Strata Documents Online Is Better for Owners

I do all of my banking online. It is actually inconvenient to go into a bank. Banking is quicker, more flexible and private online. If something negative happens with the server – that’s inconvenient but so are the limitations of “banker’s hours” and “snail mail” and, of course, a postal strike.

For info on the go and access to what’s important to me when I need it, I LOVE the internet.I can go on it whenever I want. I can open numerous windows and cross reference information if I choose and I can compare information from various sources. It’s so darn interactive but so darn private too.

Last week,The Vancouver Sun Stratified’s Suzanne Morphet took on strata documents as the column focus and the very reasonable idea that strata documents would be more accessible and expeditious online. The most important reason, according to the column of course, would be to provide relief to long suffering property management. Those documents are heavy burdens to be responsible for in all the busyness of collecting money for strata corporations. Wow, I’m exhausted just thinking of the outlay of effort…NOT!

The column was kind to the property managers out there because it suggested the agents are undermined in their efforts to provide good service to strata corporations by the sheer volume of paper work. Specifically, Suzanne’s source suggested a huge amount of time was spent collecting and delivering strata documents to realtors.

It’s my experience the collecting and management of strata documents is very low on the priority lists of some property managers with or without a platform like StrataDocs.This is not to say that some other property managers are methodical, organized and collaborate with realtors. I actually know some of those as well but they represent less than 20% of the whole.Apparently Victoria is embracing online documentation and this should be applauded.

To clarify, the property managers I have dealt with should not be categorized with the agent Suzanne sourced in her column. My experience with agents and document sharing is similar, I imagine, to the feeling a fish might have trying to ride a bicycle…hopeless were it not so impossible.It has nothing to do with digital access to something like StrataDocs or an overworked photocopier. As they say, “attitude is everything” and it is attitude that allows for smooth transfers of strata documents.

When I was involved in the management of the swamp, the council was collaborative regarding transparent and open communication with the owners. Interesting to note here is that owners felt over-innundated with information.Can you believe it? Owners were actually disinterested in information about their asset. One of them actually stated,”We get so many memos and I just don’t have time to read them.” Another whined, “The paper is killing trees.” But my all time favourite was, “Save the paper, I don’t give a damn.”. Always, these same owners would come to the Annual General Meeting stomping their feet and pounding the table because of some financial cost,”..I wasn’t informed about….”.

Honestly,a huge amount of MY time was wasted informing owners who just couldn’t be bothered to read the memos and communications from the strata council. I should also include here that the strata council minutes were thorough and detailed and owners didn’t read those because,”I’m too busy and I don’t understand”.The best line ever came from a strata owner I affectionately call, The Wizard. The all-knowing Wiz discouraged a bylaw about insurance because it was so….”legalistic”. He thought the bylaw should read…forgive me Nike“Just do it”. Hurry Toto – pull back the curtain!

Considering the amount of time realtors are forced to wait for property managers to climb out of their paper duress, I doubt realtors have time to read the stuff before contract deadlines.Buyers have limited timeframes to read strata documents and absorb them to begin with and because realtors are swimming in a shark tank for clients, their time is at a premium.Of course, there are lazy shill realtors too don’t forget! Apathy, apathy everywhere.

It is very obvious buyers generally give the documents a cursory look —visit the Supreme Court website and ponder the number of cases or just try to get a strata lawyer in a timely fashion and that’s just for an appointment. Ah the price of “don’t ask -who cares” Buyers are not fully aware or to be fair, some buyers/owners are just litigous and find responsibility laborious.

So now we come to the reality of property managers and information sharing based on my understanding. These days a council member is required to spoon feed the property management content so agents can plaster paper with their brand and contact information and oh yeah, their signature so they can make themselves feel important–like they earn the pay. Why this is so important I actually have no idea because when you attempt to call, you get a voice-mail;when you leave an email you get an auto-reply;if you should send a fax, you take the risk it will be lost during transport over the airwaves. Oh, and emergency numbers? Hold on I’m laughing so hard I need a moment. Actually, I need two moments and an espresso.

In my moments as a council member, I generally had to draft the letters and forward them to the property management so owners would believe the property management had written them. I should emphasize here that property management had to have their butts kicked to put council content on their logo paper( I guess because they were stroking the photocopier for a realtor)in a timely manner and, sometimes, agents were even surprised by the content: “I didn’t know that was a bylaw. You learn something everyday.” Kudos for cashing the corporation’s cheque Mr. Property Manager.

So now imagine when you have an uninformed, ignorant council directing an equally uninformed, ignorant property manager. There’s a recipe for …well, strata cluster@#ck.It has nothing to do with over-burdened managers paper pushing at the hands of unrelenting realtors. It is about power and control. Swamplife!

So there is a case for online documentation because then maybe owners would be more willing to read information about their asset.If owner contributions-good, bad, indifferent-were online, in real time – the council and the property management would be accountable to the corporation and not their own sense of importance. I mean if everyone is on the same page, that’s a start right? Sure there will be disagreements but the basic facts are right there out in the open.Omnipotence would be a thing of the past. Dialogue would be the priority. What a novel concept. Almost feels like democracy.

Strata Council meetings could be part of an online meeting so owners could attend from the comfort of their own homes or home offices. Minutes could be posted online and owners could create immediate digital files. Correspondence could be received and responded to because council and management would know when it was sent and so would other owners. Privacy would be much easier to protect because owners would be part of the initial online set-up. Everyone could witness the property manager and council in action or inaction. Trust me, there’s a reason property management companies and councils aren’t jumping on the interactive online approach.

Online storage and access would also benefit the sense of community because perception would not be under the council’s control. Owners would be able to participate directly with one another as well. I can hear the “too much information” crowd wheezing their disapproval but the way things are now,other owners in my swamp know me through council character assassination. They have no concept of the efforts I’ve made on their behalf – I’m just the scapegoat for the Greenthumb and her befuddled fans and supporters.

Property managers do not struggle to get this work done. I take huge exception to Suzanne’s column suggesting that property manager’s have more “mundane”, ‘time wasting’ and “repetitive” efforts due to document requests.

Online documentation is about transparent asset management on the part of council and property agents together with interactive owner access and participation in that asset management. It’s not about making the property management’s job easier because it is already. It’s about making strata management easier, accessible and more accountable to and for the people who need it to be….strata owners.

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Posted in Online Documents
7 comments on “Strata Documents Online Is Better for Owners
  1. Johnny Stork says:

    The issue of utilizing current (web-based) document management, communication, collaboration and other basic information management tools has been something I have tried to preach, and even offer, to our strata for years. The business community knows about, and has been utilizing these simple tools for decades and so there is a long record of the benefits associated with many common document and information management solutions. However, one of the problems I think some strata council’s face is they are technologically illiterate. For some, even using email is a new and often confusing technology. My strata council falls into this category with the entire strata council being made up of elderly women. This lack of familiarity/comfort with some of the many technologies (or best practices) which are common to most people in the business world, keeps some strata’s in the dark ages when it comes to efficiently managing documents and communication.

    The benefits for owners being able to readily access documents, minutes, communications, bylaws, forms etc are obvious. Some of the greatest benefits go to strata council as reduced workloads, reduced duplication of effort, reduced risk of being non-compliant with the SPA and of course the (potential) for increased transparency benefit the entire strata. Consider the problem of managing all owner/strata/pm communications through successive strata councils, and dozens of different email accounts over many years. Or, when a new owner wants to know about any issues reported by any particular unit prior to purchase. It is simply not possible, nor realistic, to expect strata council or a property manager to have to weed through all the emails, contact all previous owners etc, to try and recover all those documents and communications required by the SPA across multiple owners and many years. But consider a strata that owns its own domain name, or some sort common sub-domain like lms2500.strata101.ca. Each unit could be assigned a “Unit Email” and this would be the ONLY email account from which an owner could/would communicate with council/pm. Strata council itself would also have each of their own unique, non-personal email accounts like president@lms2500.strata101.ca. These email accounts and domains would be owned by the strata, and not individual owners and so now when a new owner needs to see all communications about their unit, this is instantly available as soon as they are given access to the “Unit Email” account with its revised password.

    Strata council and property managers also benefit significantly through the use of common, non-personal email accounts shared by successive council members (president@lms2500.strata101.ca etc), or property managers (manager@lms2500.strata101.ca). Each new successive strata council member, when given access to the email account associated with their position, would instantly have access to all previous strata council member communications for the position. Wow! no more searching, collecting, requesting emails from council/owners and ALL history instantly accessible with no more work than changing the password for the account when a new council member comes on board.

    There are many more benefits available to owners and council members through the use of very common, inexpensive technical tools and data management solutions. These simple technologies, like email, web-based access to documents, collaboration and communication tools, not only improve efficiencies, and reduce workloads, but reduce costs and make it easier to remain compliant with various sections of the SPA relating to document access and archiving. Strata’s also eliminate, or at least reduce the problem (and costs of) knowledge transfer when dropping one management company and moving to another. No more requesting, collecting, organizing and distributing documents and communication. Simply change the password for the management company’s access to the site and tools, and your done! No lost data, no duplication of effort, no time wasted. The strata, and NOT the property management company, retains and controls all the tools and access to records and so transferring/switching property management companies is simply a matter of changing a password and now the new management company has access to all (digital) records and communications.

    I plan to once again detail and propose a complete document and communication management solution to my own strata, which would also (hopefully) end my ongoing campaign to expose strata mismanagement issues. I am sure we will be talking more about this issue in the near future.

    And once again, another clearly written and information article which benefits those strata owners and strata councils with the desire to “…exercise the care, diligence and skill of a reasonably prudent person in comparable circumstances”.

    SPA – Strata Council Members Standard of Care (Part 4, Division 1, Section 31):

    “In exercising the powers and performing the duties of the strata corporation, each council member must act honestly and in good faith with a view to the best interests of the strata corporation, and exercise the care, diligence and skill of a reasonably prudent person in comparable circumstances”

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  2. Accountability advocate says:

    My strata council has not posted the slogan “Ignorance is strength” but follows it as slavishly as a citizen in Oceania in Orwell’s 1984. For them there is no need to look at the SPA or a contract before acting. It is better to take some “knee jerk” action and then spend strata owners’ money to hire a lawyer to defend that action even though it turns out to be either contrary to the SPA or a breach of fiduciary duty.

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  3. Louise Webb says:

    Is there any legal reason why strata meeting minutes etc cant be emailed or posted online? My strata insists that there is, but I think that this has to be untrue….

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    • stratalife says:

      Thanks for your question Louise.
      Strata documents can be sent via email. They are a legal document. They are available to the public with any owner’s permission.
      Many strata corporations are sending documents digitally now in order to save paper costs etc. No different from utility companies, banks and government.
      Perhaps your strata has confused privacy and transparency.

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  4. Shari says:

    What about giving access to an online strata website to tenants as well as owners, i.e. sending out a mass e-mail including a link to a strata website and posting notices in the laundry room on how to access this website. A website which contains minutes and references to finances, contingency amounts and in my opinion, personal information which should not be given to any fly by night tenant or anyone visiting the laundry room. Our property manager wants to engage everyone, even those not financially vested . . .

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    • stratalife says:

      Your Property Manager is prudent by wanting to engage everyone. You must remember that Minutes are actually public which is why, so often, strata corporations choose to be rather minimalist when it comes to information relayed through these documents.
      References to the finances of the corporation are not private because they do not specify individual owners. Finances are indicative of the corporation’s business health by way of strata council governance.
      If your property manager is creating a website specifically for your corporation then only owners and tenants may have access to this information. Bear in mind, it is up to the actual owner of the unit as to how much access a tenant may have to the corporation records. Ultimately, the owner is responsible to the corporation while the tenant is accountable to the owner.A tenant is governed by the bylaws.
      Personal information relating to specific owners would never be included in Minutes. The Privacy Act protects individuals regarding access to personal information. No professional property manager would abuse confidentiality without risking employment and lawsuits.Generally, strata council members would be more worrisome regarding confidentiality leaks than a property manager.Property managers are more worrisome in other areas to be sure but, one supporting business transparency through website access for all owner should be encouraged and applauded. After all it’s not neighbourhood watch as much as it’s strata-wise.
      Thanks for commenting on the blog.

      SQ

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