Condo Smarts: Owner should have been consulted before tenant allowed to build walls

Dear Tony: I own a townhouse unit in Surrey that I have been renting out for the past 15 years with a reliable tenant.

I conducted routine inspections, and all seemed well until the tenant gave me notice two months ago. I did a final inspection to the unit and discovered the tenant had installed walls in the basement, creating several rooms that do not meet code.

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Strangely enough, the strata council had given the tenant permission to make the alterations. The removal of the walls and finishing is not a significant expense, but it raises an issue with our strata council and property manager.

Is a tenant eligible to make improvements to a strata lot without the consent of the owner? The property manager told us this is common, but it seems unfair that a tenant can alter a strata lot without the consent of the owner.

Danny R.

Altering a strata lot or common property is regulated under the standard bylaws of the Strata Property Act and any bylaw amendments properly adopted by your strata corporation.

The standard bylaws and almost every other set of bylaw amendments I have seen, including yours, require the written application by an owner of a strata lot for permission for alterations, along with the written approval of the strata corporation.

There is no provision in the bylaws for a tenant to make an application. The strata council did not comply with the requirement of the bylaws that the owner make the application.

I often see these types of errors occur simply because strata council members do not each have a set of the strata corporation bylaws, and the bylaws are not reviewed at a council meeting prior to any decisions being made. Like any owner or tenant, strata councils have a duty to comply with the provisions of the bylaws.

A variable that is often not acknowledged by strata councils and managers is the impact of the bylaws on non-residential/commercial strata lots. Owners who lease their units may have entered leasehold contracts that permit alterations or leasehold improvements by the tenants.

They may also grant the tenant the right to apply to the strata corporation for permission to alter the strata lot. However, owners of strata lots will always be liable for the actions and consequences of their tenants.

The best practice, whenever there is an application to alter a strata lot, is to first confirm that the person you are dealing with is a registered owner. Family members of owners are often assumed to be owners without verification via the property title.

When you receive an application from a tenant for an alteration, whether residential or non-residential, confirm with the owner that they endorse or approve the application and have consented to it.

Send all communications regarding the application to both the applicant and the owner of the strata lot. Require that any alteration agreements or conditions be agreed to in writing by the owner.

Follow your bylaws. If the bylaw requires an owner to make the application, insist on written confirmation by the owner and that they will be responsible for any cost relating to any part or condition of the alteration.

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

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