Condo Smarts: Don’t wait for a complaint to improve access to your condo building

Dear Tony: I live in a condo apartment building that was completed in 1995. We have 48 units in our building on eight floors.

Our family has lived in the building since Day One, but our community is rapidly aging and we find ourselves facing some new challenges.

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Our underground parking is easily accessible off the main street, and anyone with a walker or wheelchair uses the main gate to our parking garage, but we do not have an isolated walkway area or separate door for access.

Owners are growing more concerned each day that the age and physical limitations of the owners, lack of lighting and lack of shelter over the garage entry constitute a safety risk and it’s only a matter of time before a resident is injured.

Several owners have requested a modification to our front entry to ensure owners have safe, well-lit access in a covered area that also has a security camera.

This would require a minor modification to our front area to level the walk to eliminate one small 10-inch step, and the installation of an automatic front-entry-door system.

We took this to a meeting of the owners with a total cost estimate of $18,500, including the door activator to our front lobby and the parking-garage lobby, security fobs and the work to our walk to eliminate the step to meet the building code.

One owner who showed up insisted that people who can’t make the step or open the door shouldn’t be living in our building and convinced enough owners to vote against the alterations.

How do we resolve this issue before a resident suffers the consequences?

Elizabeth Millar

Every strata corporation in British Columbia must comply with the provisions of the B.C. Human Rights Code.

Part of that code has the requirement, up to the point of undue hardship on the owners, to accommodate access to facilities and common property of the strata corporation.

Undue hardship is measured as an extreme financial imposition or condition that would not be reasonable or possible for the owners to meet.

An example of that might be the installation of an elevator in a building where no such elevator existed and the cost would be excessive and a cause a hardship to the owners.

There are many examples of access or accommodation for special needs that have been ordered by the Human Rights Tribunal and your building would be no exception.

Conversion of door handles to levers, installation of fob-activated door entries, modifications for access to common areas and main entries of buildings, and continuous operation of the remote-door-activation system are all examples of alterations strata corporations have been ordered to permit or pay for to ensure access.

Whether an owner or occupant knew about the limitations before they moved in, or their physical conditions have changed, is irrelevant.

It is the obligation of the strata corporation to accommodate wherever possible to ensure safe access.

As in all conflicts — whether they relate to maintenance and repair of buildings, fair treatment of owners, tenants and occupants, or access to common property and strata lots — the most prudent and inexpensive course of action is for your strata corporation to make the changes before an owner or tenant files a complaint.

Every time a strata corporation fails to meet a lawful obligation and it results in a tribunal or court intervention, the costs balloon.

Take control of the matter and make the decision.

Your building is not unusual. There are many strata corporations that refuse to upgrade their entry systems and force occupants to use the parking-garage driveway and underground for access.

They are essentially treating those with limited accessibility as second-class residents.

No one should be intimidated into feeling guilty because they are requesting that their strata upgrade access to their homes.

• In partnership with B.C. Housing and CMHC, the Condominium Homeowners Association is hosting a forum for National Housing Day on building access, the human rights code and modernizing buildings to take advantage of energy upgrades.

Join us on Nov. 22, at the Italian Cultural Centre at 3075 Slocan St. in Vancouver.

To register, please call 604-515-9672 or email info@choa.bc.ca.

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

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