By-laws (called Rules in the ACT) are the rules that we must live by when we live in a strata or community title scheme. They are the fourth tier of government. When you buy or, if you are renting move into, your new property you should be given a copy of the by-laws applying to your scheme. If you aren’t you should ask for a copy from your strata manager or property manager.
Who do they apply to?
By-laws apply to owners, their mortgagees (in NSW), lessees (tenants) and sub-lessees (sub-tenants) and occupiers of the property. The Strata Schemes Management Act 1996 (NSW) s44 and the Unit Titles (Management) Act 2011 (ACT) s107 mean that by-laws or rules have the effect of a contract. Strictly speaking by-laws don’t apply to visitors which means they cannot be enforced against a visitor. However the model by-laws (in NSW) and default rules (in the ACT) serve to make owners and occupiers responsible for the behaviour of their visitors. Therefore if a guest of an owner behaves in a way that breaches the by-laws such as repeatedly making a large amount of noise and disturbing other owners and occupiers, then the owner or occupier that invited that visitor onto the property could find themselves in trouble with their owners corporation.
What happens if you don’t follow the by-laws?
Well aside from causing tension within your community by irritating your neighbours, your owners corporation has powers to enforce its by-laws through the relevant Tribunal.
In NSW this mean the NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal (NCAT). Action may be taken after a notice to comply has been issued and breached seeking that a penalty be imposed against the offender. Another way to enforce the by-laws is if the breach is either a nuisance or that the offending lot owner has interfered with the structure or services of the building or another lot in which case it is also a breach of sections 116 and s117 of the Strata Schemes Management Act. Note that mediation may be required before a claim can be filed in the NCAT. A further option in NSW, is for an owners corporation or lot owner to take action to enforce the by-laws through an action for a breach of a covenant.
In the ACT your owners corporation may choose to issue a rule infringement notice or to take action in the ACT Civil & Administrative Tribunal. If a rule infringement notice is ignored then the owners corporation, much like a NSW owners corporation, can seek penalty orders against the offender.
For the simple expedient of asking for a copy of the by-laws and rules applicable to your scheme you can save yourself time, money and angst by knowing what the rules are and complying with them. If you are unable to comply with the by-laws or rules then you should speak to your executive committee or strata manager to seek a solution. If you find yourself the subject of a notice to comply, rule infringement notice or NCAT or ACAT action you should promptly seek legal advice.