Was the email defamatory? Which case won?
Tenant fails to keep letterbox locked at time of increase in theft of mail
The chairperson of the strata committee and the tenant lived in the same strata building. The tenant had recently moved into the complex and did not always lock her letterbox.
There was an increase of mailbox theft in the area and the chairperson was of the view that if all residents were to lock their letterboxes, it would reduce the chance of theft of mail.
Emails sent to tenant by chairperson of strata committee
The chairperson sent an email direct to the tenant on 31 August 2016, noting that her mailbox was unlocked: “I notice your mailbox has been left unlocked for quite a while?”
On 10 April 2017, when media reports emerged about mail thefts in the area, the chairperson again emailed the tenant directly about her mailbox being open.
Mailboxes broken into and further emails sent to residents
The mailboxes of the complex were broken into on two occasions, first in April and then in May 2017.
On each occasion the chairperson sent an email to all the residents, including the tenant, asking them to keep their mailboxes locked. Attached to one of those emails was an article from the Daily Mail on the potential for fraud originating from stolen mail.
On 24 May 2017, the chairperson sent a further email direct to the tenant, this time copying the email to the managing real estate agent, noting that the mailbox had again been left open for the last few days.
The email went on to suggest that “it is probable that your insistence in leaving the mailbox open during many months is the likely cause [of the break ins]” and that “the Owners Corporation may have to have all the mailboxes rekeyed”.
The email concluded that if that “serious expense” had to be incurred, then there was a “real possibility” that the strata committee “would – and should – seek compensation from [you]”.
Tenant claims she has been menaced, threatened and harassed
On 25 May 2017, the tenant sent an email to the chairperson responding to his email, which she copied to most of the owners of the units in the building (16 residents in total). As part of that email, she pasted in the text of several emails that the chairperson had previously sent to her and complained that she had been “harassed” by his “many emails”.
She also insinuated that perhaps the chairperson himself had been responsible for the break ins, stating:
Did you open the front panel… ? It has not gone unnoticed that the panel to all the mailboxes was opened only following your months of campaigning to have all residents comply with your demands!
The email ended with the following words.
To avoid further harassment, I’ve not replied to your provoking mailbox emails. However, your consistent attempt to shame me publicly is cowardly. It is also offensive, harassing and menacing through the use of technology to threaten me. Please stop.
The chairperson sued the tenant in the District Court of NSW for defamation, seeking significant damages.