The new Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 gives greater power to the NSW Civil Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) to hear matters. One of the unexpected outcomes has been that strata managers are being thrown into the role of solicitor.

During one of our training sessions last week, two strata managing agents indicated to me that they had appointed solicitors to conduct matters in NCAT, but that on arriving for the hearing, the (NCAT) Members refused to give leave to the solicitors and required the strata managers to run their cases on behalf of their owner’s corporations. The solicitors were permitted to stay (and “coach”) but were not allowed to speak from the bar table.

We are not surprised with this outcome but didn’t expect it to be thrust on the strata environment without more warning. NCAT legislation is designed to make the process less costly, quick and efficient. Governments perennially believe that to provide quick, cheap and efficient justice, you need to remove solicitors and barristers from the equation. The mode of NCAT for many years has been to refuse lawyers the right to appear.

Currently, NCAT refuses in the large majority of cases, legal representation under $10,000. In fact, it can be considered that if a claim is under $10,000, you would be unlikely to obtain any legal representation. Between $10,000 and $30,000, NCAT will consider legal representation where the issues are complex.  However, this is not always the case. Leverage was refused the right to represent a client in a matter which was incredibly complex and the claim was just on $29,000. It was only $1,000 below the threshold. It is only from $30,000 and above that NCAT will permit legal representation.

Why are we not surprised with this move to push strata managers to do the representation? Easy. Approximately 75% of the claims to NCAT are residential tenancies matters. Since 1987, property managers have been representing landlords without any assistance from solicitors. It is therefore not surprising that strata managers will be pushed down the same line.

If you are a strata manager, you need to expect that sometime in your professional life, you may need to be an advocate. Alternatively, if you work in a big enough organisation, you may have the luxury to have some specific strata managers trained to do advocacy on your behalf.

We always thought the owner’s corporation expected more than the strata manager could deliver. Now NCAT is backing them.

This article was written by Bailey Compton, Principal Solicitor & Director at Leverage Group.

To get in touch with Bailey, please email info@leveragegroup.com.au