What is a condominium?
A condominium is a strata lot in a strata
development that subdivides a building (or sometimes land) into separate
parts (called strata lots) for individual ownership.
Depending on the development, a strata lot may be an apartment, a
townhouse, a retail store, a medical office, and so on. In a high-rise
strata building, each apartment is a separate strata lot. In this
example, the strata scheme allows people to own their apartment.
The words strata and condominium mean the same thing. British Columbia is the only place in North America that uses the word “strata” instead of “condominium”.
It’s not the size or shape of a development that makes it
a condominium project. Instead, it’s the legal nature of it. If the
development is legally created by a strata plan, it’s a condo project –
whether it’s a 300-unit high-rise apartment, a 50-lot bare land strata
recreational development, or a 2-unit duplex.
What should you consider before making an offer to buy a condo?
- Monthly strata fees – all strata
lot owners must pay strata fees for their strata lot. The Schedule of
Unit Entitlement sets each strata lot’s payment. The strata fees are
based on the strata corporation’s annual budget, so check the current
budget. Is a large part of it for recreational facilities (for example, a
fitness centre and swimming pool)? If so, how much you will use them.
Your monthly strata fees will pay your share of the upkeep for the
recreational facilities – even if you never use them.
- The physical condition of the project –
in a strata development, the general rule is that every owner must
contribute to common expenses, such as repairs, unless an exception to
the rule applies. If the development is in poor repair, you will have to
pay your share of the cost to fix it, even if the repairs do not
involve your strata lot or the part of the project where your unit is
located. You may have to pay for special levies that have been
previously approved, but not yet implemented. Review the minutes of
meetings to see if any major repairs have recently been made or are
planned. Check the minutes of general meetings of the strata corporation
and meetings of the strata council. If the strata lot is part of
something called a section, you also need to check the minutes of
general meetings of the section as well as minutes of the meetings of
the section’s executive. In each case, ask for complete copies of the
relevant minutes for the past two years.
- The type of ownership: “freehold” or “leasehold”
– our legal system distinguishes between ownership and possession. In a
lease, the landlord owns the property, but gives possession to the
tenant for the term of the lease. In most condominium developments,
people own their strata lots. These are called freehold developments –
each owner holds “fee simple title”. The Strata Property Act permits
a government body, for example, the City of Vancouver, to be the
landlord of a leasehold strata development. In a leasehold development,
the landlord owns the property, but grants a long-term lease to a
developer (say, for 99 years) to build a strata development there. The
developer is a long-term tenant who, with the landlord’s permission,
creates a strata development on the landlord’s property.
In this example, suppose the
developer, as the long-term tenant, builds a high-rise apartment
building on the City’s land. After the developer files the strata plan
(called a leasehold strata plan), the high-rise
apartment building is divided into strata lots and common property. The
government owns each apartment and is the long-term landlord. The
developer is the long-term tenant, entitled to possession of the
apartment for the rest of the 99-year lease. The developer does not own
the apartment, so it cannot sell it. But the developer can sell its
leasehold interest in each apartment under the long-term lease. In other
words, the developer may sell to a buyer who can then occupy the
apartment for the rest of the long-term lease. But most buyers don’t
stay in one place that long. Instead, that buyer will probably sell
their leasehold interest (as long-term tenant under the lease) to the
next leasehold buyer, and so on. A long-term lease in a strata
development may last for many years, as this example shows.
If a person is registered on title as the long-term tenant under a long-term lease in a leasehold strata development, the Strata Property Act treats
that person as an owner. The long-term tenant must pay the monthly
strata fees and any other contributions, such as a special levies.
Depending on the project, the developer may prepay all the rent due
under the long-term lease. Or, rent may be payable every year under the
lease. In that case, the lease usually requires payment of annual rent,
but permits payment in 12 equal monthly installments, usually on the
first of each month.
In addition to paying monthly
strata fees, long-term tenants must pay their proportionate share of the
monthly rent under the long-term lease. When the long-term lease ends,
the Strata Property Act allows several options. Normally, the
long-term tenant must vacate the strata lot, unless other arrangements
are made. At this point, possession of the strata lot goes back to the
landlord. But the landlord must pay an amount to the departing long-term
tenant. The compensation is calculated using a formula in the long-term
lease or by government regulation. This is why the fair market value of
a leasehold strata lot is usually much less than the value of a
comparable freehold strata lot. If you plan to buy the interest of a
long-term tenant in a leasehold strata lot, you should make any offer
subject to first reviewing the long-term lease and all related documents
with your lawyer.
- The bylaws and rules – read them
carefully before you buy. Bylaws set out owners’ rights and
responsibilities and control what the place will be like to live in.
Bylaws control the use of strata lots and common property. Bylaws set
out the duties of owners, tenants, occupants, visitors, the corporation
and the strata council, as well as the procedures at council and general
meetings. Bylaws also allow the strata corporation to penalize owners
who violate the bylaws.
Every strata corporation begins with a set of default bylaws, called the standard bylaws. The standard bylaws can be changed with a custom bylaw, technically called an amended bylaw. To be enforceable, an amended bylaw must first be filed with the strata plan at the Land Title Office.
A bylaw may restrict an owner’s
ability to rent a residential strata lot to a tenant. This is
important: if you plan to live in your unit, you may want the other
owners to live in their units too. You may want rental restrictions. On
the other hand, you if you’re buying the unit as an investment for
rental, you will not want any rental restrictions.
Bylaws may also restrict pets
or certain age groups, such as children. Similarly, the bylaws will
likely require you to get permission before making significant changes
to your strata lot, such as altering walls or making plumbing or
A strata corporation may also
have rules. Rules apply only to the use and enjoyment of common property
and common assets. For example, a rule may limit the size of vehicles
that may park in a common-property parkade, or restrict the hours when a
common-property fitness centre is open.
If you ask, a seller can obtain strata documents from the
strata corporation for you to review, including a set of up-to-date,
consolidated bylaws, as well as a complete copy of the rules. But even
if you understand the bylaws and rules before you buy, they can be
changed at any time.
- The Information Certificate – you
can ask the strata corporation for an Information Certificate (also
known as Form B). It has important information on several things,
including the corporation’s finances, the money the strata lot owes for
strata fees, and other obligations, such as a special levy. The
Information Certificate also shows if the strata corporation has adopted
any new bylaws not yet filed at the Land Title Office, and whether the
strata corporation is involved in any lawsuits or arbitration. You
should always review a current Information Certificate before making an
offer to buy a strata lot. Or you should make your offer subject to
reviewing a current Information Certificate.
- The financial statements of the strata corporation –
these show how much your monthly strata fees will be and where all the
money goes. They show any special levies to cover major expenses such as
repairs. They also show how much is in the contingency reserve fund. If
any major renovations are planned, you will have to help pay for them,
so this is important information.
- The Schedule of Unit Entitlement (also
called a Form V) – each strata lot must contribute proportionately to
common expenses, such as strata fees and special levies. Strata lot
owners are personally liable for the debt of their strata lot. The
Schedule of Unit Entitlement is a table that shows the portion of costs
that you, as a strata lot owner, are responsible for. Compare your share
of the costs to those of owners of other strata lots in the strata
- The strata plan and resolutions affecting common property –
the strata plan, including any amendments, and resolutions affecting
common property, are filed at the Land Title Office. Get copies of these
documents and review them. Check the location and area of your strata
lot and see if any limited common property features are attached to your
- The title to the strata lot – this
may limit the use of the strata lot or affect its value. For, example, a
bare land strata development may limit the height of any house you want
to build on it. With your lawyer, review the results of a current title
search for the strata lot.
- The Disclosure Statement – if you’re buying a new condominium in a development with 5 or more strata lots, the developer must supply a Disclosure Statement under the Real Estate Development Marketing Act. Read the Disclosure Statement and any amendments – they have a lot of important information about the project.