Strata infighting under review

overnment proposes new dispute-resolution tribunal

Nearing three years since a pipe burst above their condo unit, the Prescotts have finally resolved the problem with their strata council.

Since filing a claim through the Provincial Small Claims Court in June 2010, the elderly Victoria couple won $8,000 in a settlement last month.

“It felt like winning the lottery,” says daughter Deborah Groenheyde, who lives in Hawaii, but has travelled to Victoria several times to act on her parents’ behalf.

The disagreement boils down to the quality of repairs to the damage in the Prescotts’ unit at 1715 Richmond Rd. The protracted and bitter experience cost $1,500 in legal fees and has left Groenheyde exasperated at the regulations governing strata councils in B.C.

“The whole strata thing is simply out of control,” she said in an email to the **News.

The government seems to be listening.

In response to growing frustration by strata owners suffering unresolved conflict with their neighbours, the B.C. government has proposed a new approach to dispute resolution, which is currently open to public feedback.

The idea is to create a low-cost and accessible tribunal, which doesn’t require people to hire a lawyer.

Deryk Norton, director of the Vancouver Island Strata Owners Association calls it a small, but positive step.

He’s optimistic the proposed tribunal will be an improvement over current options. Right now, the avenues open to strata owners in dispute are to take the matter to court, which is costly, or arbitration, which is “vague and unpredictable,” Norton said.

The government’s online discussion paper and survey on the issue, however, leaves Norton with several questions.

“The whole thing is silent on the accountability of condo developers and strata managing companies,” he said. “Their actions could be at the heart of the dispute.”

A management company could provide self-serving advice to a strata council that runs contrary to the Act, he said. “I run into that a lot, which raises questions about the ethics and the competence of the strata manager.”

Similarly, he said, condo developers sometimes fail to hand over important documents, leaving the strata council with inadequate information about the building. Strata councils can then run into problems when it’s time to do maintenance.

The Ministry of Housing, however, disputes the gap in the tribunal’s jurisdiction.

“Owner-developers could be subject to the proposed tribunal’s jurisdiction,” said a ministry spokesperson in an email. Some complex issues, however, “are best heard by the courts. Some of these involve owner-developers of phased strata plans, and we are looking for input through this consultation on whether that is appropriate.”

Strata managers, are the other hand, are regulated by the Real Estate Services Act and therefore not covered by the Strata Property Act.

There are more than half a million strata owners in B.C.

Have your say:

Until Oct. 31, members of the public can complete an online survey about the B.C. government’s proposed improvements to the Strata Property Act at www.bcstrata2011.malatest.net.

The proposal:

• The tribunal would provide information, resources and case histories to help strata owners and councils resolve disputes themselves.

• The tribunal would help parties to negotiate a settlement

• If unsuccessful, the tribunal will make an order, enforceable in court