A Qld resident asks how the body corporate deals with a lot owner in their building who send bullying emails. Chris Irons, Hynes Legal provides the following response.
Question: How can the body corporate handle a lot owner who has a recurring habit of sending immature and bullying emails to anyone they have had a disagreement with?
I belong to a complex of 80 apartments. One owner has a recurring habit of sending immature and bullying emails to anyone they have had a disagreement with, no matter how mild.
How can the body corporate address this?
Answer: Draw a clear distinction between ‘body corporate stuff’ and ‘life stuff’ by creating an email only for body corporate business.
Unfortunately this is a very familiar query.
Let’s be clear: being ‘immature’ is not a capital offence. Nor is it against any body corporate legislative provision. It’s just really, really annoying and pointless.
‘Bullying’ is also not specifically covered under body corporate legislation, although there may be some action you can take in that regard, which I’ll get to shortly.
First step: ignore. Or better still, set your email spam filters to block said emails. You might also like to know there is no obligation on owners to provide their email addresses for the roll – although of course, it’s very convenient to do so. Perhaps another step therefore is to create an email only for body corporate business and don’t use your personal one. Create a clear distinction between ‘body corporate stuff’ and ‘life stuff’.
Second step: talk to the offending party. If it is safe to do so of course. If you feel threatened or think that talking to the person might cause a safety issue, don’t do it. Put the issues on the table and request they change what they do. Odd as it may seem, sometimes people aren’t aware that their behaviour is causing a problem.
If things persist, consider looking at the resources of the Federal Government eSafety Commissioner. There’s an option there to report abuse.
If the behaviour is criminal – e.g., threats or things get physical – that should be reported to the Police.
From a body corporate perspective, the body corporate can initiate by-law or nuisance proceedings against an owner in certain situations. These are very prescriptive processes and it is essential you both follow these to the letter or the law and also ensure you’ve gone through the motions of trying to solve this yourself. All of that is required under law. The body corporate may need to take legal advice on these points.
If you are the recipient of the behaviour which is in breach of a by-law, you can either request the body corporate do something about it – again, there’s a prescriptive process – or do something yourself, against that offending party.
If your body corporate doesn’t already have by-laws to address this situation, it might need to consider a motion for a by-law about the behaviour you describe. This requires a motion to pass at a general meeting and a new community management statement registered and take effect.
Let me ask you this: do you know much about where this person’s behaviour comes from? Do you know if, for example, they have a medical condition? Are they in a stressful life situation? Do they have capacity issues or perhaps a disability? Is there a language barrier? Is there some other issue prompting the behaviour? It is worth asking these questions as often they will help determine how to address the problem.
Finally, you might want to consider alternative dispute resolution. Mediation can help untie the knots that lead to this kind of behaviour and also might prevent it from occurring in future. It’s certainly something I can advise upon and assist with in my role here and based upon my 5 years as Commissioner for Body Corporate and Community Management, where I saw this kind of thing a lot.
This post appears in Strata News #360.
Have a question about bullying emails from lot owners or something to add to the article? Leave a comment below.
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