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COMMUNAL LIVING – CHRISTMAS SURVIVAL GUIDE

December 14, 2023

Well, it’s that time of year again – will there be Christmas Cheer or Tears?

It is the time of year where we put aside our differences and disputes over dogs barking or the neighbouring apartment smoking. Instead, we take the opportunity to argue about Christmas lights on balconies, parties that run until the early hours of the morning, that same unit taking up all the visitor car parks, and hordes of those visitors taking over the pool area during the day.

Whilst obviously the above is an extreme example, it is unfortunate that these types of disputes do regularly occur, both between individual occupiers and the Body Corporate, as well as between one occupier and another.

Christmas can be both a wonderful and stressful time of year, which is all the more the case within a Body Corporate. It can be a challenging environment under the best of circumstances to live cheek to cheek with your neighbours. Add in a never-ending stream of family and friends, as well as some residents that like a celebratory Christmas, versus those that prefer a quiet one, or those that don’t celebrate Christmas at all, and it’s a recipe for disputes and disagreements.

It’s therefore important for those of us that choose to live in a Body Corporate to remember that, just as we have rights, we also have responsibilities. Whilst there are many benefits to living in a Body Corporate, it does mean that we lose some of our personal independence and must consider our actions in the context of how they may impact on those who share this space with us. Equally, it is important that the Body Corporate as a whole act reasonably in its efforts to monitor and control the types of situations that commonly occur around this time of year.

Bodies Corporate and Committees:

Bodies Corporate must at all times act reasonably in their decision-making process. Many Committees and Body Corporate members easily get caught up in absolutes, instead of looking at ways to find a solution that will help everyone. For example, a policy completely prohibiting Christmas lights on balconies may not inherently be unreasonable depending on the circumstances, but the greater question is, does the Body Corporate want to create that sort of community, where people cannot celebrate a joyous occasion.

Seek Community Feedback – Committees should consider seeking feedback from residents about what their feelings are surrounding these types of issues. If the Committee is rigidly preventing people from having Christmas trees on their balconies due to the impact on the appearance of the building, do residents actually care about that? In a month’s time it will all be over and things will return to normal. Is the temporary disruption really a problem?

  • Clear Consistent Rules – Bodies Corporate should have clear and consistent rules so that all residents understand what is and is not permitted. Leaving these types of things vague is a recipe for disputes. This may extend beyond just the basic by-laws that govern the Scheme. Ask: Does the Body Corporate need some guidelines to assist residents in understanding that some things will be permitted, whilst others will not?
  • Be Specific – This extends not only to displays and lights, but also to behaviour. What are the Body Corporate’s expectations around use of the Common Property? How will residents get access to the facilities that they want and need, whilst allowing others to do the same. What are some reasonable considerations around parties and noise? Or parking?
  • Be Open to Ideas – Encourage approaches from residents about what they want and how they feel the Body Corporate should operate at this time of year. Chances are the problems affecting one will affect others, and this is a prime opportunity to benefit from a community attitude. What might appear to be an inconvenience to one, could be an opportunity to another and by working together both people may be able to get some of what they want.

Residents:

Residents are obliged to follow the reasonable requirements of the Body Corporate and the by-laws. One of the most common phrases that crops up from Residents is “Ask forgiveness, not permission.”. This is almost a guaranteed way to start a dispute right out of the gate. Generally, people respect others that follow the rules, as they do. If most people are acting in a particular way and someone else decides to do something different without even checking first, this immediately creates resentment and anger where there didn’t need to be any. Sometimes people that operate in this way will claim that they did it because “The Body Corporate wouldn’t have approved it.”. This is essentially admitting that you knew you were doing wrong and chose to do it anyway.

  • Know the By-Laws – Residents should familiarise themselves with the by-laws and general guidelines for their Body Corporate and any rules or previous requests / approvals that may have been granted. You have chosen to live in a communal environment, it is therefore your responsibility to know the rules you have to follow. Whilst a good Committee and Body Corporate should obviously attempt to keep everyone informed, ignorance is not an excuse.
  • When Unsure…. Ask! – Approaching the Body Corporate to clarify something ahead of time is far more likely to receive a positive response than just doing it. If what you want to do is not permitted, it may also allow you to work with the Body Corporate to reach an outcome that is suitable for both parties. You may also raise solutions or problems that nobody else has thought of and that may assist in finding a way to deal with it.
  • Be Flexible –Just as some Bodies Corporate adopt policies that are overly rigid, some Residents become invested in achieving a single outcome without considering that there may be alternatives. Listen to other suggestions and consider them equally and how they may fit in with your plans. Perhaps it’s not fair that your party occupies the pool for the entire afternoon, but maybe you can cycle through the facilities in bookings or make use of a different space whilst someone else gets to enjoy the BBQ or pool.
  • Be Considerate of Others – Consider the impacts on your neighbours when making your own choices. Whilst you might love flashing Christmas lights, the apartment directly opposite you may not appreciate their living room looking like the inside of a club all night. Similarly, you may have back to back parties planned, whilst your neighbours have young grandchildren staying. Everyone celebrates differently, but as outlined above, be flexible and solutions can be reached. Maybe your lights are turned off at 9pm each night. Maybe you hold some of your parties at the pool, or in a nearby restaurant etc.

Summary

Ultimately, as at any other time of the year, it is critical that where you live in a communal environment, you adopt a communal mindset. This is not “your” home, it is “our” home. Take that as a mantra and look at every situation through that lens.

Most people look forward to some sort of celebration at this time of year, whether that is a large boisterous gathering of friends, or just some flashing lights in their window. By working together, being considerate of others and taking a consultative rather than entitled attitude, hopefully everyone can have fun and enjoy their time. It might also go a long way to building a strong foundation of community that will serve the Body Corporate in good stead for the year ahead.

This article was contributed by Wayne Hewitt, Partner – Archers the Strata Professionals

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