Many strata corporations hire property-management companies to run their strata complexes.
It's an understandable move, says Sandy Wagner, president of the Vancouver Island Strata Owners' Association.
"Just look at the demographics of strata dwellers," says Wagner.
"We either have seniors who are tired of working or young people who have no time to be involved because they have two jobs."
Sometimes, hiring a property-management company is the only way things get done. Condo owners pay a proportional share of common expenses. The monthly fees typically pay for taxes, insurance, janitorial services, landscape maintenance and bank and legal fees. Some of the assessment goes toward a reserve fund for short-and long-term replacement items, such as carpeting and roofs.
If the work doesn't deter hardy individuals, dealing with the legal complexities that come with running a strata might. With 58 pages of regulations and 126 pages of fine print, the B.C. Strata Property Act is not a light bedside read.
But hiring a management company is not without pitfalls.
While there are 1,176 individuals in B.C. who are licensed in strata management, there is no rating system to weed out the bad ones.
The Real Estate Council of B.C. regulates the licensing of strata managers in this province. The licensing requirement has been in effect since 2006. The educational component of the course is via correspondence through the University of B.C. Sauder School of Business and takes about a year to complete.
Having a licence doesn't guarantee that someone is a good manager, however, says Heidi Marshall, communications manager of the Vancouver Island branch of the Condominium Home Owners Association of B.C. "Stratas still need to enter into any contract [to manage a complex] with their eyes open."
She says stratas need to ensure the person or company they hire is the best one for them.
"The majority of problems are the result of miscommunication," she says. "Typically, difficulties arise because contracts are [not clear]."
The contract should spell out what is expected by all parties. Who is going to attend meetings and take minutes? Who is responsible for submitting records and forms when a unit is sold? Who does the banking? Who determines and collects fees and special assessments?
Finally, how much will all of this cost?
Depending on the tasks they are asked to perform, professional strata management companies charge $25 to $40 per unit per month. While the fee adds up for mid-size to large complexes, many companies turn down requests to manage smaller stratas of 10 to 12 units.
Most experts agree it would be prudent to a consult a lawyer before signing off on any management contract.
"Some companies like to tell stratas the contract they propose is cast in stone," says Wagner. "It's not. It's up to council to draft a contract that specifies the services they want."
Marshall agrees: "The contract should be negotiated. It needs to reflect [the interests of] both parties."
When disagreements happen between councils and management companies, a well-worded contract that spells out remedies for problems, such as a breach of conditions, can make it easier to find a resolution or cause for termination.
Licensing with the Real Estate Council of B.C. means strata managers have insurance for errors and omissions as well as an avenue for strata councils or the public to lodge complaints. The council regularly posts the results of disciplinary decisions and withdrawals from the industry on its website. It also has an online guide, Working With a Strata Management Company, that answers common questions (see link at right).
Some experts argue that, with guidance, a wellorganized strata can save money by managing a complex themselves.
Fewer than half of the 500 strata complexes in the Vancouver Island Strata Owners' Association are administered by an outside company; the others manage their complexes on their own, via individual owners who pitch in to do the work, from accounting to cleaning carpets and landscaping.
The association - a nonprofit, volunteer-run organization that provides education and support to its members - cites as the ideal model for strata selfmanagement a 94-unit complex in downtown Victoria that has so many people willing to help out, it even has a committee to co-ordinate the committees active in the building.
"It's just takes people who are willing to live cooperatively," says Wagner. "In a complex that size, typically only 12 to 15 are willing to do council jobs.
It's a case of 'Many hands make light work.' It can be done."
Vancouver Island Strata Owners' Association: www.visoa.bc.ca
Condominium Home Owners Association of B.C.: www.choa.bc.ca
Real Estate Council of B.C.: www.recbc.ca
Working With a Strata Management Company guide: www.recbc.ca/consumer/ stratamanagement.html
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