Managing Common Property Disputes in Duplex Strata Schemes

Two-lot strata schemes, characterised by their intimate scale and shared responsibilities, inherently bear a unique set of challenges. The crux of these challenges often lies in the management of common areas and the division of responsibilities for maintenance, insurance, and repairs. This article delves into the common disputes that arise within such settings, exploring their origins from structural ambiguities to interpersonal dynamics. Understanding these disputes is the first step towards fostering a harmonious living environment and developing effective strategies for resolution.

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Common Disputes in Duplex Schemes

Two-lot strata schemes, while fairly common, present unique challenges due to their structure, often involving separate detached dwellings with limited common property. Disputes in two-lot strata schemes often arise due to a combination of structural, legal, and interpersonal factors unique to these arrangements. Understanding why these disputes occur can help in developing strategies to prevent them or resolve them more effectively. Here are several key reasons:

Limited Common Property

The unique structure and close proximity of owners can lead to a range of disputes, reflecting the complexities of shared living spaces with limited common property. These disputes often revolve around the responsibility for repairs and maintenance, a common source of disagreement given the ambiguity that can arise when determining who is responsible for various aspects of the property. The limited common property in two-lot schemes means that even minor repairs can become contentious issues, especially if the cost and responsibility are not clearly defined in the strata agreement.

Insurance and Fire Safety Issues

One of the primary issues arises from the insurance complexities, as each dwelling may require its own policy, or a joint policy might be needed to cover shared structures or liabilities adequately. This necessitates a clear understanding and agreement on how insurance costs are divided and what policies are best suited to cover the entire property effectively.

Fire safety is a critical area where disputes can emerge, particularly regarding the implementation and enforcement of fire safety measures. Ensuring that both lots comply with fire safety regulations is essential for the safety of all residents but can become a point of contention if there are disagreements over responsibilities and costs.

Shared Financial Responsibilities

The financial aspects of living in two-lot strata, such as levies and funds for common expenses, require careful planning and agreement. Since there are only two parties involved, typically without a body corporate and strata manager, the usual processes for collecting levies and managing funds might need to be simplified or adjusted to avoid excessive administration costs, which are often seen as unnecessary in such small schemes.

Voting Deadlocks

The structure of two-lot strata schemes also introduces challenges in decision-making, particularly because there are only two votes – one for each lot owner. This situation can easily lead to voting deadlocks on decisions concerning the property. Such deadlocks have significant implications for voting procedures and dispute resolution, necessitating mechanisms or agreements in place to address and resolve these situations effectively. This might include predefined arbitration or mediation processes to ensure that deadlocks do not lead to prolonged disputes or legal battles.

Water Damages

Water damage presents another significant challenge, with disputes frequently arising over the cause and responsibility for the damage. These situations can become particularly complex in two-lot schemes where the delineation between individual and common property responsibilities is less clear than in larger strata developments.

Renovations

Renovations affecting common property, such as shared driveways or gardens, often lead to conflicts. Differences in aesthetic preferences, the impact on property value, and the use of shared spaces can create tensions between owners. Similarly, the installation and operation of air conditioners can become a point of contention, with disputes arising over where units are placed, how they’re maintained, and the noise they generate.

By-law Complications

By-laws, or the lack thereof, can further complicate living arrangements in two-lot strata schemes. Conflicts often arise over the interpretation and enforcement of by-laws, particularly when they pertain to noise, parking, pets, and nuisance smoke—issues that are magnified by the close living quarters and shared spaces.

What Can Lot Owners Do to Minimise Disputes in Duplex Strata Schemes?

Managing relationships in a two-lot strata scheme, such as a duplex, is crucial for minimising disputes between vendors and tenants. Here are some tips and suggestions for vendors and tenants to foster a harmonious living environment:

Establish a Partnership Mindset

Before entering into a duplex living arrangement, it’s essential to cultivate a strong sense of partnership with your neighbour. This partnership is the foundation upon which mutual respect and cooperation can be built, leading to more effective communication and problem-solving.

Due Diligence and Communication

Engage in thorough due diligence and open communication with your neighbour or, if you are the landlord, with your tenants. This involves assessing compatibility in terms of expectations, lifestyle, and the ability to agree on fundamental arrangements. Consider factors that might influence living arrangements, such as whether both parties have families. Understanding the dynamics at play can help in determining if the neighbours can work together harmoniously, sharing responsibilities and agreeing on common goals. It’s beneficial to discuss how each party views their responsibilities towards shared components, like common walls or roofs, and their willingness to contribute evenly to their upkeep.

Run It Like a Strata

Adopt some formal mechanisms typically found in larger strata schemes, such as holding annual general meetings. These meetings can be used to discuss and plan for capital expenditures, set aside budgets for maintenance, and address any concerns in a structured manner. Anticipate and plan for potential issues that could arise. Setting aside funds for unexpected repairs or agreeing on how to handle future renovations can prevent disputes. Establishing a clear process for making decisions about shared spaces or elements ensures that both parties feel their interests are considered and protected. Establish and agree upon a regular maintenance schedule for shared areas and structures. This can prevent disputes over neglect or deterioration, ensuring both parties contribute to the upkeep and value preservation of the property.

Put Agreements in Writing

To avoid misunderstandings and provide clear guidelines for resolving conflicts, document all agreements in writing. These documents can serve as informal by-laws, outlining each party’s responsibilities and agreed-upon rules for living. Having a written record can be invaluable in clarifying expectations and providing a basis for resolving disputes. For drafting agreements, understanding legal obligations, and navigating complex disputes, consider consulting with legal professionals or strata management experts. Their guidance can ensure that agreements are fair, comprehensive, and legally sound.
Over time, circumstances and needs may change. Regularly review and, if necessary, update your agreements to reflect current situations and priorities. This ensures that the arrangements remain relevant and effective.

Seek Mediation if Necessary

Despite the best efforts, disputes may still occur. It’s helpful to agree in advance on a process for mediation, choosing a neutral third party to help resolve conflicts. This agreement can be part of the initial written understanding between parties.

Respect Privacy and Boundaries

While sharing a property, it’s crucial to respect each other’s privacy and boundaries. Agreeing on guidelines regarding noise, visitors, shared spaces, and privacy can help maintain a respectful and comfortable environment for everyone.

Emergency Preparedness

Owners must develop a plan for emergency situations, including natural disasters, structural emergencies, or urgent repairs. Agreeing on how to handle these situations in advance may be able to alleviate stress and confusion when they occur.

The nuanced dynamics of two-lot strata schemes necessitate a balanced and proactive approach to dispute resolution and management. From navigating insurance complexities to addressing maintenance and decision-making challenges, the importance of open communication and formalised agreements cannot be overstressed. For individuals seeking guidance through the complexities of strata laws or aiming to resolve conflicts within their strata scheme, PBL Law Group offers comprehensive legal services tailored to meet your needs. Let’s make your duplex living hassle-free! 

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Authored by

Raea Khan

Director Lawyer

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Raea Khan Circle
Director Lawyer
Raea Khan

Raea is Managing Director and Principal Lawyer for PBl Law Group. Raea assists clients with major projects, property developments, construction and strata law.

He has worked in Western Australia and Queensland assisting with expansion projects in the energy and resource sector and now predominately advises clients in Strata and Community Association matters.

He is a member of the Australian College of Strata Lawyers where majority of his work is advising developers and owners corporations with dispute related minor and major defects, strata governance and common property litigation. He is proficient at leading negotiations and meetings.

Raea has a particular interest in the commercial aspect of any dispute and always tries to weigh up the risk, reward and benefit of legal proceedings at each different stage.

Raea enjoys all forms of competitive sport, including Crossfit and actively participates in Triathlons, representing Australia as an age group athlete. He was a member of Red Head Surf Lifesaving club.

  • Strata Law
  • Construction & Major Projects
  • Commercial and Business Law
  • Planning & Environment Law