Condo Smarts: Conversion of two units to one should be approved if conditions met

Dear Tony: We purchased two older units next to each other in September of last year with the intention of combining them into one larger unit for our family.

Since our purchase, the strata council has done nothing but obstruct our attempts to conduct alterations and block our ability to consolidate our two strata lots, and has insisted that we will be required to pay higher strata fees.

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They have refused to grant permission for the removal of a section of wall between the units, even though we have obtained a structural engineering report and a building permit for the work. The wall is not structural and does not contain any services, such as plumbing or venting, that could affect our two units or another strata lot.

This was a significant investment intended to raise our family in an affordable setting and has turned into a disaster. Are there some options to force the strata council to co-operate with our request and resolve this?

Maria and George C., Vancouver

Strata corporations are naturally reluctant to allow the removal of walls between units or above and below units.

There are many buyers who try to flip units quickly by doing quick-fix alterations and changes. Then the next buyer comes along and discovers there are problems with mechanical services, the walls were, in fact, structural and supporting, the ventilation has significantly changed or the plumbing — water delivery or drainage — has been altered.

Both the new owner and the strata corporation are often left with damages and liability to remedy the unauthorized alterations.

Owners who want to remove all or part of a wall that is a common boundary between two strata lots require the written approval of the strata corporation.

Provided the owner complies with building regulations and any applicable municipal or regional bylaws, and does not interfere with the provision of utilities or other services to any other strata lot or common property, and provides copies of any required building permits to the strata corporation, the strata corporation must grant the permission.

Documents and plans certified by an engineer that verify the scope of the work in detail, address building-code requirements, and include the required building permits would be a minimal standard for a strata council to request.

If the strata council does not act reasonably, Strata Property Act provisions can be enforced with an application through the Civil Resolution Tribunal.

It would be beneficial to request a hearing with the strata council, which can be conducted electronically. You may wish to retain a lawyer to be present at your hearing to determine what conditions, if any, are not being met, or if the strata is simply refusing to comply with the act.

The unit entitlement or size of the two strata lots remains the same, as well as the voting rights of one vote per strata lot. There is no increase in strata fees, as the habitable area of each strata lot has not been changed. As the owner, you continue to pay the same strata fee entitlement for the two strata lots.

Any other changes within the strata lot, such as removal of a kitchen or update or remodelling of bathrooms or internal walls and rooms, all require the permission of the strata corporation. Detailed drawings and plans should be provided to help the strata council make a decision.

Changes to electrical systems, plumbing and ventilation can also have a significant effect on the use and enjoyment of other strata lots.

During the COVID-19 restrictions, many strata corporations are encouraging owners to delay alterations to strata lots to reduce construction activity within their buildings and reduce the transiency of contractors and trades.

The level of caution your strata council is exercising is prudent; however, under normal conditions, they do have an obligation to grant permission within a timely manner.

Tony Gioventu is executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association.

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