Three Things To Do in Response to a Vague Record Copy Request

THREE THINGS TO DO IN RESPONSE TO
A VAGUE RECORD COPY REQUEST

Here are two-real life examples:

“I request copies of all correspondence from any unit owner to the body corporate requesting for the program of works relating to the water penetration into unit [XYZ] be undertaken and responses.”

“I request a printout of all payments made to any third party in relation to the program of works”

How can the body corporate comply with those requests within seven days (assuming eligibility, form of request, and payment of fee is satisfied).

Must a body corporate comply with every record request?

The answer is, no.

The trick is knowing which requests fall outside a body corporate’s obligation to avoid adverse action being taken by the requester.

Here are some guiding principles to determine whether a body corporate must comply with a copy request:

  • the requester must provide a reasonable degree of specification of the records being requested;
  • a request for a particular class or type of document is usually sufficient;
  • the requested records must be able to be readily identified by the body corporate based on the request;
  • a body corporate is required to perform some search of its records to fulfil a request;
  • a body corporate is not required to read through every document to determine whether it has information being requested;
  • the records must actually exist in order to have an obligation to provide a copy on request.

 

Approach

In the first example above, it is unlikely that an adjudicator would order the body corporate to provide the requested documents because:

  • the document range is limitless;
  • the body corporate would be required to read all correspondence from unit owners to determine whether each correspondence was about the topic of water penetration.

In the second example above:

  • if a document existed that compiled payments made to third parties, then it is likely an adjudicator would order a body corporate to provide a copy of that document; however
  • if the document did not exist, the body corporate would not be required to read the documents and create a summary of payment information contained in those documents.

 

Three Things

  1. Communicate

Ensure that communication is made to the requester (ie that the request has been received or asking for clarification of the records requested), rather than simply not responding, as we find that tends to escalate matters unnecessarily;

  1. Eligibility

Check that the pre-conditions of a copy record request are satisfied (i.e. Is the requester an ‘interested person’? Is the request in writing? Has the prescribed fee been paid?);

  1. Inspect

If you or your legal representative considers the record request to be non-compliant, contact the requester and direct them to the option of inspecting the records of the body corporate, whether it be themselves or their agent.

Article Written by Brendan Pitman (27 May 2022)

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation

Disclaimer – This article is provided for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice.

Internal Emails Between Committee Members – Public or Private?

INTERNAL EMAILS BETWEEN COMMITTEE MEMBERS
– PUBLIC OR PRIVATE?

We are often asked, do emails between committee members form part of the records of a body corporate?

The answer is…it depends (so you need to read on).

Internal communications

This is a critical question because, if they do, those emails may be accessed by an owner or prospective purchaser and there is no restriction on the purpose for which the records may be used.

A committee acts on behalf of a body corporate, and the requirement to keep correspondence is usually understood to refer to correspondence with parties external to the committee.

However, emails between committee members (which includes caretaking service contractors and letting agents as non-voting committee members) may form part of the records of a body corporate depending on:
• the role of the person sending the email at the time in which the email was sent; and
• the subject matter of the email.

Role

Understanding the role of the sender and receiver of an email is part of the process to determining whether that correspondence forms part of the records of a body corporate.

That is because there is no requirement to keep correspondence received or sent between owners, only that correspondence to and from the body corporate (or committee acting on behalf of the body corporate).

Committee members usually have two hats on. One is as a member of the committee representing all owners, and the other is as an owner. It is only those emails sent by or received by a person in the role as a committee member that may caught by the provisions about body corporate records.

Subject matter

Often the role being played by a person (as committee member or as an owner) is not clear but may be inferred by the subject matter of the email.

If the subject matter of the email is about body corporate or committee business, being carrying out the functions under the body corporate legislation, the email is likely to be a record of the body corporate.

Examples

Practical examples of internal written communications that would likely form part of body corporate records:
• a committee member advising of their resignation;
• a committee member proposing a vote outside a committee meeting;
• email exchanges between committee members about a maintenance issue at the scheme.

Practical examples of internal written communications that would likely not form part of body corporate records:
• select committee members discussing their personal opinions on a matter to be voted on at an upcoming meeting;
• a committee member seeking personal advice (not on behalf of the body corporate) on a body corporate or other matter.

This is a touchy topic, particularly where committee members wrote an email with sensitive information thinking it was not available to the public. To allay any concerns, a body corporate should seek advice either before or during the seven day turnaround time for a record request.

Article written by Brendan Pitman (5 April 2022)

 

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation
Disclaimer – This article is provided for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice.

Do Statutory Easements Allow Owners to Disregard the By-laws

DO STATUTORY EASEMENTS ALLOW OWNERS TO DISREGARD THE BY-LAWS?

A 29-month dispute about the location of an owner’s air conditioning unit has been decided by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, with the body corporate coming out on top.

The case

 The case went like this:

  • The owner lived in an apartment with a balcony on level 8 in a high-rise building.
  • The owner wanted to install a split system air conditioning unit with the compressor above a planter box on a common property wall.
  • The scheme had the usual by-law that requires owners to obtain the consent of the Committee before installing an improvement on common property or a lot.
  • The owner sent an email to the Committee and, about a week later, arranged for the installation of the split system unit on the common property wall (without having received consent from the Committee).
  • The owner assumed it would have the benefit of a statutory easement to install the air conditioning unit on a common property wall.
  • After the owner had installed the air conditioning unit, the Committee resolved to consent to the unit being installed on the owner’s balcony only, not the common property wall.

Fast forward 14 months and an adjudicator ordered the owner to remove the air conditioning unit.

Fast forward another 15 months and the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal agreed with the adjudicator.

So where did the owner go wrong?

There were two places:

  1. installing the air conditioning unit on a common property wall without the prior consent of the committee; and
  2. misunderstanding the operation of statutory easements (the focus of this article).

Statutory easements

A statutory easement is a right of way created by the law that allows a person or thing to use another person’s property.

The Land Title Act recognises the existence of an easement in favour of an owner against common property for air conditioning units supplying air conditioning to a lot (amongst other things).

This easement however only exists to the extent an easement is “reasonably necessary”.

An air conditioning unit installed in a particular location will only be “reasonably necessary” if the supply of air conditioning cannot be performed or achieved any other way, or if there is another way, that other way is not feasible or reasonably available.

Even if an easement does exist, that easement is still subject to the community management statement, which usually contains a by-law requiring an owner to obtain the prior approval of the body corporate.

So, in this owner’s case:

  1. it was decided that installing the air conditioning unit on the owner’s balcony could achieve the same result and was feasible and reasonably available, such that an easement did not exist; and
  2. if, however, an easement did exist, the owner was still required to obtain the committee’s consent, which it did not obtain.

What does all this mean?

 The key takeaways for owners are:

  1. read your by-laws, and if there are by-laws that require you to obtain prior consent, wait until the committee has made their decision;
  2. do not assume that you will have the benefit of a statutory easement;
  3. if you cannot resolve any issues with your committee, as a last resort, the matter can be resolved through the adjudication process.

The key takeaways for committees are:

  1. a statutory easement does not override the scheme by-laws;
  2. whether a statutory easement exists should inform how a committee makes their decision whether to approve an improvement to a lot or common property.

 There are many other examples and ways that easements operate in a body corporate, so it is always important to ensure that you obtain advice specific to your circumstances.

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation

Disclaimer – This article is provided for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice.

Can a Body Corporate Withhold An Owner’s Access to a Lawyer’s Written Advice?

CAN A BODY CORPORATE WITHHOLD AN OWNER’S ACCESS TO A LAWYER’S WRITTEN ADVICE?

 

Let’s take look at this scenario: A body corporate believes that an owner is in breach of the scheme by-laws or that a caretaker is in breach of the management rights agreement. The body corporate engages a law firm to provide advice in relation to the alleged breach by the owner or caretaker. The law firm provides written advice to the body corporate. The owner or caretaker wants to see that advice and applies to inspect the records of the body corporate.

 

Whether a body corporate may withhold access to legal advice or other record requires an understanding of legal professional privilege, joint privilege, agency, and the circumstances that may constitute a waiver of that privilege.

 

What is legal professional privilege?

 

Legal professional privilege is a right that exists to protect communications passing between a lawyer and a client.

 

It is often thought that all communications between a lawyer and client are protected by privilege. However, a valid claim for privilege only applies to those communications made for the dominant purpose of providing legal advice or legal services to a client, or for use in current or anticipated litigation.

 

The Body Corporate and Community Management Act (Qld) 1997 does not override that right so it can be claimed by a body corporate when an owner applies to inspect records.

 

The body corporate has the responsibility of proving its claim of privilege.

 

The difficulty in the strata context is not so much whether legal professional privilege exists but rather who that privilege may be asserted against. This is answered by the principle of joint privilege.

 

Joint privilege

 

A body corporate may share privilege with some or all of its owners that have a common interest in the subject matter of the communication. Often parties can have more than one interest in obtaining legal advice and it is not enough to simply identify a common interest.

 

That common interest must have sufficient strength or quality to allow the protection of privilege to be shared.

 

If the interests of the body corporate and an owner in obtaining that written advice are diverged, then the body corporate can claim privilege against that owner and withhold access to that communication against that owner.

 

Agency

 

If a body corporate has a valid claim of privilege and the interest in the communication is not shared with an owner, that owner may ask another owner to obtain access to that communication to get around the claim of privilege.

 

The law closes this gap by providing that a body corporate can still withhold access to a communication if that communication is being accessed by an owner that is acting as an agent for an owner to which a claim for privilege exists.

 

Even if the above analysis results in a body corporate being able to claim privilege, it must be considered whether that privilege has been waived.

 

Waiver

 

As the owner of privilege, a client can choose to waive that right to privilege. In our experience this is often done inadvertently without an appreciation of the impact it may have on that person’s claim of privilege.

 

At its highest, privilege may be waived by conduct that is inconsistent with maintaining confidentiality in a communication. Applying this to an owners corporation, the type of conduct that may have the effect of waiving privilege includes:

  • making references to the content of legal advice in correspondence to all owners;
  • including copies of legal advice in meeting minutes;
  • proposing motions that refer to the outcome of legal advice.

 

However, if the conduct relates to limited actual or purported disclosure of the contents of a privileged communication, and an express understanding that the communication is not to be shown to anyone else, the conduct may not have the effect of waiving privilege.

 

If there is conduct that ordinarily constitutes a waiver of privilege, it is necessary to consider whether circumstances exist that would make it unfair to determine that privilege has been waived.

 

Fairness

 

If a body corporate has acted inconsistently with maintaining confidentiality in a communication, a court has discretion to consider the circumstances surrounding that conduct and whether it would be unfair to determine that privilege is waived. This will usually be most relevant where there has been no intentional waiver of privilege.

 

Summary

 

The application of legal professional privilege to communications in a strata context is complex and often overlooked. If a request to inspect the records of a body corporate is made and the body corporate is considering withholding access to records, the body corporate will no doubt obtain legal advice (which itself may be privileged) regarding the body corporate’s ability to not allow a communication to be inspected.

 

Failing to do so may result in the protection of privilege being lost forever.

 

 

 

 

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation

Disclaimer – This article is provided for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice.

Terminated Caretaking Agreements – is it the Courts Problem

TERMINATED CARETAKING AGREEMENTS – IS IT THE COURTS PROBLEM?

 

We all know that disputes about terminated caretaking and letting agreements are heard by QCAT. However the Supreme Court of Queensland has recently considered whether the Courts have jurisdiction to hear claims arising out of a terminated caretaking and letting agreement (Dunlop Case). 

If they do, it would appear likely that access to litigation by caretakers and letting agents may increase.

The facts

  • Mr Dunlop conducted a caretaking and letting business at an apartment complex in Port Douglas;
  • Mr Dunlop was subsequently convicted of an offence, and at the time of the conviction, Mr Dunlop’s property licence was cancelled;
  • The Body Corporate made enquiries in to Mr Dunlop’s cancelled licence and, upon confirmation, resolved to terminate the caretaking and letting agreement;
  • Mr Dunlop filed a claim in the Supreme Court for the lost value of the caretaking business, alleging that there was a breach of contract and Australian Consumer Law;
  • Mr Dunlop’s claim was against the Body Corporate, committee members and solicitor;
  • The Body Corporate sought an order setting aside Mr Dunlop’s claim on the basis that the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction, as the claim should be considered a “complex dispute” within the meaning of the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997 (Qld) (BCCMA);
  • The Body Corporate alleged that the “only remedy” for resolution of the dispute is by an order of a specialist adjudicator or QCAT.

 

What did the Supreme Court think?

The Supreme Court largely agreed with the Body Corporate’s position, given the very precise wording of the BCCMA, by commenting:

“The applicants submit the claim against the body corporate is a complex dispute … namely a dispute between the body corporate and a caretaking service contractor and letting agent about a contractual matter, namely the termination of the engagement of the contractor and letting agent. From this it follows… that pursuant to s 229 the “only remedy” for resolution of the dispute is by an order of a specialist adjudicator or QCAT.” 

The Judge further commented that “these conclusions trend in favour of granting the application to set aside the claim and statement of claim in respect of the body corporate for the reason that it is a complex dispute to be resolved pursuant to s229(2)”. 

The Court considered that some aspects of the claim may be heard in QCAT and the remainder heard in the Supreme Court. However this outcome would be less than desirable, given that each claim has some connection to the other claims put forward by Mr Dunlop. 

In these uncertain circumstances, the Courts ultimately refrained from reaching a conclusion on the matter of jurisdiction pending further submissions on the matter. 

What does this mean? 

Whilst the outcome of this case is yet to be determined, it is of particular note to any Strata Manager that should the Courts take the view that such matters are within the jurisdiction of the Courts, it would appear likely that access to litigation may increase for a terminated caretaker/letting agent. 

Regardless of the outcome, the case serves as a timely reminder to ensure that any Body Corporate considering taking such steps to terminate a caretaker/letting agreement seek the professional advice of a Body Corporate lawyer.

 

Article Written by Brendan Pitman (1 July 2021)

 

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation
Disclaimer – This article is provided for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice.

 

 

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Resolutions Without Dissent

THE POWER OF ONE

 

The Queensland strata legislation, like other States’ legislation, includes varying motion types which necessitate different levels of voting support in order to become resolutions. Each State has unique categories of motions and different threshold voting requirements for such motions to be approved. Whilst there is some overlap, a special resolution in one jurisdiction may have a different meaning in another (at least in terms of the way votes are calculated).

In Queensland, the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997 prescribes the following resolution types (for general meetings):

  • Ordinary resolution
  • Majority resolution
  • Special resolution
  • Resolution without dissent

The most common resolution type is an ordinary resolution. Such a resolution is calculated quite simply in terms of a majority of those voting. The motion passes if there are more votes in favour than against. The qualifying aspect to this is if somebody (anybody entitled to vote) requests a ‘poll’. In such circumstances, the motion is passed if the total contribution lot entitlements in favour of the motion are more than the total contribution lot entitlements against the motion. An ordinary resolution is the only resolution type where a poll can be requested.

One infrequently used resolution type is a majority resolution. Because they are rarely required, there seems to be a tendency to assume (incorrectly) that a majority resolution is the same as an ordinary resolution – after all, it talks about a ‘majority’ doesn’t it? However, they are quite different things. A majority resolution is calculated based on the total number of lots in the scheme. The resolution carries only if the votes in favour of the motion are more than half of the lots entitled to vote on the motion. Given the general apathy and low voting turnout at general meetings, obtaining the required support for a majority resolution can be quite difficult.

Another misconception that owners and others in the strata sector frequently seem to have is the voting requirements for a special resolution. There appears to be a common assumption that such a resolution requires a simple 75% majority. Whilst perhaps that might be useful as a ‘rule of thumb’, the counting of votes for a special resolution is quite different. The test is a three-tier one, and requires all of the following requirements to be satisfied:

  • At least two-thirds of the votes cast are in favour of the motion.
  • The votes counted against the motion are not more than 25% of the number of lots in the scheme.
  • The contribution lot entitlements for lots voting against the motion are not more than 25% of the total contribution lot entitlements for the scheme.

That brings us to the final resolution type and the purpose of my commentary in this newsletter – the resolution without dissent. Such a resolution quite simply requires that no vote is cast against the motion. What’s more, this resolution type does not prohibit owners who owe a body corporate debt at the time of the meeting from voting on the motion. Accordingly, a single owner (financial or unfinancial) can ensure that such a motion does not carry – and this frequently occurs. 

It holds true that there will be very serious decisions that a body corporate will need to make from time to time that should require strong majority support – even beyond the requirements of a majority or special resolution. However, the question arises as to whether a unanimous voting requirement is a step too far? 

Of course, there will be those that point out that any failure of a resolution without dissent to pass can be the subject of challenge in the Commissioner’s Office – the relevant test being whether it failed to pass ‘because of opposition that in the circumstances is unreasonable’ – a test for which we have High Court authority (Ainsworth v Albrecht [2016] HCA 40).

However, that still means that valuable time and resources are consumed in seeking to have an unreasonable vote overturned in the Commissioner’s Office. Conversely, if one or two votes were insufficient to prevent the passing of the motion, it would be up to those ‘aggrieved’ owners to take the initiative and commence dispute resolution proceedings to challenge the passing of the motion. Without good cause and reasons for their dissent, most owners will probably not take up this option – particularly as frivolous or vexatious applications can be dismissed with costs. 

That brings us to another question about whether the current statutory maximum of $2,000.00 is sufficient to discourage the lodging of frivolous or vexatious applications. Certainly not in my opinion. However, that is a debate for a different day – and a different newsletter!

Article Written by Jarad Maher (26 May 2021)

 

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation
Disclaimer – This article is provided for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice.

 

 

GET IN TOUCH

Tel:          +61 7 5552 6666

Fax:         +61 7 5528 0955

Office:      Level 2, 17 Welch Street, Southport Qld 4215

Postal:      PO Box 1876, Southport QLD 4215

 

OFFICE HOURS

Open:        8:30am – 5:00pm Monday to Friday

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