A reader asks about punitive fines being issued by his body corporate after falling foul of his sectional title complex’s house rules.
He tells us that he is generally happy with the manner in which the scheme is administered and that the body corporate is reasonably active.
However, the reader is concerned that the body corporate is, of late, overly focused on the issuing of punitive fines for transgressions by residents.
He says he recently had a small party where he admits the music went on later, and was louder, than usual and some of guests were quite rowdy when they left.
See the reader’s question here.
The day after the party, a trustee of the body corporate handed a notice of fine to him, setting out his various infractions of the house rules applicable within the complex.
The reader feels that the fine is both excessive and unnecessary as this was an isolated event and that, as far as he is aware, none of the neighbours had a problem.
He questions whether he is obliged to pay the fine and whether the body corporate has the authority to issue it.
Rules within a complex generally comprise management and conduct rules.
Both sets of rules start out with a prescribed format and can be amended using the appropriate form of resolution.
In recent years, however, it has become increasingly popular to regulate certain conduct within a sectional title scheme by way of the so-called house rules.
It should be made clear that the legislation applicable to sectional title schemes does not make any provision for the formulation of a set of house rules.
It is therefore unlikely that such a set of rules has any binding force upon the residents in a complex, let alone the authority of the body corporate to impose a fine upon the transgression of any such rule.
There is some debate, however, as to whether or not certain of the so-called house rules may be applicable in specific circumstances.
Such rules could be imposed as a result of the body corporate’s obligation to control, manage and administer the common property and its authority to act in the administration of the scheme stems from the management and conduct rules.
It is quite possible that the house rules referred to by the reader have been incorporated into the conduct rules.
If this is the case, fines may be set out for certain transgressions and be imposed against the offender.
It is important that the rules, and consequences in respect of transgression thereof, be set out in a sensible and understandable manner to ensure that residents are aware of it.
Assuming that the fine imposed was permitted in the circumstances, the manner in which the fine is imposed is also important.
Fines are generally not imposed in a traffic officer or spot fine scenario, but rather stem from a complaint by a resident in a scheme.
The complaint then needs to be investigated by the body corporate, with notice of the complaint being provided to the transgressor.
The latter should have the opportunity to respond to any complaint made and the body corporate is obliged to take note of the response before making a decision.
Such a right to be heard ensures a counterbalance to a body corporate’s absolute authority in the imposition of fines and enforcement of rules.
The reader should, if he has not done so already, obtain a copy of the management and conduct rules of the body corporate.
These should be scrutinised to determine whether or not the fines are justified.
If so, the reader should consider taking up the manner in which the fines were imposed with the body corporate.
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