Strata Units: What to Know Before You Buy

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Strata Units: What to Know Before You Buy

What is a condominium?

A condominium is a building which has been legally subdivided, so that different people can own different units in the building. There are parts which are specifically owned by you, and parts which are shared by all the owners; the latter is called “common property”, and can include the hallways, stairs, recreation centre and so on. Condominiums in British Columbia are created by the Strata Titles Act, and are regulated by that act. In this section, sometimes we’ll call condominiums “strata units”.

Who runs the condominium?

The condominium is managed and the activities of the people are regulated by four main authorities:

    • Strata corporation.

      The strata corporation has the responsibility for the overall management of the condominium, and is owned by all the owners of the strata units. In fact, the name is usually something like “The Owners, Strata Plan VR 999”. It has the responsibility to insure the building, keep the common areas in good repair, establish a contingency fund for emergencies, and in general, manage the building. It prepares the annual budget for the building.

    • Strata council.

      Each year, the owners elect members to the Strata Council, which then manages the affairs of the strata corporation. They meet on a regular basis and handle the daily activities of the strata corporation.

    • Management company.

      If there are just 2 to 5 units, the owners may manage the building themselves, to save money. If there are more units, however, the strata corporation will often hire a management company or a caretaker to assist the strata council in running the condominium. The cost of this is borne by all the owners, and is paid for through the maintenance fees.

    • By-laws and Regulations.

      The by-laws and regulations are the specific rules laid down by the strata corporation regarding the management of the condominium and its occupants. By-laws are the official “laws” of the condominium, and can cover a broad range of topics including the structure and powers of the strata council and the activities of the owners within their individual strata units. Because by-laws are so powerful, any changes must be approved by a meeting where all of the strata unit owners are entitled to vote.

      By-laws and regulations may cover a great number of topics, some common ones may include:

      • Permissibility of smoking, pets, and rentals in individual units
      • Restricting consumption of alcohol and/or smoking in recreational areas
      • Maintaining the cleanliness of common areas such as the lobby, hallways and elevators/stairwells
      • Monetary fines to be imposed for infractions
      • No excessive noise past 11 p.m. on week nights
      • Activities and maintenance involving limited common property* areas
        • Limited common property refers to any property that is owned by the strata corporation (ie. all of the owners), but is for a specific owner’s use. Balconies and parking stalls are often limited common property, because the strata council wants to be able to regulate the use of them (for example, not having dirty laundry hanging outside), even though they are for the use of specific owners.

Before buying a strata property:

  • Work with a REALTOR® to obtain both the minutes of the Strata Council (if applicable) and minutes from the annual general meetings for at least the past two years along with the strata by-laws, financial statements, any engineering reports that may be underway or previously conducted and other relevant information that your REALTOR® recommends.
  • Allow sufficient time to consult with an accredited professional who will inspect a building before any decision to buy is finalized.
  • Ask to see the Property Disclosure Statement (PDS).
  • Investigate the warranty program (if applicable) and the limits and responsibilities of the homeowner.
  • Consult with the municipality and other professionals regarding building location and performance.
  • If possible, investigate the background of the developers and / or builders of the building.

When reviewing Strata Council minutes, look for:

  • Any past problems and special expenditures or reports.
  • A written maintenance program or plan.
  • Healthy contingency funds.
  • Upcoming large expenditures.
  • A well-maintained and managed building.

With careful examination of all relevant information and the help of a REALTOR®, there are many attractive buying opportunities in the housing market today, including condominiums.

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