“This is a dispute about a fence.”
That’s the first sentence of a B.C. Civil Resolution Tribunal decision in the case of a Mission resident looking for justice against the strata that runs her complex.
This sentence is technically correct, but it’s really more of a nine-year war (nine years!) that highlights the kind of petty problems that spiral out of control and end up in some sort of court.
I’m writing about it not to embarrass those involved, but to show how if residents and stratas just sat down and communicated better, then perhaps these things wouldn’t happen.
I’m hoping people can learn from this.
The resident in question took the strata to the CRT to get a judgement that she had been treated “significantly unfairly” after it refused to let her build a fence. The woman was also looking for the strata to pay her $1,300 for the materials she had already purchased if she was not allowed to build the fence. Or she wanted the strata to have to build some sort of nearby fence to comply with city bylaws and then pay her $1,200.
The strata, of course, denied she had been unfairly treated.
The CRT decision outlines a long, exhausting process going back nine years when this resident first asked to have a fence built.
She claimed to have had the fence request approved twice by the strata, although the decision says she was unable to provide a copy of the approval letter. She did, however, provide emails with a previous property manager that sorta, kinda sounded like it had been approved, plus email exchanges.
The lesson from this is that if you are going to make claims like this, you have to keep the documentation.
The woman also claimed that the strata had approved similar fences to other residents in the complex – a claim the strata denied.
If true, then I see the woman’s point. Many strata residents feel that some people get preferential treatment.
One issue that came up is that while residents had patios, the way the complex was structured, the yards weren’t technically “exclusive” to those residents.
What is unclear is that if this resident had received approval to build the fence, including in 2015, why she didn’t actually build it. Instead, it says that on at least two occasions, she didn’t complete the project due to “personal reasons.”
The woman even dragged in her ex-spouse to testify that the couple had received permission because, as I said, she couldn’t provide the actual approval letters. She also had testimony from someone who was a previous strata president saying they remember the fence being approved.
Then, in 2020, the woman started having fence posts installed, which raised the ire of some of the residents who told her to stop.
She again claimed that a previous strata – from 2013 – approved the fence, but the current strata wasn’t buying that.
The CRT adjudicator had a lot to sift through in making a decision.
The ruling said that it was “likely” that a previous strata had approved some sort of fence, but added that it was “vague” about which fence plans it was and that a lot of time had passed since then.
The strata responded that “the fact that other strata lots have fences or gates enclosing a yard does not mean its decision to deny (her) request was significantly unfair.”
“I find the strata’s decision to prohibit (the resident) from building her fence based on her failure to obtain the approvals required by the bylaws and SPA was significantly unfair,” said the decision. “However, I find the strata’s decision to prohibit (the) fence based on its size and location on (common property) was not significantly unfair.”
The strata claimed that it has declined other requests to build fences, but the decision chides the strata for not providing enough documentation into how those requests were handled.
The resident also claimed the strata president had a “personal bias” against her – a common allegation in these disputes – but the decision found no evidence of this.
In the end, the resident’s claims were dismissed.
As you can see from this, there is a lot of blamed to go around.
The lack of communication. The lack of documentation on both sides. The long wait from the supposed approval to when the resident actually started building a fence.
These kinds of battles are common in stratas, but they don’t have to be.