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Flat Chat

Land Grab

Just when you think you've read or heard everything, along comes another new twist on neighbours behaving badly. This time it's the strata equivalent of a land grab and our old friend "I'll do what I want and you can get stuffed."

Q: I've been representing friend who lives in a block of seven units, five of which are rented and the owners aren't interested. The other owner-occupier has built a courtyard on common property, knocking out a window and installing French doors to "his" new terrace.

He did all this without Owners Corporation approval and has lost at each Office of Fair Trading hearing. The last but one time he was ordered to demolish and restore in twelve weeks but didn't do so.

He's now been fined $500 and ordered to demolish by 20 February. If he just pays the fine & doesn't demolish the work, can you tell me the next step. The Adjudicator wouldn't tell me when I asked, and just said 'seek advice'.

A Friend in Need, Cronulla

A: The adjudicator was probably trying to remain neutral but the path is clear. This person is not only ripping off your friend and other owners, his is now cocking a snoot at the state government.

There is probably a point at which it's worth their while just paying the fines and keeping their annexed property. That's why if the work isn't done by the due date, the next time they are dragged before the OFT, and every time after that, the fine can go as high as $5500 for ignoring previous rulings.

Perhaps they don't realise this - your friend should get her strata manager to politely let them know.

There is also the question of local council planning approvals. I'd be very surprised if this strata squatter got them, especially if the OC is against the plan. The council is just as likely to issue a demolish and restore ruling.

Ironically, this guy could have gone to the OC, offered to buy the common property and got all the approvals he needed. I'm guessing there aren't many older buildings that would turn down an injection into their sinking funds for the loss of very little amenity.

Tell your friend to hang in there. The law is on their side and the OFT doesn't take kindly to being ignored.

First published SMH February 2006

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