So you've decided to move into a strata home! There are some good points and bad points about strata living and we'll try to go over some of them to help you substantiate, or possibly, re-think your decision.
What is a Strata or Condo?
A "strata" or "condo" is a form of legal ownership, as opposed to a style of construction. Many people think that a condo refers to a unit in a high-rise building but they can also be:
- low-rise buildings of up to 4 storeys; (Now, up to 6 storeys!)
- townhouse or rowhouse complexes;
- stacked townhouses;
- duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes;
- vacant land which shares, and is responsible for common services with other property in the complex;
- and even single family homes!
Ownership (What do you really own?)
When you purchase a condo, you own a private dwelling called a "unit". Your unit is registered on Title in your name. You also share ownership of the common elements and assets of the building and community, such as the roof, the exterior of the building, and the common areas such as hallways or even roads.
It is important to find out prior to buying a unit what the boundaries of your unit ownership and responsibility are. If the windows fail, who pays for this? It will be either you as a specific owner or may be paid for by the entire ownership of the complex.
As well, there may be some "limited common property" (or LCP) adjoining your strata lot. This is an area that belongs to everyone in the complex but is for your own exclusive use. Balconies and private yards are in this category. What can vary is who is responsible for the upkeep of the LCP. In most cases with a private yard, the strata will hire a landscaper to cut the lawn and take care of any plants.
This is one of the perks of living in a strata. If you go away for an extended holiday, you won't come back to an overgrown mess in your yard.
Many stratas will allow an owner to keep a flower or vegetable garden within the boundaries of their yard but may ask for the owner to sign an assumption of liability, which means that the owner is responsible for the upkeep and any damage the garden may cause.
As an owner of a condo, you are responsible for paying the strata fee (also called a maintenance fee). This can cover things like property management, building insurance, landscaping, snow removal, recreation facilities, inaccessible window washing, natural gas, hot water, general maintenance, and funding the contingency account.
It is important to discover exactly what is covered in your monthly fees and to determine how healthy the strata's financials are. Are the strata proactive in their maintenance or do they wait until something breaks down before fixing it? The latter is usually the most expensive way to handle repairs.
To address this problem, a new document that has been mandated by the Provincial Government is called a Depreciation Report. This report, which is prepared by an independent 3rd party like an engineering firm, details the relative condition of all the major components of a condo complex. The engineers will take an inventory of all the components' ages and will forecast the cost of replacing those components in the future before they can reasonably be expected to fail. It is up to the strata (by a 75% vote) to decide on the funding scenario to prepare for these future repairs.
You've probably heard of the saying, "Treat others as you wish to be treated." This is the golden rule of living in a strata. Making too much noise, leaving a mess in their yard or balcony, letting their dog bark at all hours, etc. are not the hallmarks of a thoughtful and respectful neighbour.
Luckily, strata bylaws have been developed to handle many of these irritants in a step-by-step way. Letters sent to strata can be anonymous and will compel the Council to warn the offending unit about their behaviour if the Council finds that the complaint is warranted.
If the offending unit doesn't cease the behaviour, fines will be levied on a weekly basis until they comply. A bit messy, but it usually works.
Because of the sheer numbers of units in a strata, your chance of getting a bad neighbour far outweigh that of a single family homeowner, but because of strong bylaws and the Strata Property Act, there are procedures in place to compel the offending neighbour to change their behaviour. It may even be easier than getting your neighbour to cut their lawn or not park derelict vehicles in their driveway in the case of a single family home.
As always, feel free to call or email us about any concerns that you might have or for assistance in weighing some of these pros and cons in consideration of a specific unit or complex.