The basis of the Residential Strata Plan is shared ownership of Common Property. This varies depending on the design; whether semi-detached townhomes or apartment building style condominiums.
In general terms, where most of the common property for a townhouse complex is the grounds, landscaping and building exteriors, a condominium building can also have hallways and elevators and often, common heating and hot water systems among several others.
Shared ownership means shared responsibility for the common property’s maintenance and this is where the requirements of the Strata Property Act have a direct impact on each owner’s freedom of choice. In purchasing a strata property, buyers relinquish their right to choose how they want to maintain the common property areas and building systems, and must hand the responsibility over to the Strata Corporation to manage. This is the law.
However, as “shareholders” within the Strata Corporation, the owners have every right to make their opinions known about the maintenance and operations of the common property. What they give up in personal choice they gain back in the opportunity to involve themselves in likely, the most personal exercise in democracy they have ever experienced. This is the “nub” of Strata ownership.
It is also the “rub”, as many owners and Strata Councils have discovered. Although owners have the right to renovate the interiors of their units (with potential restrictions) they cannot make changes to any aspect or use of the Common Property without prior approval from the Corporation.
Any prospective buyer is well advised to review the success (or failure) of this democratic process by thoroughly reading the Strata Corporation’s rules and bylaws, and reviewing at least a year’s worth of the Council meeting minutes.
Present Strata owners must remind themselves that, if they don’t choose to exercise their right to be involved in the process, they have little right to complain.
John Grubb is a Property Maintenance Consultant serving Strata Corporations and building owners on Vancouver Island.
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