B.C. Liberal government tables legislation to fix strata disputes
As a resurgent party, the B.C. Conservatives have actively courted condo owners. It makes good sense. There are at least three-quarters of a million British Columbians with strata properties.
When Deryk Norton was still a member of the provincial Conservatives, the Victoria-based advocate for the rights of strata property owners helped them develop a robust position on condo-related issues. One of these is access to an efficient and effective process to resolve disputes.
On May 7, the ruling B.C. Liberal government tabled legislation that addresses this need. Bill 44 seeks to create a tribunal that will resolve strata squabbles. The body will also rule on small-claims matters like debt, which are often brought before the provincial court.
“It’s a positive step,” Norton acknowledged in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight.
The now-unaffiliated Norton can’t say whether the legislation was somehow meant to recover ground that the B.C. Liberals have lost to his former colleagues. With their revival, the B.C. Conservatives have chipped away at the ruling party’s right-of-centre constituency.
“I don’t know if it’s a trial balloon or not,” said the board member of the Vancouver Island Strata Owners Association.
But he also recalled that when the government passed a bill in October 2010 that amended the Strata Property Act, the measure included a provision that gives strata parties access to the provincial court—a much easier route than having to litigate before the B.C. Supreme Court.
The only problem was that this provision wasn’t brought into effect, according to Norton.
Called the Civil Resolution Tribunal Act, Bill 44 allows an appointed panel to “conduct a hearing in writing, by telephone, videoconferencing or email, or through use of other electronic communication tools, or by any combination of those means”. It may also hold an in-person hearing if necessary.
The tribunal’s jurisdiction includes the interpretation of the Strata Property Act. It can also rule on issues relating to common property or assets of the strata corporation. The “use or enjoyment of a strata lot” is also within its authority.
There are areas that the tribunal cannot cover, as these remain under the purview of the B.C. Supreme Court. These include matters like the removal of a claim of lien, and applications to wind down a strata corporation.
According to the government, there are about 29,000 strata corporations in the province.
If passed into law, Bill 44 will level the playing field between condo owners and strata corporations, Norton said.
“An owner’s rights can be abused by a strata corporation,“ Norton said. “And because of the time and costs involved in going to the B.C. Supreme Court, the strata corporations have felt—some of them, too many of them—they can do what they please because they’ve got the entire strata corporation treasury to defend themselves against one owner.”
While fighting in the courts can take years, this tribunal system provides for speedy resolution of disputes. Cases will be completed in just weeks or a few months, according to Norton.
Justice Minister and Attorney General Shirley Bond introduced the measure on May 7. She said on the floor of the House that the bill is part of the government’s justice-reform initiative.
“This bill will allow strata cases and, on a voluntary basis, civil matters to be moved out of traditional adversarial litigation and into the hands of experts who are trained to resolve cases early and collaboratively,” Bond said. “This is particularly important for strata disputes, where early resolution is critical to preserving and possibly rebuilding the relationships of people who live in strata communities.”
Norton noted that strata owners had long wanted an avenue for resolving disputes quickly. “This idea of finding mechanisms outside of the courts to resolve disputes was not a new thing brought to the Ministry of Justice by strata concerns,” he said. “It just happens to be another one that helps add up to enough issues, I guess, that the politicians in charge of the legislative agenda think that it’s time the province did something.”