My year on strata council
by Miina Piir
I wish to provide a comment on having been a member of a strata council, as this is often a thankless task. I volunteered to be on my strata council because there were issues that our strata had to deal with. I started out as the Vice President, but early on the President had to resign due to health reasons, and I had to take on the job. I had an excellent team to work with, but we had our challenges.
First, I learned that I had to be conversant with the Strata Property Act (SPA) – the SPA was my bible. I have learned that stratas have difficulties because we are self-regulated. Owners will often follow the SPA when it is to their convenience, but when it is not they will ignore it. Some owners complain that the SPA is too difficult to understand, and others just do not take the time to understand it. Councils that do try and follow the SPA also encounter grief from owners who accuse them of being militant. As a result I firmly agree with VISOA’s stance on two issues: One is the lack of a publicly available source of legislation interpretation to enable strata owners to operate their strata corporations according to the law. Two is the lack of access to an inexpensive dispute resolution mechanism.
Second, I learned that the term “Maintenance - Free Living” is not true. Someone has to do the work. I may not need to mow a lawn, fix a fence, or clean the gutters, but someone still has to take the time to make the phone calls and obtain quotes from contractors, and then council has to choose a service provider. Once a contractor is found, someone has to do the quality control and liaise with the contractor to ensure that the work is completed, and done to the standard agreed upon. Please remember to thank those who volunteer on your council – it is because of these volunteers stepping up to the plate that you enjoy “Maintenance-Free Living”. This is especially true of self-managed stratas. If some maintenance is done by owner volunteers to help keep down the costs, be especially grateful for these people as the cost of contracted labor is very expensive and these individuals are saving you money.
Third, I learned that if you think strata bylaws or rules are too stringent
and believe that owners should be allowed to do as they like, maybe strata
living is not for you. I now realize why bylaws may allow only “white curtains” or “green furniture on patios or balconies”. It is difficult to enforce a rule that has too many exceptions. Sometimes for the sake of ensuring ease of enforcement the rule must be strict. It is also important to remember that you share the strata property with others and to take into account that your personal tastes may not reflect those of other owners.
Fourth, I learned that alteration agreements are important. Why? It is to
protect all owners from future liability. If alteration/ improvements fail
they must be repaired and all damage caused must be made right. Ultimately the owners are all financially responsible in proportion to
their unit entitlement, if an individual cannot be held responsible. Sometimes insurance may be in effect to cover losses, but the deductible will be the responsibility of the owners.
Fifth, if I ever buy in another strata, I have learned to recognize that low strata fees may not necessarily be a good thing. I now know that the amount set aside in fees for the CRF is critical. I would rather pay more in fees now and know a greater portion went to the CRF, than have a levy in the future where I may be forced to have another mortgage. Yet I also know that in the long run what I pay really is not that much. The difference is that in a well run strata we are planning for the future, whereas if I owned a single home and did not do regular maintenance, I might be forced to get a loan if I had not planned ahead by saving for a rainy day.
Finally I have learned that it is our responsibility as owners, not just strata council, to be familiar with the SPA. I feel that many of the nightmare stories about councils occur because we as owners do not take the time to be conversant with the SPA, or owners pick and chose from the SPA what best fits their personal wants. I had my critics who were not on council. It
was interesting to observe that when our AGM came around, some of the owners who were the more persistent critics were unwilling to step up
and serve. Some owners would rather sit back and criticize and let others to
do the work instead of getting up and offering a helping hand. My sage advice to anyone who lives in a strata is: take the time to serve on council and understand the challenges. Then you will also understand the costs involved in running a strata, and the importance of compromising
individual interests for the sake of the other owners in the strata. Take
the time to read the SPA. It is one of your responsibilities as an owner. If
you find that the rules of strata living are too strict, maybe strata living really is not your cup of tea. I do not regret the time I have served on council, because it has helped me to get to know other owners better, and to know those owners who truly care about their strata. I know I am not the only one who wants to ensure that we continue to be well-managed.
Miina Piir is a VISOA member from Courtenay, BC