Targeting Cyberbullying in Owners Corporations and Community Associations

Toxic digital behaviour is an issue beyond today’s outlook on the lives of our owners, committees, and work colleagues. Aside from the fast pace and unrealistic expectations of constant availability and immediate responses to complex questions and Google searches often leaving more questions than answers (these are all conversations for another day), the most pressing issue that threatens our industry is online harassment, threats and bullying amongst and in the communities we manage.

Few strata managers or assistants can say they have never personally experienced bullying and harassment from a disgruntled client. Behaviour and words within the workplace that, if this were to come from a co-worker, would be immediate escalation to HR and action taken. Though this is difficult to deal with, we are the fortunate ones. Unlike the volunteer committee members and owners who live in or own in their schemes, we can clock off, report it, and take action to block belligerent people or simply terminate their agreement if the behaviour is truly unmanageable and shocking. We have a degree of professional separation. Our Owners Corporations are not afforded the same luxury.

It used to be that if there was an issue between neighbours, you would talk to them about it, maybe put a letter in their mailbox if you were passionate but uncomfortable with direct confrontation. Those discussions are tempered by human interaction, with that letter taking time and effort to write. Neighbours have always and will always disagree; disagreement is important. However, once an owner stepped into their unit, they had a degree of safety. This is no longer the case. That owner now will walk into their home, pick up their phone and read words that no one would dare say to them in person. Not only that but this could also have been published publicly on social media. Our older owners who are less accustomed to this type of online behaviour don’t have the tools to not engage or dissociate from it. Studies reveal the negative psychological, emotional and physical impacts cyberbullying has ( Schools and workplaces have been putting strategies in place for years to combat cyberbullying with schools having an E-Safety Commissioner ( So why are Owners Corporations still stuck in the wild west of the 90s?

Owners Corporations or Community Association’s greatest assets are its people – owner engagement is already low in our communities. I manage a 260-lot community scheme, and we struggle to get six people on the committee each year. If we want our lives to be simpler and have greater engagement, we need to help make our owners lives easier and invest in the people.

Most Owners Corporations, and committees communicate via email; many have WhatsApp or Facebook groups. None of these is a new phenomenon. However, the rate at which our industry and the legislative body that governs us is catching up is woefully behind.

If the COVID-19 pandemic showed us anything, it is that we can still have community and never leave our lounge rooms. Life isn’t 100% back as it was, and our online engagement is a lasting hangover. This issue will only increase as our communities retreat further into their units and as our industry grows. If we want to encourage real community building and engagement, owners need to feel safe within their home and excited to be a part of the community. This can only assist us as managers in not burning out staff and having higher levels of employee retention.

So, what is the solution? There are already options to implement a communications by-law, Queensland has a code of conduct for committee members written into their Act (Body Corporate and Community Management Act, 1997 Schedule 1A), Section 153 of the Strata Schemes Management Act, 2015 covers nuisance or hazard. But is it enough?

One solution is to re-consider what ‘Common Property’ is. The model by-laws under the Strata Schemes Management Regulations, 2016, under by-law 7 discusses the behaviour of owners, occupiers and invitees to not cause offence or embarrassment on common property. As communities interact increasingly online, this by-law could be expanded to include email addresses associated with the Owners Corporation (such as the one in the Strata Hub) and any affiliated social media accounts.

At a recent General Meeting I was chairing for a 58lot residential scheme within a Building Management Committee (BMC), there had been upheaval when a committee member was bullying other members (including myself), which escalated to email blasts spreading mistruths about the committee and our conduct to all owners. The other committee members felt unsafe physically, in the common property and in their home as there was no rest, no safe space, or no protection. A general meeting was called, the offender was removed from the committee, and another committee member resigned due to mental health issues from the events. Unfortunately, we cannot fill their two vacant positions out of fear from other owners, and it will take months to reverse that damage. The Owners Corporation are now implementing a communications bylaw and code of conduct for committee members; however, it shouldn’t have to gotten to that point to put in protections that should be standard.

A code of conduct for committee members and a communications by-law are not luxury additions; they are pivotal in an Owners Corporation operating appropriately.

We are in the people business; we are supporting communities that deserve to be protected.

Just like Hank in unit 20 cannot yell and scream at Edith in unit 13, so he should not be allowed to attack her online. Or, maybe Phil would have held his tongue or chosen softer words in his altercation with Stuart over the fence, however after half a bottle of Shiraz on a Friday night, he decided to pick up his phone and tell him exactly what he thinks instead with little repercussion.

If we want engaged, mentally well and undistracted communities and managers, the least we can do as an industry is put in greater protections and let offenders know that this is something to be taken seriously. There will always be conflict and aggressors; there will always be bullies, we cannot stop them from existing. However, we can create a stronger support structure to help communities thrive through simple additions to the model by-laws and the legislation.

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