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Learn About Stratas

All across Canada, new developments are going up faster than you can say “fixed rate mortgage.” Toronto and Vancouver’s high rise condominiums, Calgary’s sprawling townhomes, and even large scale luxury complexes are popping up in neighbourhoods across the country. Other fast growing cities, like Victoria, Edmonton, and Ottawa, are also seeing their fair share of overnight developments.

With the housing market in BC, Ontario, and Alberta at a high point, more and more people are choosing to get into the real estate market by buying into a strata or condominium corporation, instead of traditional detached homes. BC’s “leaky condo” crisis of a decade or so ago seems to have passed, and more condos are going up than ever before, all across the country.  

Are you thinking about joining the masses and purchasing your own condo? Before you take the plunge, it is important to do your research, and familiarize yourself with the necessary terminology – the “strata-speak,” if you will.

1.  Bylaws: Each strata or condominium corporation has its own set of bylaws. These are a set of rules that each person who owns a share must abide by, or face a financial penalty. Bylaws are as numerous as there are new developments, but there are a few items which pop up on strata council lists more often than others. These include things like: “the owner must maintain and repair living unit,” “must not make undue noise,” and “must not keep more than one animal.”

2.  Freehold ownership: This type of ownership is most common. Basically, it states that each owner also owns an interest in the land (the lot).

3. Leasehold ownership: This means that, along with your monthly mortgage and maintenance fees, you are responsible for a lease payment on the land; at the end of the lease, you do not own the land.  

4.  Strata/Condo Council: The elected group of owners (or renters) who manage the day-to-day business of the strata corporation. Council positions include people like the treasurer, president, and secretary.

5.  Common facilities: These are all of the areas of the condo that you have access to and share with all of the other owners, such as the hall, the stairs, an underground parking lot, and a recreation room. “Limited use common property” is an area that you do not own, but are able to use exclusively, following certain restrictions.

6.  Strata fees: Strata or condo fees must be paid by each strata owner. They are calculated annually at the strata corporation AGM, and must be reported to owners. These fees cover the general operating costs of the strata. Common expenditures include building insurance; electricity, water consumption and repairs and maintenance to common areas; pest control, cleaning materials, and management fees. Owners are responsible to pay their portion of these fees – usually, their portion is calculated proportional to the strata or condo area purchased. For example, if you have purchased a condo that takes up one quarter of the whole condo area, you are responsible for paying one quarter of the fees. Individual strata bylaws will dictate the payment schedule of fees (annually, monthly, quarterly, etc.), and the appropriate interest if owners do not pay.

Each province has their own condo or strata legislation, and most have been created or updated in recent years. BC has the Strata Property Act, which was passed July 1, 2000. BC is one of the only provinces that regularly uses the term “strata” – most others use “condominium.” Alberta has the Condominium Property Act, which was last amended on September 1, 2000. Ontario follows its own Condominium Act, which was established in 1998. While each of these Acts use slightly different terminology, they cover many of the same issues.

Each one has provisions for several different types of condominium/strata corporations, including bare land titles (where each unit consists of only land, for the owner to build upon or use later); and phased condos (where a single corporation allows for continued development over a set amount of time). Multi-phased condos are becoming increasingly common. New developments in Victoria, Vancouver, and Toronto offer the opportunity to purchase a unit in “phase one” or “phase two” – or some later phase, depending on the size of their project.

If you are considering purchasing a condo or townhome in BC, Alberta or Ontario, be sure to do your research into the laws of these particular provinces. Always ask the seller or developer for the registered strata plan (which shows you the property you will be responsible for, as well as the costs associated with it), and about any restrictive covenants or easements. Remember, when you buy into a strata you are giving up a certain amount of freedom, and entering a community.    


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