Unit title disputes

In unit title or community title property a home owner owns a part of a building (such as an apartment or townhouse), and will share ownership of the ‘common property’ of the building or the land, such as lifts, driveways or gardens.

An owners corporation manages the common interests in a complex. Owners are members of the owners corporation.

ACAT can assist parties to resolve some kinds of disputes under the Unit Titles (Management) Act 2011 and the Unit Titles Act 2001. For example, disputes about:

  • keeping a pet
  • the validity or merits of resolutions
  • the maintenance of common property.

Before you apply

Try to resolve your dispute before coming to ACAT. If you reach an agreement, write down what the agreement is, sign and date the agreement, and keep a copy.

If you cannot reach an agreement, try to identify the exact issues in dispute and possible solutions. This information will help you later.

Find out more about getting a resolution outside ACAT.

Before you make an application, you can:

  • review the information available from Access Canberra
  • talk or write to the person who you are having a dispute with (if you haven’t already done so) to see if you can negotiate an outcome
  • consider whether or not to get legal advice about the dispute
  • review the fee you need to pay for a unit title application
  • check what orders you will ask ACAT to make.

How to apply

You may be able to make a unit titles application to ACAT if you are:

  • an owner or occupier of a unit
  • an owners corporation
  • a manager or former manager of an owners corporation
  • the executive committee (or executive member) of an owners corporation
  • a service contractor for the owners corporation.

However, not everyone can bring every type of unit title dispute to ACAT.

Make sure you clearly set out on your application form what you want ACAT to do in the case and why. There are a range of orders that you can ask ACAT to make, depending on your issue or type of dispute.

To make an application you need to:

  • fill in the Unit Titles (Management) Act 2011 application form [PDF 136KB] or, if you are seeking a building damage order, the Unit Titles Act 2001 Application form [PDF 130KB]
  • attach any relevant documents to the form
  • lodge the form, ensuring all details are completed in full
  • tell us the times and dates you are not available to attend ACAT, for example, if you are overseas or having a medical procedure
  • pay the fee, unless you have an exemption, waiver or deferral.

If your application is urgent, you will need to lodge an application for interim or other orders form [PDF 56KB] and outline why it is urgent (for example, if there is a risk to someone’s health and safety, or urgent inspections or repairs are required).

You may decide to get some legal advice before making an application. ACAT staff can provide you with procedural advice, but cannot give you legal advice.

You can be represented by a lawyer when you come to the ACAT, but it is not necessary and generally, ACAT cannot make orders about payment of legal . You can also be represented by someone other than a lawyer if that person is authorised. Any authorisation should be provided at the time the application is lodged. Note - the Unit Titles (Management) Act 2011 has a process to make sure that someone is authorised to bring an application on behalf of an owners corporation.

What to expect after an application has been made

After the application is received, ACAT will determine the best way for the case to proceed. Generally, ACAT will schedule the case for a directions hearing.

ACAT will send the application and a notice to the parties. The notice will tell you the date, time and location you are required to attend ACAT.

Sometimes the case will be scheduled for an urgent hearing. You need to bring all the documents that you have, including letters, emails, photographs, receipts and invoices.

Responding to an application

If you receive a notice that you are required to attend ACAT for a unit titles application that you did not make yourself, you are a respondent.

As the case progresses, you may be required to provide your supporting documents (evidence) to the other party or parties and ACAT. You will also usually need to provide a response. When you are responding to an application, make sure you:

  • think about what orders you would like ACAT to make and on what basis
  • respond to all the issues that are set out in the application (note, there is no form for this, so put your response in writing)
  • provide your written response and any photographs, invoices or other documents to ACAT and the applicant (and any other parties) within the required timeframe.

You may decide to get legal advice about the case. ACAT staff can provide you with procedural advice, but cannot give you legal advice.

You can be represented by a lawyer when you come to ACAT, but it is not necessary and generally, ACAT cannot make orders about payment of legal costs. You can also be represented by someone other than a lawyer if that person is authorised. Note - the Unit Titles (Management) Act 2011 has a process to make sure that someone is authorised to respond to an application on behalf of an owners corporation.

Notification of a dispute – parties may be joined

If you are a member of an owners corporation you may receive notification that an application relating to the corporation has been lodged with ACAT. This means that you may be able to apply to be a ‘party joined’ to the proceedings.

There is no application form to use if you want to be joined to a unit or community title proceeding. To apply, put in writing:

  • the name and reference number for the ACAT case
  • your name and contact details
  • that you are asking to be joined as a party
  • what your interest in the case is
  • what orders or decision you want ACAT to make.

You will also need to give this to ACAT.

If you are joined as a party, you will be able to participate in the proceedings and have your views considered in a similar way to an applicant or a respondent.

Resolving your case

Even after an application is lodged, it is a good idea to talk to the other party or parties to see if an agreement can be reached. If you reach an agreement, the ACAT application can be finalised.

Often the first time you attend ACAT will be for a directions hearing. The purpose of the directions hearing is to decide how the matter should proceed through ACAT.

You do not need to bring your witnesses or evidence to the first directions hearing, but you should be prepared to discuss what your case is about and what you need to do to prepare for a hearing. ACAT may ask you:

  • Who is authorised to represent the owners corporation in the proceedings?
  • What are the issues in the matter?
  • What outcome does each party want from the hearing process?
  • Is anyone else likely to be affected by the decision, and should they be joined to the proceedings?
  • Do the parties agree to participate in a mediation or a conference?
  • If so, when are they available to attend a mediation or conference (this is usually set down within a couple of weeks)?
  • What evidence will the parties rely upon at hearing and how long it will take to get that evidence and prepare any witness statements or submissions?
  • When are the parties and their witnesses available to attend a hearing?
  • How long do the parties expect the hearing to take?
  • What directions should be made to prepare the matter for hearing?

Some cases will be scheduled for a conference or mediation, to see whether the case can resolve by agreement between the parties. If no agreement is reached, the case will usually proceed to a hearing.

The case will be heard by an ACAT Member (or Members). At the end of the hearing, the ACAT Member or Members will tell the parties if they can deliver a decision immediately, or if they need to reserve the decision and give it later.

Orders ACAT can make

There is a range of orders ACAT can make. Find out about the orders ACAT can make [DOC 42KB] in a unit title dispute.

Unit title levies

Overdue unpaid levies may be recovered as a debt in ACAT’s civil jurisdiction. Some of the costs and expenses incurred in seeking payment of the unpaid levies, such as writing letters of demand and coming to ACAT, may be recoverable as a debt.

Appeals

If you think ACAT made an error when it decided the application, you can appeal the decision within 28 days of the decision.

More information

Find out about:

Glossary and terms

Glossary and terms

ACT Civil and Administrative TribunalA tribunal established under the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008. It may also be referred to as ACAT or Tribunal.

Adjourn (or adjournment)To suspend or postpone a preliminary conference, mediation or hearing and reschedule it for a future date.

Administrative reviewACAT has jurisdiction to review some administrative decisions made by the ACT Government. Find out about Review of ACT Government decisions.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR)Also known as dispute resolution. This is a way of resolving disputes without a formal hearing. It may involve a preliminary conference or mediation. ADR is used to help parties resolve cases by agreement.

AnorMeans ‘and another’. This term is generally used to name parties to proceedings when there is more than one applicant or respondent.

Appeal TribunalA tribunal constituted under section 81 of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal 2008 to review a decision of the tribunal (not all ACAT decisions are appealable at ACAT – you may need to go to the Supreme Court).

AppellantThe individual or company that appeals an ACAT decision.

Authorising lawsA law that says an application (including referrals) may be made to ACAT. An authorising law may also set out the powers ACAT has in a case. Also see ‘jurisdiction’.

ApplicantThe individual or company that brings a case to ACAT, usually by making an application.

Calling a witnessA party or their representative will ‘call a witness’ at an ACAT hearing when they ask a witness to give evidence.

CaseAlso known as a matter, dispute, application or referral. Cases come to ACAT when ACAT has jurisdiction (power) to make a decision.

Cross-examinationThe process of asking a witness questions to test or check the evidence that the witness has given to ACAT.

Deliver a decisionAlso ‘handing down a decision’. This is giving a decision about an ACAT case. It may be done verbally or in writing (or both).

DirectionsInstructions that set out what each party must do (and when), often to prepare a case for hearing.

Directions hearingA short hearing where an ACAT Member or Registrar decides how to manage a case and what needs to be done before a hearing. Find out about directions hearings.

Ex parte orderAn order made by ACAT where one or more parties were not present.

Expert reportA written report from an expert that may be used as evidence.

Expert witnessA person with specialised knowledge based on their training, study or experience. An expert can give evidence at a hearing. Find out more about witness statements.

Final directions hearingSometimes ACAT will hold a final directions hearing prior to the final hearing of an application. The purpose is to make sure the case is ready to go to a hearing and give the parties a chance to ask questions about the hearing process.

Handed upGiving documents to an ACAT Member or Registrar in a hearing.

In chambersWhen ACAT considers something without holding a hearing.

Joined party (joined/joinder)A party who was not originally a party to the dispute but has later been added to the case.

JurisdictionACAT’s authority (power) to deal with, hear and decide applications (cases).

LeaveIf someone asks for leave, they are usually asking for permission to do something.

List (or listing)A schedule (or list) of cases to be heard at ACAT each day.

Listing noticeA letter or written document from ACAT that sets out when a conference, mediation or hearing is scheduled at ACAT.

MediationA private meeting where parties discuss ways to resolve their dispute, with the help of an impartial mediator (who is also an ACAT Member or Registrar). It is held under section 35 of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008.

Non-publication and/or non-disclosure orderAlso called a ‘suppression order’. It is an order that requires certain information not to be published or disclosed. It is made under section 39 of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008. Find out about public hearings and confidentiality.

Notice to partiesA letter sent to the parties in a case that sets out the time, date and location for an ACAT conference, mediation or hearing.

Opening statementUsually means a statement made at the beginning of a hearing to outline the key points in the case. Sometimes parties are asked to give an opening statement at a mediation or preliminary conference.

Originating applicationAn application that starts an ACAT case.

Party or partiesAn individual or company directly involved in an ACAT case, for example an applicant or respondent. Find out how to identify and name parties.

Preliminary conferenceA private meeting where parties discuss ways to resolve their dispute with the help of an ACAT Member or Registrar. See section 33 of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008. ACAT has different types of preliminary conferences.

RegistryThe administrative section of ACAT that accepts documents lodged by parties, handles enquiries and provides support for case management.

RepresentativeA person who represents or advocates for an individual or company at a conference, mediation or hearing at ACAT. For example, a legal practitioner or an attorney appointed under a general power of attorney.

Reserved decisionWhen an ACAT Member or Registrar reserves a decision (at the end of a hearing), this means they will give their decision later, either verbally or in writing (sometimes both).

RespondentThe party (or parties) against whom orders or relief is sought.

Short service orderAn order that authorises a shorter time for service (than the time otherwise required).

Serve/serviceA person who can give evidence at a hearing. Find out about witness statements.

Statement of reasonsA document that explains why ACAT made an order in a case. It sets out the law relied on by an ACAT Member or Registrar and explains how the law was applied to the facts of the case. You can request a written statement of reasons within 14 days after an order is made. Find out about statement of reasons.

StayAn order for a particular action (or decision) to be put on hold or suspended for a period of time.

SubmissionA document that sets out your side of a case or dispute and the relevant law. It is presented to ACAT either in writing, verbally or both. Find out about submissions.

SubpoenaRequires a person to appear at ACAT to give evidence or provide documents (or both). Find out about subpoenas.

Substituted service orderAn order that says how a party is to be served with an application or other documents related to the proceedings. In a civil dispute or a rental dispute, an applicant will need to consider asking for a substituted service order if they do not have a physical address for the respondent. Find out about lodging and serving documents.

WitnessA person who can give evidence at a hearing. Find out about witness statements.