‘How do we get our council to … .” This is the opening line to the many thousands of emails and letters our offices receive every month.
Ever since the first strata was filed in B.C., back in the mid-1960s, strata councils, owners, tenants and occupants have struggled with the challenges of accessible justice.
Cost was not the only barrier that prevented many strata corporations and owners from taking action when their rights were violated, or the strata bylaws were breached or the strata had to try to collect a large sum of money.
Before stratas could commence an action in the Supreme Court of B.C., or give notice of arbitration to order an owner, tenant or occupant to comply with bylaws or stop doing something, they had to convene a general meeting of the owners, approve the action by three-quarter vote and approve funding for the action.
Either way, the strata owners often rejected the action because of the potential cost, which could easily reach $50,000 and may have taken 24 months or longer.
While all these procedures were underway with little hope of proceeding further, owners and councils were plagued by chronic nuisance problems, unauthorized alterations or activities that put the residents and property at risk, or chronic non-compliance with the act or bylaws of the strata.
While a noise complaint from an unauthorized flooring installation seems trivial for many of us, it is a nightmare for the neighbours who have to live with the consequences. Likewise, a strata council that is not complying with the act and refusing to disclose financial information may be leading a community down the path of financial disaster.
The solution, now in full effect and operation, is the Civil Resolution Tribunal of B.C. Along with the introduction of the tribunal under the B.C. justice system, the public also benefits from significant changes in procedures for dispute resolution.
The tribunal is an online system that returns the justice system to the hands of the public and provides cost-effective, speedy resolutions to common, day-to-day issues strata corporations face.
Strata councils can now file a tribunal action by a simple majority vote of the council for the enforcement of bylaws and collection of debts. The tribunal is essentially an online hybrid small claims/supreme court that includes the authority for the tribunal to order a strata corporation, owner, tenant or their occupants to do or stop doing something, or to pay for something without any financial limits.
There are three stages to the tribunal. First, there is the solution explorer, which is anonymous and no cost. It is a guided question-and-answer process to help users identify the nature of the problem and consider a series of solutions, including information guides, sample letters and procedures to resolve the issue.
If the self-help solutions don’t work, the second stage is paying a nominal fee and starting a CRT complaint, with the help of a case manager to work with the parties.
If the parties come to a consensual solution, the outcome can be a consent order that is binding on the strata, owner, tenant and occupant. If the parties do not agree, the matter proceeds to stage three, adjudication, with an additional fee.
The adjudicator reviews the evidence and issues a decision, which has the appearance of a mini court decision. All of this costs a couple hundred dollars and the result is a binding order.
There are provisions for appeal within 28 days of the decision being issued, with some limitations.
All of this basically comes together for under $300 and in about 90 days. The first decision was published on the tribunal website last week. It ordered an owner to cease smoking substances on the strata property in violation of the strata bylaws.
What once required a general meeting, an unrealistic voting threshold, a major expense and an eternity for the communities is now cost-efficient, timely and easy for anyone to start the process. For details, go to civilresolutionbc.ca.
Tony Gioventu is executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association.