When talking about strata council members’ roles and responsibilities, there is almost always an emphasis placed on the requirement to enforce the bylaws and rules.
Rule enforcement, while not something council members look forward to, is a critical part of maintaining a safe and enjoyable environment for the people who live in the strata. If there were no consequences for breaking the rules, people would be far less inclined to follow them.
Council members understand that they cannot issue arbitrary fines or penalties when owners break the rules. There are specific steps that must be taken when dealing with complaints of alleged bylaw and rule violations.
Common strata complaints
Living in a mid-rise or high-rise building has a lot of perks, but there can be additional frustrations as well. Pets, people and parking are some of the most common issues that create conflict between neighbours and lead to owner complaints.
A lot of people couldn’t imagine life without their furry friend. But not everyone loves animals, and are bothered when they hear loud barks or smell pet odours from the unit beside them. In British Columbia, the Schedule of Standard Bylaws states that owners, tenants and occupants may only have:
- a reasonable number of fish or other small aquarium animals;
- a reasonable number of small caged mammals;
- up to 2 caged birds;
- one dog or one cat.
When it comes to communal living, few things create hallway enemies faster than loud parties that carry on late into the night. Owners and tenants are not supposed to cause unreasonable noise as this interferes with other people’s reasonable enjoyment of the strata.
It’s not unusual to find a vehicle parked in someone else’s spot, but it’s a problem that cannot be ignored. This isn’t only frustrating to owners or tenants who have been assigned a designated spot, it creates unnecessary problems for concierge and management. As for visitor parking – It’s for visitors only. It is not a permanent place for parking owner vehicles.
Smoking can be difficult to regulate. Unless the strata is completely smoke-free, owners are usually allowed to smoke on their balconies, or open windows so that the entire unit doesn’t smell like cigarettes. Unfortunately, as anyone who has lived beside someone who smokes knows, the smell spreads to neighbouring units.
Who has authority to enforce the rules?
While it never hurts to ask your neighbour to turn down the music or stop leaving their garbage where it shouldn’t be, owners who are not council members cannot force other owners to change their behaviour.
In many strata corporations, the strata property manager will assist the strata council in enforcing the strata’s bylaws and rules. However, council members are ultimately responsible for ensuring that their obligations under the Strata Property Act are fulfilled. Property managers can issue fines or other penalties, but they cannot:
- determine if a person has broken a bylaw or rule
- determine if a person should be fined, or
- determine if a person should be denied access to a shared facility
They can carry out actions that have been approved by the board.
There is a thorough process that must be followed by council when attempting to resolve complaints.
Minor issues or breaches that are promptly corrected
Step 1: The strata corporation must receive a complaint from an owner, tenant or occupant. Complaints and responses should be in writing in case the issue goes to court. If possible, complaints should include who committed the offence, what unit the alleged offender occupies, when the offence occurred, and what the offence was.
Step 2: When a complaint is received, the strata council must then give the alleged offender written notice of the complaint. If the alleged offender is a tenant, the strata council must also provide the landlord and/or owner written notice of the complaint.
Owners and landlords can be fined for things that their tenants have done. A strata can collect the fine or costs from the tenant or landlord/owner, and if the latter occurs, the landlord/owner can recover costs from the tenant.
Step 3: The strata council must decide if it will proceed with enforcement. Before moving forward, it may give the alleged bylaw or rule offender a warning, or time to take corrective action. The council’s goal is to discourage unsanctioned behaviour, not punish the owner or tenant, so sending a short, informative reminder to first-time offenders can be quite effective. People tend to respond better to this than they do monetary fines.
Step 4: If the breach is corrected, the strata council may decide not to take any further steps, depending on the severity and nature of the offence.
More serious issues or breaches that remain uncorrected
Step 5: If the strata council decides to proceed with enforcement, it must give the alleged offender a reasonable opportunity to respond to the complaint. This includes an opportunity to respond at a hearing at a strata council meeting, if requested.
If the alleged offender is also a strata council member, that member must excuse themselves from the complaint process, unless all strata lot owners are on the strata council.
Step 6: Once the person has sent a response, or has been given a reasonable opportunity to answer the complaint, the strata council must determine whether a bylaw or rule has been broken.
Step 7: If the strata council finds that a bylaw or rule has been broken, the next step is to determine what enforcement option will be exercised.
Step 8: Before taking action, the strata council must give written notice of its decision as soon as feasible to the person who broke the rule; and the landlord and/or owner, if the offender is a tenant.
All correspondence should be in writing, and stored in a secure location. If there are problems in the future, council will have proof that they correctly followed the steps in the complaint resolution process.
Fines and other enforcement options
If after following the proper steps, the strata council has determined that a breach of a bylaw or rule has occurred, the council may:
- give the owner/resident a warning
- give the owner/resident or landlord time to comply with the bylaw or rule that has been breached
- impose a fine against an owner/resident. Under Strata Property Regulation 7.1, the maximum amounts that a strata corporation may charge as a fine for the contravention of a bylaw or a rule are:
*$1,000 for a short-term rental bylaw breach
*$500 for a rental restriction bylaw breach
*$200 for any other bylaw breach
*$50 for a breach of a rule
Note that a strata’s bylaws may set out different maximum fines for breaches of different bylaws and rules. However, the fine must not exceed the maximum fine amount listed in the bylaws.
The Standard Bylaws (which can be amended) also allow a fine of up to $50 for a breach of a bylaw, and up to $10 for a breach of a rule and a fine imposed every seven days for an ongoing infraction.
Re-impose a fine
If a bylaw or rule infringement has resulted in a fine, it may be re-imposed for an ongoing infraction without council going through a new complaint process. Fines can only be re-imposed as frequently as set out in the bylaws.
While fines for ongoing infractions are supposed to be issued once every seven days, a strata corporation that has a bylaw restricting or banning short-term rentals may impose a daily fine for a continuing contravention.
Serious and/or repeated violations committed by a tenant may give a landlord grounds to evict them. The strata corporation may also be able to evict a tenant who repeatedly breaks significant bylaws or rules, if someone else in the strata is being seriously impacted by the tenant’s actions.
Revoke access to shared amenities
A strata may stop an owner, tenant, or occupant from using shared facilities if they have breached bylaws or rules. The restriction can only be imposed for a reasonable period of time.
Strata corporations are permitted to collect fines and other costs incurred while attempting to remedy the offence, using one of four options:
- Make a claim with the Civil Resolution Tribunal
- Sue the owner or tenant
- Arbitrate the issue
- Refuse to provide a “Form F: Certificate of Payment” when an owner sells their unit
It’s very important that strata’s take action as soon as possible if they need assistance collecting fees. There is a two-year limitation period for debt collection. That being said, subsequent court cases and Civil Resolution Tribunal decisions have stated that the two-year limitation period does not apply to the collection of strata fines. The takeaway, don’t wait to collect fines. Court can be a slow process, so the two-year limitation period may be waived, but council members shouldn’t assume that the limitation will not apply to their case.
When it comes to complaints and resolving bylaw and rule infractions, strata councils are obliged to do what is reasonably necessary to enforce the bylaws and rules.
On a final note, bylaws and rules cannot be enforced if they do not exist in writing, or if they contravene the Strata Property Act, the Human Rights Code or other enactment or law.