Living in a strata can sometimes feel very restrictive. Especially if there’s been a complaint against you. Here, we’ll provide tips for navigating issues in your strata.
Something to keep in mind before making a complaint
“When the new couple moved in next door, I was convinced they were having loud parties every night. These would stretch on till well after bedtime. And it would stretch my patience! I sat down to write an email complaint to the strata manager. But instead of finishing that letter, I decided to pop over, knock on their door, and talk to them about it. Turns out they’d installed the speakers on their new TV wrong. We cleared it up in no time. Now I can sleep peacefully again."
– Alexei, Burnaby
Is this something severe or simply annoying? That is the question to ask yourself. Loud music and barking animals can be disruptive, but they may be one-off events, or have relatively simple fixes. Maybe your neighbour has no idea you can hear the music. Maybe that animal is a new puppy that will soon grow out of puppydom.
If you see someone breaking a strata law (for example, smoking in a common area), you can politely remind them that it’s against the rules. But these situations are sometimes delicate. Another option is to ask council if you can attend the next strata meeting to raise this particular issue. There you can suggest solutions, like additional signage in common areas. This helps ensure that everyone hears the same information and has a shared understanding of the problem.
When you bring a complaint, there’s a process to follow
A strata council can’t just issue fines or sue owners without due process. There are steps that have to be followed to ensure that the rules are properly understood and that all sides are heard:
- A complaint should be made in writing to the council. It is easier for council to document that a complaint has been made if it is in writing.
- The council must give the alleged offender notice in writing of the complaint.
- The alleged offender gets a chance to respond.
- Then, council makes a decision on whether the bylaw was breached and, if so, how it will enforce the bylaw or rule.
Enforcement can take many forms, but it has to fit the complaint.
Say the alleged offender — let’s call him Axl — got up to something that caused very minor damage. In that case a simple warning may be appropriate. But if Axl did something more serious, he may be asked to pay for the repairs. Here’s a list of common enforcement tools.
- Issue a warning.
- Levy a fine. And it can’t be an arbitrary amount — check out the maximum amounts allowed under the law.
- Restrict access to common property. For example, this could be banning Axl from the gym, if he was working out at 2 am to heavy metal music on a boombox.
- Remedy the problem and make the offender pay for it. If there was damage to other units or to common areas, the strata council may ask Axl to pay for it. Water damage is a common culprit here. The good news is, stratas, by law, must have insurance. The bad news is, the deductible for water damage (that’s the minimum amount that has to be paid by the strata for the insurance company to pay for repairs) can be tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Know your deductibles!
Let’s say you get a plumber to work on your kitchen pipes. The pipes burst and water leaks into the common gym below, damaging the entire ceiling and equipment to the tune of $75,000. You think, “That’s rough, but I have insurance and so does the strata, so I should be covered for this.” Turns out, the strata’s insurance, which will cover the damage to the gym, requires the building to pay a $50,000 deductible for any water damage. The strata wants you to pay for it. But your personal insurance only covers deductibles for water damage up to $25,000. That means the remaining $25,000 is on you. You can try to fight the strata on this — saying it was their fault the pipes burst. Or you can ask the plumber to pay up. But this will be a legal headache that’ll take a while to resolve and probably require the advice of a lawyer.
Step 1. Try talking first
And try not to do it when you’re really upset. Prepare your talking points in advance, or write a letter. If you can get the issue resolved without involving the strata council, it could save you time and pain.
Step 2. Make your complaint in writing
Be factual and to the point. Include dates and times of the infractions, and photo evidence if you have it. If you’d like to stay anonymous, let the council know. (Though there’s no guarantee they can keep you that way, especially if the accused party wants more information.)
Step 3. Let the council do their work
Don’t ask them for updates every day. Dispute resolution takes time. Be patient.
Step 4. If you disagree, you can appeal
An appeal can be filed with the Civil Resolution Tribunal for a wide variety of disputes. This is often your best option — it’s done online, moves faster than traditional court, and doesn’t require a lawyer. But there are situations where the CRT doesn’t have jurisdiction and you must go to BC Supreme Court. You can learn more about what’s involved in a Supreme Court lawsuit from this BC Government primer.
Step 1. Read the complaint
Then put it down. Grab a coffee or glass of water. And read it again. You may be annoyed or angry; that’s normal. But take a step back and think about whether you might actually be in the wrong.
Step 2. If the complaint is severe, you might want to get professional advice
Talking to a lawyer can give you some perspective. Yes, lawyers can be expensive. But it may be worth the investment to know how to best respond to a complaint. You can try to keep the scope of your lawyer’s work narrow. Tell them exactly what you do and don’t want help with. This is called unbundling, and can save you quite a bit of money in legal fees. At the very least, you may be able to consult with a lawyer for a nominal consult fee and they can give you information and options to handle the issue.
THE STRATA’S LAWYER
If the strata’s lawyer is involved, they're not on your side. They act on behalf of the strata. Anything you tell them could be used against you.
Step 3. Make your case
You don’t have to answer immediately, but your council will typically ask you to respond by a certain date. Ignoring the complaint is never a good idea. When you do respond, be concise and professional. And if you’re forthcoming, the council may only give you a warning. Sometimes admitting fault is OK.
Step 4. If you disagree, you can appeal
Ask for a written rationale for their decision. And if you disagree, you can appeal. Your appeal can be filed with the Civil Resolution Tribunal for a wide variety of disputes. This is often your best option for quicker and less expensive resolution — it’s done online and you don’t need a lawyer. There are situations where the CRT doesn’t have jurisdiction. and you must go to BC Supreme Court. You can learn more about what’s involved in a Supreme Court lawsuit from this BC Government primer.
The Condominium Home Owners Association of BC is a non-profit that promotes the understanding of strata property living and the interests of strata property owners.
The Vancouver Island Strata Owners Association provides education, resources and support to owners and councils on the Island.
For more detailed information on appealing decisions of your strata council, check out the BC Government’s primer on Resolving Strata Disputes.
If you’re looking for a lawyer to help you with a strata issue, try Access Pro Bono’s Lawyer Referral Service, which can provide a free 30-minute session.
Call Access Pro Bono at 1-800-663-1919
Book a consult online