Condo Smarts: When one owner becomes the ‘strata police’

Dear Tony: My strata council has recently imposed a number of fines against my townhouse, claiming that I altered the front doors of my unit contrary to the bylaws.

Luckily, we have the realtor’s listing photo of the front doors, which shows this was the condition and exact hardware and screen door that was installed by the previous owner.

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I reviewed the information we received from the strata corporation and on the Form B Information Certificate, and the strata corporation did not disclose any alterations that were made by a previous owner and that I might have to be responsible for.

There were no outstanding fines or bylaw-infraction notices, nothing in any of the previous two years’ minutes, and no mention by the vendor. Council has ordered us to replace the door and hardware and remove the screen door back to the original, and has fined us $200 per week until we do.

What recourse do we have to stop this harassment? We seemed to have a reasonable strata council until an owner who was recently elected to council imposed herself as the strata police. She is constantly inspecting every unit for violations and issuing fines.

Many owners are upset at the conflicts arising in our strata corporation, so we are looking for some options.

Marilyn C., North Vancouver

Strata councils often misunderstand their role with respect to the enforcement of bylaws.

Under the Standard Bylaws, the strata corporation must not impose a fine against a person, require a person to pay the costs of remedying a contravention, or deny a person the use of a recreational facility unless they have received a complaint about the contravention.

They must first give the owner/tenant the particulars of the complaint in writing and a reasonable opportunity to respond in writing or at a hearing if requested by an owner or tenant. A bylaw-enforcement decision, the convening of a hearing or receipt of a written response is an action of the strata council, not a single person.

The strata council must convene a meeting and address the bylaw matter and vote on the outcome. Their decision becomes part of the strata minutes.

There is no instant fining unless there is a continuing contravention and notice requirements are met.

This applies even to monthly late payment of strata fees. Neither the strata nor the property manager can automatically add fines to a late payment of a strata fee.

You have a few options to resolve this matter. Request a copy of the complaint. Write to the strata corporation providing evidence of the existing alteration and request that the decision be reversed, as this was a previous alteration you were not responsible for, or request a hearing with council to state your case.

If you request a hearing, the strata council must provide you with a written response on the matter within a week of the hearing. You can then decide your next course of action.

If there are as many people as you suggest who are not satisfied, owners by 25 per cent petition can always demand a special general meeting to remove the council member by majority vote and elect a new council member. You can also consider an application to the Civil Resolution Tribunal, which can order the strata corporation to comply with the act, issue proper notice of complaints and dismiss any of the imposed penalties if they were applied inappropriately, unfairly or in a harassing manner.

During our current COVID-19 restrictions, hearings are frequently being held electronically. A hearing is simply a council meeting that has been requested by an owner for an opportunity to be heard on a specific matter. If you are involved in a hearing electronically, confirm before the hearing begins who is attending the hearing, that there are no observers, and whether or not the hearing is being recorded. This requires your consent as well.

Note: Sign up for the next CHOA public webinar for strata councils, managers, owners and industry partners on May 26 at noon. The topic is conducting hearings and council meetings using electronic communication. Go to choa.bc.ca. Registration is open at noon every Wednesday.

Tony Gioventu is executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association

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