In a recent District Court case, a lot owner was ordered to pay $90,000 in general damages, plus a further $30,000 for aggravated damages, for comments made in an email that was copied to other owners in her strata plan.
The defamatory email arose from a dispute about the owner leaving her mailbox open. The chairperson of the owners corporation sent several emails to the lot owner requesting that she close and lock her letterbox. The chairperson felt that leaving the box open increased the risk of mail fraud and break-ins.
The lot owner responded with an email, copied to other owners, which included the following statement:
… your consistent attempt to shame me publicly is cowardly. It is also offensive, harassing and menacing through the use of technology to threaten me.
Judge Gibson found that the lot owner had damaged the Chairperson’s reputation by incorrectly imputing that the chairperson:
- unreasonably harassed the lot owner by email
- acted menacingly towards the lot owner by email
- was a malicious person who sent threatening emails for the purpose of humiliating the lot owner; and
- was a small-minded busybody.
Similar disputes and email chains like the one in this case are all too common in strata living. Lot owners need to be careful about sending any correspondence that could harm another owner’s reputation. This particularly so when lot owners are tempted to broadcast emails to other owners, members of the strata committee and the strata manager.
David Sachs and Ben Johnson are experienced and sensible lawyers who can give you advice if you think you have been defamed or if you are concerned about how to communicate your complaints and objections.