5 Ways to Establish Strata Policies That Make Sense
Strata corporations need to have policies in place to function well. However, if you create new strata rules without adequately considering all their potential effects, or if you don’t enforce them properly, things can go awry. Rules that go too far or are not enforced consistently – if at all – can cause resentment and animosity among residents and can erode your strata’s sense of community. So, what can your council do to dodge these types of problems?
First, you can seek help from a knowledgeable strata property management company. A good management company will have the experience to ensure that your strata rules make sense and that you properly communicate them to residents. They can also take responsibility for enforcing them and issuing violation notices which can be a difficult task for the strata council to do as they are also members of the community.
Whether you are currently working with a management company or are self-managed, changes to your strata rules are more likely to have their intended effect if you follow these five recommendations.
1. Use common sense
Ahead of creating or amending rules for your strata corporation, take a step back and ask yourself a few questions.
Are the benefits of implementing a new rule or changing an existing one greater than the impact it will have on residents’ personal freedom?
Will the rule change increase property values, improve safety or support your strata corporation’s interests in other ways?
What is your council’s motivation for wanting to make the change? Is anyone being influenced by a personal agenda or strata politics? Did a one-time event precipitate the decision?
2. Develop an understanding of strata laws and your governing documents
Having a good understanding of provincial statutes and local laws and ordinances will make it easier for you to sync a new or amended rule with existing laws. This will provide an additional source of validation for the rule and support your enforcement efforts. Keep in mind that if a new or amended rule conflicts with British Columbia’s Strata Property Act or with your bylaws, the Act or bylaw prevails.
“Before you adopt a new or amend a rule, you should have your strata attorney look it over,” says Peter Chan, senior director, strata operations for FirstService Residential in British Columbia. “This ensures that it doesn’t conflict with existing laws or with your bylaws.”
3. Establish appropriate penalties
Make sure that the penalties fit the “crime.” If a new strata rule is meant to address a contentious issue, take steps to prevent your emotions from being a factor when determining penalties. In the heat of the moment, a council may be tempted to impose harsh penalties for relatively minor violations. This is inappropriate, especially if the violation is a first offense. Check your governing documents for any restrictions your strata corporation may have regarding penalties.
4. Communicate new rules clearly to residents
Residents can only comply with a new or amended strata rule if they understand it. Make sure that both the rule and the penalties for violating it are written as simply and clearly as possible. Before implementing it, discuss the rule with residents to gauge their reaction.
“Although you’re not required to do so, it’s best practice to seek input from strata members,” says Chan. “This gives you insight into the level of support there is for the new rule or if there may be legitimate reasons to reconsider its value to the strata corporation.”
The Strata Property Act does require that rules be set out in a written document that can be photocopied. It also requires that your strata inform residents of any new rules as soon as feasible. Use a variety of communication channels and get assistance from your strata management company to get the word out. Some of the communication tools you could use are emails, social media, your community newsletter, your website, direct mail and bulletin board notices. It’s advisable to use multiple communication tools to ensure all residents get the message in a timely manner. After the policy goes into effect, give residents a grace period before you begin to issue violation notices.
Keep in mind that any new or amended strata rules must be ratified by a resolution passed by a majority vote. This must occur at the first annual meeting that is held after the rule is established or at a special general meeting held prior to that annual meeting. If this is not done, the new rule ceases to be in effect.
5. Be fair and consistent with enforcement
It’s critical that you enforce strata corporation rules consistently. Residents are less likely to follow rules that they see being enforced unfairly, so consistency helps ensure compliance. In addition, your strata could face legal action if any residents believe they have not been treated fairly.
“Working with a strata management company supports the council responsibility for enforcement,” Chan says. “Besides making your job that much easier, this also eliminates the possibility of being accused of playing favourites.”
The Strata Property Act stipulates that you must provide violation notices in writing. Residents must also be given a reasonable opportunity to answer the complaint, including a hearing if they request it. Residents who believe they were treated unfairly may also choose to seek legal counsel.
Strata policies aren’t the enemy
Strata policies aren’t there to create problems for your corporation. They are there to help improve how your strata corporation functions, something that everyone within the community can benefit from. While enforcing strata rules on neighbours can be difficult, working with a strata management company can take that responsibility off your plate. Use good sense to determine the value of adopting any new rules or when amending existing rules. Always stay focused on maintaining your strata’s health and your residents’ satisfaction with their community. Most importantly, remember that community pride plays a major role in how well strata members follow the rules.