It has been said that a good neighbour is one who smiles at you over the back fence, but does not climb over it. When it comes to strata living, a fence is a luxury that many do not have. Where there is increased density, neighbour disputes are bound to arise.
As a strata lawyer, the common complaint heard over the years is that litigation is prohibitively expensive. The British Columbia government heard this complaint as well, and has now established the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal (the CRT). The CRT is designed to be accessible to individuals who need an affordable, quick, and practical way to resolve a strata dispute. The website is user-friendly and can be accessed at all times of the day or night. Many of the barriers have been removed and complaints are pouring in.
What should a strata corporation do to prevent a complaint?
Strata managers in British Columbia should encourage strata corporations to comply with the British Columbia Strata Property Act, and to make fair and consistent decisions. The kinds of complaints that the CRT is already dealing with include inadequate notice of a general meeting, document disclosure, breach of duty to repair, unapproved expenditures, and alterations.
What should a strata corporation do if it receives a CRT Notice of Dispute?
A strata corporation that receives a Notice of Dispute must respond within 14 days of the date that it was delivered. A Notice of Dispute can be delivered to any individual council member, and it is important that council members understand the importance of providing it to their strata manager, and getting legal advice without delay. A Dispute Response Form can be filed using the CRT website, and one council member must be designated as the contact person. The contact person should be someone who is in a position to respond promptly to email correspondence, and who has knowledge of the facts related to the dispute. It should also be a person who is willing to negotiate. The CRT will encourage the parties to reach a resolution. However, if they cannot do so, an independent CRT member will decide the outcome of the dispute based on information provided by the parties. The decision can be enforced in the same manner as a court order.
On November 24, 2016, the CRT issued its first reasons for decision in The Owners, Strata Plan LMS 2900 v. Matthew Hardy. It was an application by a strata corporation for an order preventing an owner from smoking cigarettes and marijuana in his strata lot, contrary to the bylaws of the strata corporation. The smoke was causing a nuisance to surrounding owners. The CRT concluded that the smoker was in breach of the strata corporation’s bylaw and ordered him not to smoke on any part of the strata plan, including the strata lot, common property, and limited common property. The order will be enforceable in the Supreme Court of British Columbia as soon as the time for appeal has expired (i.e. 28 days from the date that the smoker receives notice of the final decision). More decisions will be coming.
Many strata corporations and strata managers in British Columbia have feared the introduction of the CRT, because it gives owners a great opportunity to complain. However, the first reasons for decision show that the CRT can also be a valuable tool for strata corporations. There is now an option for dealing with problem owners who have failed to comply with the bylaws. There is also a simple and affordable way to collect fines and chargebacks. The CRT is the new reality in strata, and it is wise for strata corporations to use it to their advantage.
Jennifer Neville is a strata lawyer with Hammerberg Lawyers LLP in Vancouver, British Columbia.