Susan Armstrong recently posted about the value of research in family dispute resolution. She pointed out the benefits of research led practice. I also advocate this approach but am researching the context of conflict in strata title (multi-owned housing) and the best ways to deal with disputes where parties live in close proximity and share assets. My research focusses particularly on the development growth in apartment towers, medium density townhouses and master planned estates. Master planned estates often include shared assets such as a country club with pool and tennis courts. These developments are growing in inner suburbs in infill sites and in the outer suburbs where there may be large amounts of detached housing surrounded by medium density townhouses.
Conflict arising in apartment buildings, medium-density housing and master planned estates is an important issue as strata title developments become more prevalent in Australia. The research is also important as conflict can impact negatively on the experience of residents in these strata developments. In Victoria, the Owners Corporations Act 2006 (Vic) (‘OC Act’) provides for a dispute resolution scheme for conflicts arising in strata developments. A recent co-written article will appear soon in the Adelaide Law Review describing our research into dispute resolution under the OC Act, and in particular into the effectiveness of the model rules for dispute resolution provided in the associated regulations. The research, which was conducted in Victoria in 2011, gathered data from a range of key stakeholders in owners corporations, including 34 strata managers of owners corporations. This article reports on the range of conflicts experienced by the strata managers who participated in the study. Analysis of the data provided by the strata managers shows that difficulties with conflict and the model rules for dispute resolution under the OC Act were most evident in small and large developments. The participants most satisfied with the model rules were managers in medium-sized owners corporations. Whilst a majority of managers used the model rules, over a third used their own informal rules. These findings lead us to argue that there is a need for differentiated rules for dispute resolution that are dependent upon the size of the development. Additionally, we suggest that further research is needed into the informal rules applied by a significant proportion of managers to ascertain their effectiveness and to provide owners corporations with added choice in dispute resolution.
Given a recent review into the OC Act in Victoria we hope our research will asset in reform of the legislation. I am presenting on an associated issue at the Mediation Conference in September where I will explore what further research in this area might look like to engage OC residents in better dispute resolution design.