A Gold Coast body corporate that filed court proceedings to recover unpaid levies of $28k has claimed the owner should also pay $206k for “recovery costs”.
The claim – filed in the Southport Magistrates Court in October 2020 – initially included $66k for legal expenses incurred with two firms of solicitors by the Labrador condominium complex for recovery of the debt since June 2012.
So incensed by the extent of legal costs and the rate of charges, owner Peter Christophi had filed his own proceedings in September 2016 seeking a Supreme Court declaration to deny Cherwood Lodge Body Corporate – and its solicitors – the right to rack up “recovery costs” at his expense. Those proceedings had though laid dormant following the owner’s “involuntarily hospitalisation” shortly after.
The Southport claim – accompanied by an application for summary judgment – was transferred to the Supreme Court and both actions came before Justice David Jackson in Brisbane in November 2020.
Justice Jackson gave judgement to Cherwood for the $28k debt and ordered that an independent costs assessor be appointed to referee an appropriate amount for “recovery costs”.
That assessor – Luke Short – reported the costs at $206k, well in excess of the sum the body corporate had claimed.
Then followed a further fight in October that came before Justice Helen Bowskill. Cherwood claimed the delinquent owner should pay the $206k that Mr Short had totalled up while Christophi sought an order through his litigation guardian that the assessment be rejected.
Concluding the sum was “somewhat staggering – even more so when compared with the amount claimed,” Her Honour ruled that Mr Short’s assessment should not be accepted because he appeared to have included the costs of the proceeding and other skirmishes between the parties in his calculations.
She invited the parties to agree a reasonable amount and questioned “the logic of spending more money” in the context of a judgement having already been obtained for the modest $28k debt.
“Unfortunately I was informed no agreement could be reached in that regard,” she observed in disappointment.
That said, the parties did agree on the appointment of a new costs assessor to determine – according to Her Honour’s specific direction – the costs of only that work strictly related to the recovery of the unpaid contributions and to the 2020 proceedings begun in the Magistrates Court.
She also endeavoured to fix the costs that the body corporate should pay Mr Christophi’s litigation guardian for the hearing and the legal work over the preceding 6 days “to prevent even further costs of an assessment”.
That though proved impossible when she was provided from the bar table the figure of $30k, an amount she regarded “as frankly excessive”.
Remarking “that the parties can no longer be said to be conducting themselves consistently with rule 5 of the UCPR” she urged them and their lawyers to adopt a “pragmatic approach…to limit as much as possible the further incurring of expense in relation to this dispute”.