in conciliation, which is now probably a three-month process, you’re 10 to 12 months away from getting an outcome. If the argument is over the keeping of a pet, for example, how does that work? It’s very unwieldly.
One of the difficulties is that it’s really hard to regulate personalities. In these things people become entrenched, emotionally invested, and some of the rational decision-making disappears out the door. It becomes extraordinary.
But if there is one thing that needs some degree of reform, it’s debt recovery. There was a recent one where there were invoices for three or four thousand dollars, but they racked up $30,000 in costs, and that’s one of the many.
QLS Proctor: What is the most unusual dispute brought to you by a client?
Frank: This was years ago, when there was a massive argument in a body corporate about what instructions had been given to a painting company about the colour of paint for the building. Was it beige, was it off-white, was it bone, was it cream, was it china? It was a white-ish colour and there was this massive argument between two factions about which shade they had gone with.
That was the big argument, and then one of the key protagonists on one of the sides died – not murdered by the other side, which was good!
But the next morning there was an allegedly forged letter from him to the whole community apologising for telling lies about which colour he had said to use.
That went to all the owners, so he’s died and that’s the first thing the opposition did! Extraordinary!
QLS Proctor: What takeaways can attendees expect from your session at the property law conference?
Frank: What practitioners get is a whole lot of random comments… There are more than half a million strata lots in Queensland now, so leaving aside the conveyancing practice, when your clients buy strata title lots, the stuff that I do all day every day is going to hit your desk from time to time, when a client rings you and says, ‘hey, can the body corporate do this?’
So what they will get from me is an understanding to a degree about what changes have been made recently about what body corporates can and can’t do. And probably the big one is now that owners who aren’t on committees can force body corporates to make decisions at committee level, because previously that didn’t exist.
This is a brand new provision. So if you weren’t on a committee previously you could write to the committee and say, ‘hey, I’d like to do a quote on this’ and the committee could ignore you. Now there’s a new mechanism in there that prevents that from happening.
Learn more about the QLS Property Law Conference being held on 11-12 November.