You know that old adage, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”? For the most part, I subscribe to the line of thinking. I believe knowledge is power and you are only limited by your chosen level of ignorance. I must admit I have no patience for those who believe that it is better to ask forgiveness than permission. With those thoughts in mind I started thinking about the news story last week about strata fines, how strata corporations through their Councils have become out of control and how there is no apparent remedy despite government legislation and licensing requirements by the Real Estate Council.
In order to assess a fine for a bylaw contravention there needs to be a complaint made, written response to the owner about whom the complaint was made and an opportunity for the owner to dispute the fine. At the very minimum, the owner needs to receive a monthly invoice advising of the fine especially if Council intends to continue charging fines as defined by the Bylaws/Strata Property Act. Failure by the Council to advise owners of ongoing fines is just as negligent as owners ignoring Council’s attempt to enforce the bylaws. How various noise complaints were allowed to escalate to such exorbitant fines is a sorry statement about the costs of ignorance.
Property Managers have their place to be sure. Record storage, accounting, advice and communications with contractors is time consuming and in many cases overwhelming for owners. In addition, navigating the Strata Property Act would appear to be an easier process with the assistance of a licensed expert. Problem is, issues with a fraudulent few in the ranks has forced most property managers to wipe their hands of any responsibility preferring instead to leave volunteer Councils with the burden of every decision they make. Subsequently, property managers are really glorified accountants and in my opinion, under utilized in general and a quick scapegoat for uninformed Councils. To be sure there are unsavoury property managers who exploit uninformed owners but again, ignorance is a choice.
Uninformed owners with legal concerns naturally trust lawyers who specialize in Strata law to guide them through the dispute process. It’s been my experience that unless you have an argument that will crown an attorney with some sought after precedent most of them aren’t really interested in pursuing court time. This will not stop lawyers from advising you of the ridiculous costs you will need to pay before you even get to a court room and if in your desperation you suggest representing yourself you will get a chuckle and a snide, “Good luck with that.” Despite legislation written to protect owners and corporations most lawyers tell you, your best bet is to move. There are some very good lawyers out there but their time is expensive and owners have to really weigh the costs against the argument. Unfortunately this has become the norm and is rendering the present Strata Property Act, a tome for ignorance.
In terms of expense and value for your money a strata owner is really obligated to think about realtors and how they choose one. Again, I speak from my own experience here and there are many good realtors. As with anything, the 80/20 rule applies to real estate agents and if you are unfortunate to contract with one who looks like a shill and talks like a shill then chances are pretty good you have a shill (Greed and ignorance bounce off each other quite well in this industry).This type of realtor is supposed to have a minimal grasp of strata but once they get a listing what shoots out of their mouth is not necessarily fact. Realtors expect a fairly large payout for what is really minimal effort. Like lawyers, good realtors do know their stuff but the bad ones really choke the integrity out of the good ones. Before you sign with a realtor make sure they are “stratawise”. You’ll be very glad you did.
I have learned to be skeptical of property managers, lawyers and realtors through experience. In an effort to understand how they work and what they need to know I educate myself which fortunately or unfortunately allows me to pick the bad apples from the good ones. I’m not afraid to stand up to these entities because like everything mistakes can be either ill- intentioned or not but in the end, I am responsible for managing my asset in tandem with all the other authorities out there. It’s a choice not to be ignorant.