Last week, I wrote about dealing with “difficult residents” in strata, ranging from “know-it-alls” to “criminals”.

As community living becomes an increasingly popular option for a large percentage of the population, strata managers are dealing with all walks of life on a daily basis. From time to time, this may include people known or suspected to be on the wrong side of the law.

How does a strata manager – particularly a female strata manager – retain their confidence, professionalism and, above all, ensure their own personal safety, when dealing with this category of strata resident?

Strata meetings are often held at night, in unfamiliar surrounds, attended by few people. It is not uncommon for female managers to find themselves chairing a meeting in a room comprised solely of men, save for themselves. I have attended many such meetings, boosting the female contingent to two. Leaving aside for the time being how such a situation comes to pass (a topic for another post), for some managers this can be intimidating. Add to that a known or suspected criminal, who openly expresses disregard for the bounds of the law and uses their physicality to stand over others.

Some practical tips for those who might find themselves in such a situation:-

  • to the extent you can control the timing and location of the meeting, do so. Suggest to your committee that the meeting takes place in your office, or some other ‘neutral ground’ or public place, where you will have immediate access to colleagues or be in full view of members of the public. There is nothing like publicity to curb bad behaviour.
  • if it is possible to hold the meeting at a location covered by CCTV cameras, all the better. And don’t forget to point them out to the meeting, even innocently: “wow, I never knew there was a camera up there, aren’t they getting so small these days?”
  • express your feelings and concerns to your employer or a senior member of your organisation. If they are supportive, they will take steps to relieve you of this burden, including appointing a different manager to that particular building;
  • if you are in the presence of bad behaviour, don’t forget your smart phone is a very powerful evidence-gathering tool. If you are able to do so safely, get the video rolling, or take photographs if an incident has just occurred and there is property damage or injury. Not only does it record the incident for later use in evidence, the perpetrator’s behaviour may change once they realise it is being recorded – or alternatively, serve as a reminder to them to reign it in next time;
  • if you feel threatened, harassed or intimidated you are entitled to approach the police and seek an apprehended violence order (“AVO”). When it comes to ensuring your personal safety, that should always be your first and most important step. If you are nervous about taking it, obtain the representation of a lawyer who can assist you with the process and act as intermediary with the police. There are likely to be other residents in the building who have experienced the same bad behaviour and may be willing to band with you in standing up to the bully. Your employer should also fully support this approach to the police.
  • if ever you know, or even suspect, that the law is being broken, a call to the police is in order. Sometimes you can make that call, sometimes it is for you to advise the committee or resident to make that call. Go with your gut and don’t ignore any nagging feelings that you should be doing more than you are. When it comes to the personal safety of yourself and those around you, you can never be too cautious.

Bullies gain their power from the silence of their victims. There is safety in numbers and a solid support structure is vital. Share your experiences with those around you, including your employer, colleagues and committee members. Don’t be afraid to say you’re afraid. Everyone is entitled to feel safe, particularly in the course of their work. 

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