Condominium housing makes up an increasingly large percentage of British Columbia’s housing inventory and BC now has around half a million residential strata lots (this doesn’t include the growing number of mixed-use and commercial stratas). Roughly 29,000 strata corporations now operate in BC and there will likely be more in the future as the demand for urban higher-density housing grows.
Despite the rising popularity of this kind of housing ownership, however, many people remain unaware of what strata lot ownership entails. This post serves as an introduction to stratas and seeks to shed light on some of the issues that owners typically face.
Is There a Difference Between a Condominium and a Strata?
If you’re a bit confused about the terminology – and who isn’t – know that strata and condominium ownership are one and the same. BC just happened to adopt the term from the Australians, who enacted strata title legislation back in the ‘60s, and has stuck with it since.
What Exactly is Strata Title?
Strata title is a type of property ownership, which as defined by the Real Estate Council of British Columbia, “is designed to provide exclusive use and ownership of a specific housing unit (the strata lot) which is contained in a larger property (the strata project), plus shared use and ownership of the common areas.” In other words, as a strata owner you hold the title to your individual unit and you also have a proportionate share of the common property, which are typically common areas such as the grounds, elevators, halls, recreational spaces, etc.
To sum it up, the owners of the strata lots in the strata titled property make up the strata corporation. The corporation is responsible for the management and maintenance of the common property and assets, which is typically enacted by a strata council. The council is elected by the corporation’s eligible voters at every annual general meeting. Most corporations also hire a strata manager to help make the council’s job easier.
Are Strata Corporations in BC the Same as HOAs in the US?
While they are similar, the main difference is the fact that the members of a strata corporation in BC all have a proportional ownership share of the common property, while members of an HOA in the US don’t. In the US, it is the HOA that owns the common areas and the homeowners in that particular community have the right to use them, subject to whatever covenants and restrictions are in place. Whereas strata corporation members have an ownership interest in the common areas and the strata fees that they pay go towards the management and maintenance of what is essentially their joint property.
What Laws Govern Strata Properties?
The main set of laws governing stratas is the Strata Property Act and Regulations. Note that amendments have been made to the Act since it was first implemented, the details of which can be found here: http://www.housing.gov.bc.ca/strata/regs/index.htm. Also note that the Act specifies that all strata corporations must have bylaws. Every corporation will start out with the Standard Bylaws that are detailed in the Act, though sometimes these will already have been amended by the Owner Developer. Among the other legislation that can affect stratas are the Real Estate Services Act, the Human Rights Code, the Residential Tenancy Act, and other local government bylaws.
Corporations also have their own particular set of bylaws, including those that regulate whether or not pets or rentals are permitted, which is why it’s so important for would-be buyers to review a strata complex’s bylaws and rules before they invest in a unit there. The creation and amendment of these bylaws follows a specific procedure, which involves getting majority vote approval, the proper dissemination of information, and filing at the Land Title Office.
What Are My Rights and Responsibilities as an Owner?
When you invest in a strata lot in a strata-titled property, you should be aware that along with all the right and conveniences of strata living comes an attendant set of responsibilities. As for owners’ rights, these include:
- The right to vote at a general meeting
- To ask for particular records from the strata council
- Direct the strata council and place limitations on its power by majority vote at general meetings
- Request general meetings so long as it is petitioned by 20% of owners
- Obtain insurance
- Seek a court or arbitration order to:
– Stop/prevent unfair acts of the strata corporation/council
– Prevent a person holding over 50% of the votes from voting
– Require the corporation to perform a duty covered by the Act, Regulations, bylaws or rules
– Require the corporation to stop violating the Act, Regulations, bylaws or rules
Owners are responsible for:
- Paying regular strata fees on the designated date
- Maintaining and repairing their strata lot as well as limited common property
- Observing the bylaws and rules
- Using the property in a manner required by the bylaws
- Paying special fees if they have been ratified by the required vote
You should know that strata corporations are self-governing, so you should be prepared to play an active role, whether by sitting on the strata council or by ensuring that you are present for important meetings and that you understand the bylaws and rules. You as well as the other owners have a personal stake in making sure that your investment in the property is protected and you should bear in mind that whatever decisions will be made will affect everyone. In short, it’s best to always keep the greater good of the corporation in mind. A well-run strata corporation benefits everyone – it enhances the quality of life of all the residents and boosts property values in the long run.
Where/To Whom Do I Complain?
Strata corporations govern themselves in accordance with the Strata Property Act and are responsible for enforcing the Act’s provisions. If you have any complaints, whether about your neighbor/s, strata council, strata manager, or a particular bylaw amendment, there are several ways to resolve them. You are advised to communicate directly with your strata council or get a resolution through arbitration or the courts. Generally speaking, it’s best to exhaust all other avenues before opting for litigation and it’s always a good idea to consult a real estate professional knowledgeable in strata matters as early as possible.
The Act contains provisions on complaint resolution so you should consult it as well as your strata corporation’s bylaws if you’re not clear about how to proceed. According to the Act, for example, strata lot owners can require a special general meeting or propose a resolution if they have the written support of at least 20% of the strata corporation’s votes. Other things to keep in mind:
- You are allowed to vote by proxy, which is a right that strata corporations cannot prohibit.
- If a complaint has been filed against you for the breach of a bylaw or rule, you have the right to respond to it and to challenge it before it is enforced.
- If you have an issue with the fees you’re paying or about special assessments, check the registered strata plan, which will contain the schedule of unit entitlement.
- If you’re considering a major alteration that you think may impact common property, always ask your council or review the bylaws and rules first.
- The Land Title Office does not review whether or not the bylaws filed with them are valid or enforceable.
If you need more information on stratas and strata living or if you’re unhappy with your current situation and you’d like to talk to an expert, contact Jason Wood today.