Dear Tony: We are very confused about who is responsible for repairing a strata lot when there is a minor leak causing damage.
For example, a bird nest plugged one of our drains, resulting in a gutter overflowing and a unit being damaged because an owner left a window open.
The owner demanded that we do the repairs to their unit, which cost $3,500, well below our water deductible of $10,000.
On another occasion, an owner’s bathtub overflowed and the unit below sustained $6,000 in water damage. We were told by our manager that it was our responsibility to repair the unit and the strata would claim the $6,000 against the owner upstairs.
We are now being told by an owner that we are not responsible for these repairs and had no authority to spend the strata corporation’s money on repairs that were the responsibility of the owners.
When does the strata conduct repairs and when does the insurance apply to a claim? What if the strata does not want to file a claim and just pays for the repairs?
Marco F., Victoria
There is a great deal of confusion about the responsibility to maintain and repair, whether to file an insurance claim and who pays the costs. Everyone would like one solution to apply to all circumstances, yet there are several variables to consider.
The answer is partly determined by your bylaws and who or what was responsible for the problem. Before you can determine responsibility, you must review your bylaws.
The Schedule of Standard Bylaws of the Strata Property Act says maintenance and repairs to a strata lot are the responsibility of the strata-lot owner. However, this is a bylaw and not part of the act, and strata corporations have amended this provision.
The standard bylaw determines that in circumstances such as the overflowing bathtub or the gutter overflow through the open window, the owner of each strata lot is responsible for the damages in their unit.
If the amount was above the insurance-deductible value, a claim could have been filed, and, in the case of the gutter overflow, the deductible would have been paid as a common expense of the corporation.
In the case of the overflowed bathtub, the strata corporation pays the deductible and then recovers the $10,000 deductible from the owner who caused the problem.
There have been attempts to prevent owners from filing claims on the strata insurance to avoid increased insurance costs or increased deductible amounts.
However, an owner and tenant are deemed by the act to be named insureds on the strata policy, and as a named insured, the owner or tenant is entitled to file a claim.
While strata corporations try to amend their bylaws to prevent owner or tenant claims as named insureds, the result is an unenforceable bylaw, as it does not comply with the act.
The most important question a strata council or manager needs to pose is: “Where did we get the authority to spend this money?”
If an owner’s unit has been damaged, where did the strata get the authority to spend strata funds on an item that was clearly the responsibility of the owner under the bylaws?
A leaking tub that damages someone’s ceiling is generally not the responsibility of the strata corporation.
There might be circumstances such as a broken common property water line where the strata corporation is required to enter a unit, open a wall and repair the pipe. The damage was caused by a failure of a common property component and required the strata corporation to intervene and cause damage that required restoration.
If it was an insurable claim, the deductible is a common expense of the corporation with no counter claim for the deductible, and if it is below the deductible, the corporation repairs this item as an emergency expense.
As an owner, remember that if your unit was responsible for the claim for damages, or an insurance claim, you might be liable for these costs.
Purchase homeowner/landlord insurance to cover your personal contents, betterments and improvements to your strata lot, your personal liability and most important, deductible coverage in the event you are responsible for a strata claim.
Tony Gioventu is executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association.