Woman wins simmering dispute with Vancouver housing co-op over backyard hot tub

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      A tribunal has something to say about living in housing co-operatives.

      It is that there is a balance to be struck between the collective interest of the co-op and the quiet enjoyment by a member of the individual’s housing unit.

      Luningning Alcuitas-Imperial, a member of the B.C. Civil Resolution Tribunal, made this statement in resolving a conflict over a backyard hot tub at the Le Coeur Housing Co-operative.

      Le Coeur is a 77-unit complex in the Champlain Heights neighbourhood of Vancouver.

      Co-op member Michelle Berger installed a hot tub in her backyard in August 2017.

      The following year, in April 2018, the co-op wrote Berger and told her that alterations to her unit have to be pre-approved by the co-op board.

      Berger responded by saying that she did not need prior approval.

      She argued that the hot tub is a freestanding item, and can be moved.

      The resident also stated that she purchased additional insurance to increase her liability to $2 million to cover injuries arising from the use of her home, including the backyard, where the hot tub is located.

      The back-and-forth continued, and Berger was eventually given until December 3, 2019, to remedy alleged breaches of her housing agreement with the co-op.

      Failure to do so could have meant a termination of her membership. This means that she would no longer be able to live at the housing co-op.

      Berger brought the matter before the tribunal.

      In her reasons for decision, Alcuitas-Imperial reviewed the terms of the housing agreement.

      The agreement includes an item providing that a member may not make any structural alterations, changes, or additions in or to person’s unit without prior written consent from the co-op board.

      “I find that the hot tub is not a structural alteration, change or addition to the unit,” Alcuitas-Imperial noted.

      According to the tribunal member, the hot tub is “not a necessary part of the structure of the member’s unit—whether the portion of the cooperative development or building that is assigned to her or whether the backyard that is associated with that portion of the development or building”.

      “I accept the member’s evidence that the hot tub is a free-standing item that can be moved at any time,” Alcuitas-Imperial wrote.

      Alcuitas-Imperial also observed that the word unit includes a member’s backyard.

      “I find that the evidence establishes that the backyard and anything located upon it are generally for the exclusive use of the member,” she noted.

      According to Alcuitas-Imperial, she understands that Le Coeur has a duty to “look at the collective interests of its members”.

      However, Alcuitas-Imperial pointed out, the terms in the occupancy agreement “create expectations of members”.

      If Le Coeur wishes to prohibit hot tubs, it could do so in its rules and occupancy agreement, according to the tribunal member.

      “In reaching my conclusion, I acknowledge that there is a balance to be struck between the interests of the collective ownership of the cooperative and the member’s quiet enjoyment of her unit,” Alcuitas-Imperial wrote.

      Alcuitas-Imperial stated that Berger succeeds in the dispute, and she has to be reimbursed $225 by the co-op for her tribunal fees.