Does a strata council work? My answer would be: it depends.
It depends on who is on council, how determined each member is to governing according to Bylaws and whether the members are afraid for controversies or not.
It depends whether council members are in it for their own gain, or interest, whatever that might be, for instance have their own unit repaired, or needing to know what is going on with the finances.
It also depends on the characters and types on council. Are they conservatives, sit on your hands type defenders of the status quo, or active let’s-do-it types. Are they scatter – brained, or organized and well deliberate, mindful, practical people? Are any having mental health issues, or personality – type disorders?
It depends on how these people from all walks of life and with different opinions interact and whether they gel as a team, or whether a power struggle breaks out. Sometimes one person prevents the proper functioning of a council: it happens, and then the strata councils earned their bad reputations.
Our strata’s latest development is that we lost two members, due to a split in views on the council’s approach to governing. The vote broke down on the issue of Bylaw enforcement; members were split on the issue of when to respond to breaches of the Bylaws.
The conservative view was that a council should only take action on Bylaws, after somebody else complained about another unit owner or occupant. Some did not agree with that and wanted a more active and preventative operating council that encourages occupants to stick to the Bylaws and written rules when obvious infractions were occurring, even without others complaining about it.
A related issue is how to govern and make decisions. Some in our council wanted consensus as the method for decision making. Others did not agree and had different opinions, wanted to be heard, and were of the view that voting is an acceptable method to come to a decision: by majority rule. Especially with limited time, and lack of patience among members for long council meetings to dedicate to the process of consensus, voting by majority rule became the method we used most often.
To clarify how our council works: our council members are elected for a one-year’s term in the spring. Our fiscal year’s end is April 30. The financial report is completed about a month later under the auspices of the Strata management company by a certified accountant. When the report is completed, the time then is set for the AGM.
At the Annual General Meeting the budget is presented and voted on by the membership. New council members are voted in at the AGM. As well, new expenditures must be approved by the general membership.
Any council member is elected from the membership — that is: all the owners of the strata complex, and they cannot be elected more than 3 years in a row.
The AGM is useful for owners to attend, as it informs the general membership of the current and past issues. It is in the owners’ best interest to be informed on what is going on. If a strata council does not share details, for instance of repair issues at hand, the membership will not know what is going on, or able to vote on it.
The overall issue as I saw it playing out this year was, that an inactive stance of the council and the strata management of the past with a laissez-faire (let go) attitude, led to the current situation where 15 years of leaking roof parts led to a much bigger bill for the strata to pay for roof and unit repairs. As approved by the AGM this June, the planned repairs were under way for the units that had extensive water damage inside the units, from years of roof leaks that were not in any substantial way addressed by previous councils. The leaks had just been patched up with caulking by the contractors council hired. This went on for 15 years!Last year’s council had decided to have it fixed once and for all and had the roof replaced of the leaking part of the building. That was wise, but to be frank, this action was undertaken under duress, due to the threats from the owners involved that they would go to court to sue the strata council. It was without doubt the strata’s responsibility to fix the exterior of the building that includes the roof. The roof has been leaking for a long time and each council dealt with it with half-measures. Strata would have lost any law suit, if it had come to that. Work on the roof and the pair of the units affected is now almost completed.
As well, the pool was renovated after the health inspector advised the pool should be closed, if the existing cracks and crevices, where bacteria could grow, would not be repaired. The membership voted to approve the expenditures for renovating the pool. However, the Jacuzzi was not included, and kept leaking this summer, losing 2 inches of water with chemicals every day. We have no idea where that water went, as the molded tub is embedded in the cement slab of the pool deck. This year’s council voted for closing the Jacuzzi and to investigate what the cause of the leak is. We now know that a major expense will be involved in repair or replacing the Jacuzzi. The AGM will present the options to the membership in our next AGM. We are working on a priority list for the repairs that are tagged for the future.
During the summer, I noticed that the occupants had become selfish and were apparently ignorant of the bylaws and rules; each did what s/he wanted and ignored the Bylaws and Rules. That was not completely their fault, as Bylaws and Rules were not enforced, or very seldom, and only got some response from Council when somebody complained about another owner or occupant.
I found that most people with a peeve grudgingly kept their mouth shut, as they feared retaliation, if they would rock the boat by filing a complaint against another occupant. The response to bylaw infractions that I frequently heard since I moved in, was that there’s no use calling the strata management with a concern, as nothing will be done about it anyway.
Although that was the perception, I believe that this last council was not half-bad: it had initiated a depreciation report by an engineering firm, as per the Strata Act. The report laid out the state of the complex and what funds should be made available now and saved up for the future, to maintain the structure and keep up with repairs over time. As the building is 18 to 20 years old, built over three phases, some repairs were overdue, but had not been initiated in any substantial manner yet. At the AGM in June this year, the membership approved the report, as well as its recommendations to increase the Strata fees slightly to meet future repair bills.
So far so good. A new manager was hired by the Strata management company that manages a number of complexes around the city. Indeed, the previous one did not seem to act on directions from council: nothing did get accomplished.
The new council heard that over the summer the Bylaws and Written Rules were pretty much ignored by a significant (and annoying) number of residents and that was not OK. We as council dealt with the pool incidents by writing letters of warning with a copy of the Bylaws to those “offenders” that significantly contravened the rules. It was an action that did not make council any friends, but the intended goal was to make people aware of the rules, and that action succeeded, for most part. And isn’t it always so, that approving residents do not speak up, and that only the opposing forces speak out?
We came to know about those opposing forces in our next action dealing with the outside looks of the building.
Last year’s council contained the same members as this year, added on with two female owners (female) members. The new council inherited the ongoing issue of decks and what people put on them, besides the plethora of outstanding repairs. Yes, don’t be surprised: we have Bylaws about decks indicating what can, and cannot put on our decks. In short, just patio furniture and limited plants are allowed. No BBQs and no storage, etc. Each owner has a storage locker in the underground parkade anyway.
A few owners that had not complied previously, had received a letter of warning to remove those items and comply with the Bylaws (that last year’s council had amended, and was approved in this year’s AGM) to reflect the wish to keep the exterior nice-looking and decks tidy.
We had seen this summer (while addressing the pool misuse) that it was hard to convince strata residents to comply with the Bylaws. Add to that the council’s reluctance to enter into conflicts, and here’s the recipe for a council that wants to avoid conflicts at all costs.
The issue of fairness was debated. The thought arose that if we address one deck issue, and not another, that would not be fair. Then who determines what is too much junk on a deck, and who exactly is not in compliance with the Bylaw?
If we stick to the premise of only acting on a complaint, what if one resident complains about a neighbour’s deck, while somewhere else in the complex another resident has a deck that looks much worse. Is it fair to leave the latter deck untouched, because nobody complained about that one?
After a rather heated discussion the agreement was reached in strata council that we should address all of it. A committee of three council members went around the complex one day and made a note of all decks and the associated infractions of the deck exterior Bylaw.
The majority voted for sending all deck owners that contravened the bylaw a warning letter with the specific concerns, that advised occupants they could send their response to council via the strata manager and appeal, if so desired. Although we voted fair and square, the vote broke the council in two, in the end.
Did we ever get a response! Most were by phone to the Strata manager (who gets paid to do this job) from occupants wanting clarification and questioning what was so wrong with their decks. Most occupants calmed down after talking to our manager, who appealed to their common sense and pointed out that strata bylaws exist for a reason, and were voted on by the membership, and passed at the AGM. He requested the occupants to comply.
Two of the owners did choke on their anger. They not only sent a letter of response to the manager, but posted a copy on the complex notice boards. The gist of one letter was: Did council have nothing better to do than sending letters about decks; what nasty people are they to address this with occupant, this little sorry kitty she has on her deck, was abused and should be free to roam the complex; what monsters are council members to try to stop that. And she thought that a test should be passed for people to be able to live in the complex: that they be “nice people”. She thought that the person that complained had two cats herself and was in violation herself, as one can only have one small pet.
I wondered if she assumed she would be considered a “nice person”.
Another response was from my neighbour, who posted her letter as well, accusing me of having two cats and having a bamboo trellis on my deck, and accusing the council of “discrimination” by addressing her on her deck issues, but not me (my trellis), and a bunch of other not-so-nice accusations to council and to me personally. Those ladies could have known had they spoken to me, that I had asked for an exemption to the policy when I moved in, as anyone could.
That was the point that our council president quit. He was back peddling on the decision we had made by voting. He said he could not stand for this and could not support the decision.
Before the next strata meeting, one other council member quit; he had voted against the plan to send the Bylaw offenders a warning letter as well. He panicked by the idea of having to live with the responses of occupants. Both council members backed out of actively trying to promote and address the need for Bylaws and council’s wish for everybody to comply with all of those Bylaws.
The bottom line was, that most responses from residents where reasonable. However, as usual, nobody wrote a letter stating agreement with our action: the silent majority stayed silent. Only two occupants out of 74 units were initially angry. Yes, that is to be expected, as they have not had any direct action to have the bylaws enforced from council before now, regardless of what they did with their deck. That is, in my view, no backlash to be concerned about. I believe that if a council makes decisions, there will always be some opposition. You can’t please everybody!
In the end, most people with a letter complied, as did my neighbour. But, she was angry and admitted that. As she is my neighbour, I thought I should address this with her on a personal level. I wrote her a letter back privately, inviting her to talk to me. We agreed to be polite to each other and say hello when we bump into each other in the complex.
Yes, living in a strata requires that one has to give up a few small privileges for the good of all and the whole building. If owners do not come to AGM and do not vote, and leave Bylaw development up to others, then that right is given away to your council, as well as the right to address your misuse with you as well. I would encourage anybody to join your strata council and see how that is for a while. Then try to change what you absolutely don’t like and can’t live with: maybe others think the same. I still find it an exciting job and rather difficult, but rewarding.