Condo Smarts: When buying property in a strata, get it in writing

Dear Tony: We have been looking for a two-bedroom, mid-sized condo in the metro Vancouver area for the past three months. We have viewed several units, and put in two offers; however, in both situations, once we received the Information Certificate from the strata corporations, there were significant conflicts between the information the owner provided as opposed to the strata information. Everything from parking and storage lockers to the description of the unit and alterations and upgrades to the units. What is the best approach to protect ourselves from someone attempting to “window dress” their unit and make it look better than it really is?

Celiah Carter

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A seller has an obligation, if they use an agent, to provide a property purchase disclosure and on the request of the buyer, an Information Certificate is provided by a strata corporation. In addition, you can also request additional documents the strata corporation is required to maintain under the Strata Property Act. When a strata corporation provides a Form B Information Certificate, the buyer can rely upon the information included. In the event there is an error, you would have a cause of action against the strata corporation through the courts or the Civil Resolution Tribunal. If you only rely on a property purchase disclosure from an owner, your cause of action would be through the Supreme Court of B.C.

The first rule of thumb for any purchase is never take anyone’s word. Always confirm information in writing by email or written communication. Written documents provide essential evidence in the event there is a misunderstanding or dispute and prevent the parties from withholding or exaggerating information.

Before you remove subjects on a purchase, request the Information Certificate from the strata corporation which also discloses information such as: the current strata fees, balance of the contingency fund, any pending court or tribunal actions or decisions against the strata corporation, alteration agreements a buyer may be responsible for, and parking and storage locker allocations, rules of the strata, and an owner/developer Rental Disclosure statement if one exists.

Also request documents such as the strata plan that shows boundaries of property, the schedule of unit entitlement to verify how your share of common expenses is calculated, copies of any engineering reports, including environmental reports that have been commissioned by the corporation, minutes of council and general meetings, a copy of the strata insurance policy to verify the deductible amounts for water escape and other perils, and a set of the current bylaws.

As part of the enticement to purchase, sellers frequently disclose additional parking, storage spaces, extended common areas or additional rooms that are not shown on the strata plan or authorized by the strata corporation. Cross-reference the sellers’ disclosure with the documents provided by the strata corporation and, if in doubt, communicate in writing with your agent and the seller to verify the accuracy of the disclosure.

My motto for best business practice: “If it isn’t in writing, it’s probably not true.”

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

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