A Fine Strata Balance

It is never easy to write a blog about strata. Strata life is a fine balance between emotion and reason. I always take a deep breath in and pray for courage every single time I hit “New Post”.

Going out on a limb and speaking of strata life is risky business. You’ll never please everyone with your opinion but what’s important, I think, is getting opinions out there – ALL of them. A bunch of different opinions practically begs for insight from knowledgeable sources and the resulting dialogue encourages collaboration and hopefully movement towards common ground. But again its risky.

Why?

Strata is a personal political entity despite all the efforts to promote it as a business model. When business becomes personal it is a battlefield and battles have two opposing sides,and different leadership styles. Leaders have bureaucracies as well because everything is  strategic.

Strata owners have very few strategic alliances at their disposal when battling strata councils or each other.

There’s the legislation of course but The Strata Property Act relies on the judicial system to enforce its content and because the judicial system’s top gun is the Supreme Court, a strata owner could really benefit from legal representation. Legal representation in strata is pricey especially if you are fortunate to secure the services of one of the best. Even then, a strata owner may not succeed in front of a judge.

Why?

Well, in court it is all about facts not emotion. When you are emotional, sometimes the facts can be obscured and little details become the deciding factor. Also, strata owners trust that strata lawyers know everything so owners can do themselves a great disservice by not trying to learn the basics of strata law. Lawyers have every right to expect their clients to be well versed on their particular circumstances.

Think about it!

You save time and money when you give your attorney as much information as you can because believe me, a good lawyer can pick through the emotional aspects of a case when you lay it on the table. In my opinion, once you’ve poured out all your pain and misery together with a well detailed timeline of facts and figures, a good lawyer will be honest with you much quicker. Again, judges deal in facts. If you have good facts, a good lawyer will argue those facts. If you have nothing beyond hurt feelings and hard lessons learned after the fact, a good lawyer will spare you the expense of court.

Some lawyers are just opportunists but you won’t see them coming if you can’t be bothered to educate yourself about strata life.

Opportunity breathes life, I’m certain, into the various homeowner associations in British Columbia. Ostensibly home owners associations exist to educate owners about strata living. The big one in BC is the Condominium Home Owner’s Association or C.H.O.A.

C.H.O.A collects membership dues from strata corporations for providing educational tools and advice. The corporation( all strata owners) becomes a member of the association but here’s the problem: the council represents the corporation. When a strata owner has a problem with the council, it is difficult to get fair advice from the association because, like property management, the association serves the council. Of course, if your corporation is not a C.H.O.A. member, the association is a godsend for the individual strata owner.

I used to sit on a council that struggled against problematic owners. I dealt directly with Tony Gioventu as a council member. He was always very reasonable and knowledgeable. He encouraged my thought process and encouraged me to educate myself as much as possible. I attended seminars whenever I could although oftentimes I registered as a council member but paid my own way. I did learn a great deal and owe C.H.O.A. -Tony specifically- a debt of gratitude.

However…….

When I was no longer on council and those problem owners took over, my access to C.H.O.A. was different. Let me explain:

My prior relationship with Tony was never diminished but his position required him to be more guarded because he served the council. He always validated my concerns without biting the hands that fed him but my questions and concerns limited his availability to me. The situation is a prime example of the importance of owners participating on council. You do not have to agree with the other members but, as a council member, you have more direct access to resources that can affect change.

Change comes from within is a very pure, strategic thought.

The only other problem I realize with C.H.O.A. is the creation of strategic political alliances. Associations work very hard for their members but, there comes a point when associations become political bureacracies in their own right.

Bureaucracies are like battle addicts. The call to battle, over time, gets lost in the glory of the battlefield. Despite the carnage of broken strata owners, associations can become part of the bigger problem. It is crucial to sift through all the advice and shared information and make clear and thoughtfully considered decisions with regard to a strata issue. It may feel like a process but conflict and contention can be sparked by misunderstanding and perception. The strata battle could easily become a strata war. Sometimes an ally can feel like an enemy and associations  often struggle to remain neutral within a tense environment.

Strata associations and solo strata owners are most often helpful with almost anything strata. They are a wealth of information as long as you don’t delude yourself into thinking they are the end all be all. Associations are political. Associations rely upon funding and must be accountable. Sometimes associations tow a line that can feel  so taut you can sense the snap is inevitable. Individuals, like me, can be burdened with painful experience that is always circling around our advice.

Good lawyers will often be forced to give you advice you don’t want to hear because it will come down to finances and how much you want to pay to feel better. They will be very stoic about it actually and you will want to beat your head against a wall but in the end, you will be grateful. A good lawyer will also be happy to advise you of your options. Lawyers with questionable agendas will be happy to encourage you to part with your money. Watch out for those ones. It’s a slippery slope.

Sift through everything and use what feels reasonable and right for you. Remember to pay it forward too because your nugget of information might be of huge assistance to someone mired in strata stress. In addition, you contribute to a strata community of owners helping owners. It is a balance, a fine strata balance to be sure, but a balance nonetheless.

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