One of council’s hardest jobs is to manage people; both with respect to their expectations and their criticisms. At times this can be an exasperating endeavour.
The first thing to do when dealing with an owner who is making unreasonable and unrelenting demands is to take a step back and not react. One can easily get caught up in responding to the demands and accusations of such an owner. Engagement seems not to satisfy, but only fuel them. Answers given are rarely satisfactory. In order to manage the situation, boundaries must be established.
The first boundary to set is with respect to timing. Other than the deadlines under s.36 (document requests) and s.144 (hardship rental requests) of the Strata Property Act (“SPA”) there is no obligation to respond to an owner’s correspondence within a certain time frame. Unless a matter is truly urgent (i.e. a needed repair that presents a danger), then council can wait until the next meeting to review, consider and, if necessary, respond to communications. That way, council controls the process at its own pace and becomes less reactive in its approach. The owner can simply be informed that their communication will be reviewed at the next meeting.
The second boundary is with respect to answering questions and responding to demands. It is important to remember that owners are not entitled to information, explanations or answers; only to documents (and only then in accordance with s.35 and s.36 of the SPA). They are not entitled to anything else, including answers to their inquiries. As such, there is no obligation to answer questions posed by owners or respond to their complaints (unless those complaints are with respect to an alleged breach of the bylaws – in which case council is obliged by s.26 of the SPA to deal with the matter). Council can simply advise (through the minutes even) that they have noted the owner’s comments/concerns.
Even though an owner can request a hearing under s.34.1 of the SPA, the purpose of the hearing is “to be heard”, not to demand answers. Only if they seek a decision is council obliged under the section to respond. An owner has no right to question council- Hugo v. The Owners, Strata Plan 1601 et al, 2018 BCCRT 11. In McDowell v. The Owners, Strata Plan 1875, 2018 BCCRT 11 the CRT stated that “a hearing is a right to be heard, not a forum to make demands with respect to governance of the strata invoking discussion and rebuttal.” Where that is the sole nature of the request, a hearing can be refused.
Along those same lines, individual owners do not have a right to micromanage the operations of the strata corporation (nor should they be allowed to do so). A council is elected each year with the statutory task, pursuant to s.4 and s.26 of the SPA, to manage the daily affairs of the strata corporation. Again, suggestions and comments can be noted as having been received. However, there is no obligation on the part of council to follow any of those (unless they come in the form of a direction by majority rule pursuant to s.27 of the SPA).
The last boundary is not to engage in revisiting the same issue(s) over and over again. There is no need to respond to communications regarding a topic that has already been dealt with (unless there is new information or a statutory obligation to do so; such as under s.144 of the SPA). A single owner cannot be allowed to hijack council’s agenda because they have not gotten their way. However, councils must act reasonably. A refusal to engage an objectively reasonable request could lead to a finding of significant unfairness under s.164 of the SPA.
Even when boundaries are established they sometimes don’t work. When that happens, recourse to the CRT becomes the option of last resort. In Schuler v. The Owners, Strata Plan BCS 4064, 2018 BCCRT 175 the CRT ordered an owner not to communicate directly with the council and from using derogatory language towards trades, staff and council and from intimidating them. Where an owner doesn’t comply with an order and continues in their disruptive behaviour they can be ordered to sell and leave - The Owners, Strata Plan NW1245 v. Linden 2017 BCSC 852.
Dealing with difficult owners is not easy, but with resolve, a strategy and legal advice where needed, the situation can be brought under control.
This article is intended for information purposes only and should not be taken as the provision of legal advice. Shawn M. Smith is lawyer whose practice focuses on strata property law. He frequently writes and lectures for strata associations. He is a partner with the law firm of Cleveland Doan LLP and can be reached at (604)536-5002 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be followed on Twitter @stratashawn.