What is a strata?
In Vancouver, the most common form of strata housing is a condo. Typically these are apartments, townhouses, duplexes or even single family homes owned by a governing body known as the strata corporation – or strata for short. However, a strata can also be land, just rarely in Vancouver. When you buy one of these properties, you become a co-owner of the self-governed, strata corporation and, as such, you are held accountable, alongside other owners, for certain fees, duties and responsibilities. And, in the eyes of the law, the strata corporation can do everything of a legal nature that an individual can do like buy goods and services, sue or be sued.
What are my responsibilities as a strata-owner?
As one of the owners, you are responsible for:
- Approving an annual budget and electing a strata council.
- Shared responsibility for the administration of the corporation, including taxation and adherence to the Strata Property Act.
- The upkeep, maintenance, repairs and general appearance of the entire strata complex.
- Respecting and following the strata by-laws.
The Strata Council will normally hire other companies to perform property maintenance and accounting responsibilities. However, if there is a willing owner with an accounting background, they can volunteer to perform this function.
What are strata fees?
Financially, as an owner, you will be responsible for paying monthly strata fees. These fees can cover all sorts of shared expenses like:
- Building maintenance (repairs, power washing, painting, window washing, snow removal)
- Building amenities (gym, pool etc.)
- Some utilities
What they cover can vary significantly from strata to strata so make sure you find out what is included in these fees.
A portion of these fees must also go to the Contingency Reserve Fund (CRF) to pay for common expenses that occur less frequently or not at all. Currently in BC, The Strata Property regulations require that the CRF must have a minimum level of funding equivalent to 25% of the annual operating fund.
In addition, owners can be called upon to pay special levies for matters affecting the strata corporation, including the repair and maintenance of common property and assets like replacing the roof or upgrading an elevator if contingency funds do not cover it. However, 75% of the strata must approve the collection of such a levy.
What are Strata by-laws?
Each strata can establish bylaws that owners and renters must follow. These might include bans on pets, smoking, barbecues and even rentals and/or outline what repairs are the responsibility of the strata vs. unit owner. They can even go so far as to dictate acceptable window coverings. If you do not comply with the strata by-laws, you risk facing disciplinary action including fines.
Who is responsible for repairs?
This will vary from strata to strata but in general, the strata corporation will be responsible for repairing items that are collectively shared like a roof or sprinkler system or anything else defined as common property (any part of the development shown on the strata plan that is not part of an individual strata unit) or limited common property (a part of the common property designated on the strata plan for the exclusive use of one or more strata units like balconies or parking spots).
For more information on Repairs & Maintenance in a Strata, click here.
What rights do I have as a strata owner?
As a part owner of the strata, it is important for you to ensure the strata corp is held accountable and acts responsibly on matters concerning the entire strata property or individual owners or units. You have many of the same rights as a traditional home owner but as a co-owner of a strata corporation, you should think of your fellow owners as business partners as well as neighbours.
As such you have the right to:
- Vote at any general meeting.
- Request and receive certain records from the strata council.
- Instruct the strata council by majority vote at general meetings.
- Limit the power of the strata council by majority vote at general meetings.
- Call for general meetings with a petition of a certain percentage of the owners
- Add items to the agenda at general meetings with a petition of a certain percentage of the owners.
- Seek a court or arbitration order against unfair acts of the strata corporation or strata council.
- Go to the Civil Resolution Tribunal, to enforce the strata council to follow the Strata Property Act, regulations, bylaws or rules or to resolve a conflict.
Make sure you review strata documents carefully before purchasing a condo to understand all your obligations, financial viability of the strata corporation (some are better managed than others), size of the contingency fund (for emergencies) and what is covered by strata fees. If you are renting from an owner, make sure they share the strata by-laws with you so you can be a good neighbour!
To gain a thorough understanding of Strata corporations, reference the BC Government website, Understanding Stratas.