Newsletter Article: Into the Strata – Sphere
At first glance, joining a strata council seems like a good thing to do – kind of like running the Grouse Grind, or donating bone marrow. It’s not easy, but it makes you a better person, right?
In fact, serving on a strata council can be fun and very positive – educational, social and satisfying in a way that allows you to stay in touch with your community while making sure things get done properly.
For community-minded, well-intentioned condo owners, council membership is a great way to get to know your neighbours, plan fun events, and feel a sense of accomplishment. It’s also a way to help personally protect what is probably your biggest investment. And it can give you valuable experience in disciplines you may be able to use elsewhere, including public speaking, problem solving, running meetings and managing properties.
Depending on the size and budget of the corporation and the urgency of needs, councils can meet as often as every two weeks or as seldom as once a year at the Annual General Meeting (AGM). The usual venue is one of the members’ homes or (if your building has one) a common meeting room.
The best meetings are congenial, focused and productive. Councils depend heavily on their property managers for advice and assistance with everything from fines to landscaping, parking issues, repairs, legal matters and organizing and running the AGM.
Serving time (forgive the word choice) on a strata council can be very enjoyable if you’re fortunate enough to find yourself in the company of like-minded folks: fellow councillors who want to help build a happier, healthier environment. Basically, the kinds of people you want representing your interests.
Who should not join a strata council? For starters, owners with a personal agenda. Those pushing for the community to jointly raise potbellied pigs or paint all balcony rails pink to match their flower bed should be gently discouraged.
A good councillor is empathetic and a good listener. The councillor’s job, after all, is to hear and act upon the wishes of all the owners. That’s a mandate that requires a certain amount of patience, a little humility, and a not-infrequent dose of tact. Assembling a good group of council members, ideally representing as wide a variety as possible of professions (lawyers, accountants and trades, for example) can move mountains. On the negative side, having poor representatives in place can wreak havoc and take years to undo. Keep this in mind when voting in council members at your next AGM.
Choosing a good property manager is probably the council’s most important task. The better the manager, the easier your job will be – which means more free time for you to attend your weekly book club gatherings or hot yoga classes.
Anyone interested in knowing all the rules and regulations concerning strata corporations should read the BC Strata Property Act (http:// www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/ statreg/98043_01). It’s actually a good resource for resolving uncertainties or clarifying what the law says – and not that hard to wade through if and when the need arises.
The act does not specify an exact composition of council, but many have at least the traditional core of President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer, with other members filling assigned roles or simply being members-at-large to vote on issues and take on tasks as they arise. That said, and at the risk of scaring you away, the following is an abbreviated list of some of the responsibilities of council membership.
Transparency and Disclosure
As a council member, you must act honestly, in good faith and in the best interests of the strata corporation. You must exercise the care, diligence and skill of a reasonably prudent person in comparable circumstances.
Occasionally, strata councils must deal with potential conflicts of interest – for example, a contractor or stakeholder who could benefit from the award of a contract. In this case the duty of the council member is to:
(a) Disclose fully and promptly to the council the nature and extent of the interest.
(b) Abstain from voting on the contract or transaction, and;
(c) Leave the council meeting both while the contract or transaction is discussed (unless asked by council to be present to provide information) and while the council votes on the contract or transaction.
If you are a licensed realtor, you must provide a written disclosure to the Strata Corporation prior to sitting on a Strata Council, and your letter must meet the requirements of Section 9-3 of the Council Rules under BC’s real Estate Services Act. Click here for more info.
This person represents the council (and therefore the community as a whole), and is the primary (and often sole) contact with the property management company. He or she should have a solid understanding of the needs of the community, a strong sense of direction, and the desire to play a major role in the day-to-day operations of the strata corporation. Specific duties of the president include:
• Leading monthly meetings.
• Interaction with property management.
• Identifying issues requiring attention and delegating responsibilities to solve them.
• Implementing work programs (with council approval).
• Ensuring community guidelines are maintained and enforced.
The vice president works closely with the council president, and in his or her absence takes on the role of president.
The secretary has responsibility for recording and distributing all strata council-approved minutes and official records. Depending on the size and budget of your corporation, distribution is sometimes delegated to management.
Minutes are very important. They are a permanent record of strata council action, and may be needed as legal evidence to support contracts and other legal commitments. Owing to the requirement that prospective purchasers be given copies of minutes (sometimes going back years), it is critical that the minutes be detailed and provide an outside party with an understanding of the discussions. Official records also include copies of correspondence, copies of contracts and an accurate owners list. The secretary should endeavour to record all strata council discussions accurately to protect both the strata corporation and the individual strata council members. Minutes must be made available to every owner.
The treasurer is responsible for managing community financial matters. Understanding finance and accounting is beneficial but not essential; many council responsibilities – minutes, chairing meetings, financial statements, etc. – are taken on by the management company. The treasurer’s duties include:
• Overseeing financial operations.
• Advising on financial issues including budgets, investments and spending.
• Reviewing monthly and annual financial statements and reports.
• Reporting to council on financial reviews and decisions.
• Planning for special assessments to finance costs of large projects.
• Assessing cash flow and making recommendations for changes in strata fees.
Councils can designate responsibilities as they see fit. Two popular ones we will use as examples are Buildings/Maintenance and Landscaping.
This person oversees matters pertaining to the overall management of the community’s buildings – mainly their exteriors. A good knowledge of carpentry, architecture and/or construction is a definite asset. Some duties include:
• Acting as a resource to council on building related issues.
• Being available to residents with building related concerns.
• Ensuring the strata’s building guidelines are adhered to, (exterior colour schemes, legal/ illegal additions, etc.).
• Helping council identify problems and oversee maintenance and repairs.
• Recommending and dealing with contractors on repairs and maintenance – ensuring work/ repairs recommended by contractors are appropriate, fairly priced and necessary.
• Evaluating the quality of jobs performed.
This person oversees the management of common grounds, including roads, and should have a keen interest in landscape design and care. The nature of the duties and responsibilities of this portfolio is similar to those in the Buildings/ Maintenance portfolio, but with emphasis on green spaces. Duties include:
• Acting as a resource to council on grounds related issues.
• Ensuring strata guidelines concerning grounds keeping are adhered to.
• Identifying landscape problems and recommending appropriate measures.
• Liaising with landscaping contractors and evaluating completed projects.
• Liaising with owners.
Guidelines for meetings
The last thing you need to know as a council member is how to behave in and around meetings. Some guidelines include:
1. Arriving on time so that the meeting can start at the scheduled time. If this is not possible, i.e. you expect to be late, advise your strata manager or another council member so that the meeting is not held up.
2. Reviewing materials received from the property manager’s office prior to the meeting rather than at the meeting.
3. Adopting the agenda at the beginning of the meeting. Any new business items should be added at this time.
4. Allowing a speaker to complete what he or she is saying before you counter with your viewpoint.
5. Avoiding dominating every discussion.
6. Allowing for discussion, viewpoints; i.e., compromise.
7. Avoiding side conversations while the meeting is in progress.
8. Avoiding the consumption of alcohol during the meeting.
9. Making sure the meeting is a business meeting.
10. Setting timelines for each business item.
11. Remember, you are representing the entire strata corporation. Personal biases or interests should be set aside.
In conclusion, the key to managing a strata corporation is good three-way communication among the three main parties: your management company representative, the council and the owners. For simplicity, one person (the president or other council member) should be designated as the primary contact with the strata manager for any matters needing attention between meetings. Most important? Have fun!