Owner Driven Renovations

We offer the following “editorial” commentary on the relationship between individual owners and the Strata Corporation when it comes to making changes to their units.

The Strata Property Act, in our opinion, does not define this relationship very clearly, and many Strata owners are unaware of their obligations to the Corporation when making changes to their unit’s internal infrastructure. Many Strata Directors have little appreciation of the potential consequences when owners make changes without informing, and gaining the approval of the Council.

The windows, for example, “belong” to the Corporation as part of the building envelope, and not to the individual owners as part of their units. Under the Act, they may not make choices unilaterally and simply change the windows out for a system they consider more appropriate.

Aside from issues around a uniform colour, style and type of window suitable to the complex, there is the significantly more important issue of proper installation and meeting some very stringent requirements dictated by the latest Building Code and other local municipal regulations.

This is true of any other renovation work that an owner might wish to undertake, which entails relocation of Plumbing, Electrical or Interior/Exterior Structural Members. This also includes skylight installations and interior appliances that require penetrations through the building envelope for intake, exhaust or drainage.
Although many owners feel that the Strata has no jurisdiction over the interiors of their units, if planned renovations are anything more than cosmetic in nature, changes to any of these provincially regulated systems must be approved by the Corporation, and the owner is legally obligated to follow “the rules” surrounding Building, Plumbing and Electrical Permits and Inspections.

Because the Strata Corporation carries the responsibility, directly or indirectly, for the building structures and the many systems that serve each owner’s unit, it must act on behalf, and in the best interest of all the Owners.
Much as some individual owners might find it onerous, and think it overly meddlesome on the part of the Strata Council, to have to present any renovation plans and the appropriate engineer approved drawings, and Building, Plumbing and Electrical Permits for review and approval before they proceed with the work, they must appreciate that the Corporation, and the rest of the Owners, may be subject to the financial consequences of anything that goes wrong.

The single most important difference between ownership of a single-family home and a Strata lot is that, in a Strata, each owner gives up his or her right of autonomy. Where an individual home owner may choose to ignore the “rules” and accept the consequences of poor construction methods and/or materials, the owner of a Strata lot has a legal obligation to the Corporation, defined in the SPA, to ensure that the work is carried out in an appropriate manner.

In turn, the Strata Corporation, and its Directors, has a fiduciary obligation to its Owners to ensure that any individual’s renovation plans meet all the legal requirements that apply to it when any changes are made to these essential systems. It is entirely within the Corporation’s authority to reject any such plans although it cannot do so “unreasonably”. (This ambiguous term is, of course, open to broad interpretation, and may require a legal opinion to clarify any given case.)

It is, however, this statutory responsibility that gives the Corporation the legal right to review and have influence over the choices of the individual owner, and there are many documented cases where owners made changes without their Strata’s permission and were forced by Court Order to return their units to original condition. In some cases, this has amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars and more.

To consider this from another angle – individual owners will come and go, but the Strata Corporation will remain – and it is the Corporation that will have to deal with the things the owner(s) left behind – good or bad.

A new owner moving into a unit has a reasonable expectation that any changes made by the previous owner meet the various Code requirements, but it is the Corporation that will take the initial responsibility, and pay the financial consequences, if they do not. The Corporation has the legal right to protect itself, and each owner has a legal obligation to the Owners Group to “do no harm”.