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Comment: Serving on a strata council does not have to be 'Game of Groans'

My most recent council experience was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad time.
Kristofer Hivju, left, Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in a scene from “Game of Thrones.” Helen Sloan/HBO via AP

A commentary by a 22-year veteran of living in stratas in Victoria who wishes that strata councils were not so troublesome.

How many people that you know groan at the very idea of serving on a strata council?

When I told a friend about the soap opera I found myself in while serving my second term on my building’s strata council, he wrote to me: “Everyone I know who volunteers for strata council positions — without exception — becomes exhausted, annoyed and frustrated with the unnecessary personal dramas which always seem to block productivity…”

Grim, eh?

I get it. My most recent council experience was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad time that included inane accusations and ludicrous power struggles. Being on a council should not be fraught with battles like the famous series (“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”)*

I’m willing to bet that every person reading this either has or knows of a similar story, which tells me that the whole strata council structure is faulty and dysfunctional.

Councils, of course are microcosms of life in general, where you can encounter every human foible you’ll see on a reality TV show (or a George R.R. Martin creation) from “mean girls” to authoritarians to kindly builders who just want to help folks. Ideally, you have more of the latter than of the former.

A dysfunctional council will make poor decisions and cause problems in the building. I know one person whose strata council refuses to let owners see financial reports more than once a month. I know another where the building manager is also the council president and bosses the whole building — and herein lies a common problem.

In my experience, if the person chosen as council president thinks that means they have ascended the Iron Throne and can rule over the rest of the council, dysfunction will likely ensue.

Psychology tells us that humans generally feel a deep-seated duty to obey authority and so they tend to comply when requested by an authority figure — that means that good ideas can be squelched and, sometimes, bad ideas prevail when a council president oversteps the role.

The Strata Act and Regulations specifically limit the powers of all council members; a strata council is meant to be a team of equals who make informed decisions after doing due diligence and thoughtfully considering pros and cons of options, not a bunch of employees ordered about by a boss.

Everyone on your strata council should be required to read the Strata Act and Regulations; they’re actually pretty short, easily available online, and provide guidance, particularly to novice council members.

The Condominium Home Owners Association of B.C. and the Vancouver Island Strata Owners Association have guides for strata councils, as well. In this information age, there’s no excuse for people to not understand how their council is supposed to function.

Must serving on a council be a gruelling chore that causes you stress and grief? Not necessarily. I have also served on cooperative, dedicated, fun councils, so it’s not impossible.

I offer a suggestion: rather than groan and shudder at the thought that you might end up stuck trying to work with a bunch of difficult people on a council, get together with a group of your friends in the building — people you know to be honest and respectful, and who will understand that their role is to work cooperatively and openly as a team in managing the building’s finances — and run as a slate.

If you all commit to work together as a team, there’s a very good chance you won’t end up “exhausted, annoyed and frustrated with the unnecessary personal dramas.” Or eaten by a dragon.

*I have never watched Game of Thrones