Reading and Understanding Strata Documents Like a Pro
Oct 20, 2022
Oct 20, 2022
Strata documents can be long and overwhelming but an essential part of your due diligence on any property purchase. I mean, who doesn’t love reading 500+ pages of documents?! If you’re going to spend the time to read through them all, it’s best you have a better understanding of what exactly you’re looking at.
As a buyer, we always recommend that you should review all strata documents in detail prior to a firm deal. Ensure you lean on your real estate advisor to help you better understand how these documents impact you. When you aren’t totally sure how to understand what exactly you’re reading, its important that you ask for help! You need to better understand the “bigger picture” after all this is one of the biggest purchases of your life!! To better help with the process, we have broken down the different types of documents in any given strata purchase.
This form is the strata’s disclosure to you. Typically this form is ordered by the listing agent from the property manager and discloses a variety of information about the specific strata lot and the strata corporation. This form is a “snapshot” for that specific period, giving you updates on the strata fees, designated parking and storage, how many units in the building are rented, if the strata is a part of any litigation, any outstanding charges that need to be paid by the current owner (such as special levies or fines from the strata) and so on. Attached to the Form B must be the strata corporations rules, their current budget, the owner developers rental disclosure statement, depreciation report and any indemnity agreements (an agreement between the strata and owner for any renovations the owner takes responsibility for). Keep in mind you would be assuming the responsibility outlined in that indemnity agreements, so it’s important that you ensure this information is accurate and a true reflection of the work that was done to the strata lot.
EXPERT TIP: It’s important to ensure the Form B that you receive from the listing agent is no older than 1 month, so if the Form B the listing agent has provided exceeds 30 days request a new one as you want to ensure that any of the information hasn’t changed and you have the most up to date information.
Every strata corporation is required to obtain insurance for the building and common areas as specified in the strata property act. The strata’s property insurance should cover the common property, common assets, buildings shown on the strata plan and fixtures built by the developer as part of the original construction. BC has seen significant increases in strata insurance premiums and its important that you review and are aware of the strata insurance deductibles. An owner within a strata may be required to pay the strata corporations insurance deductible which is why it’s important that your personal insurance policy matches those deductibles so you are covered in the event of major leak or sewer back up. Keep in mind, strata fees only pay for the strata corporation’s insurance; strata fees do NOT pay for homeowner’s or tenant’s insurance.
EXPERT TIP: If you have had any extensive renovations done to your home and made any permanent changes where the cost of the improvement is above the original builder specs, be sure to get in touch with your insurance agent to ensure your “betterments and improvements” are reflective of the cost of the renovations or improvements, not to the home.
It’s important to understand and have up-to-date financials on the building, especially when comparing this to the Depreciation Report to ensure the strata is being proactive with any major work required in the building. The Financial Statements go over all the operational costs (expenses and liabilities) of the building and are important documents between the strata council and the owners. There are also two major parts to the budget; the operating fund (OF) and the contingency reserve fund (CRF). The operating fund is for expenses that usually occur every year and the contingency reserve fund is to pay for expenses that occur less often than every year. Once the annual budget is approved then it defines what the owners would like the council to accomplish in the upcoming year.
EXPERT TIP: The annual budget is an important document to refer to in order to better understand the financial health of the strata. Taking a closer look at the Operating Fund and Contingency Reserve Funds will give a good indication of how the money is being spent and if the strata is staying within budget. Check to see if the strata has any separate contingency reserve line items identified in the budget for major repairs. Also see if the strata has any revenue sources that they collect on top of the maintenance fees, this could be revenue from cell towers, laundry or moving in and out fees.
Bylaws & Rules will affect owners rights and responsibilities and its important to understand how these will impact your use and enjoyment of the home. Rules are different from bylaws. Rules may not govern the use of strata lots, only Bylaws can govern the use of strata lots. This is where you can check for pet restrictions, rental restrictions, amenities rules, gym hours etc. Always go through this thoroughly to better understand if the rules align with what you are looking for. The Strata Property Act does have a set of standard bylaws which are default bylaws for a strata corporation but understand that strata’s will add and amend those bylaws over time so every building is different.
EXPERT TIP: If you plan on getting a pet, double check all the restrictions as each building can be different. Don’t assume the restrictions are all the same. Some buildings have restrictions on size, type of breed and limit per dog or cat.
This document is an owner developer’s statement declaring the number of lots an owner developer intends to rent out until a specific date or that there are no bylaws which restrict rentals; or that there is a bylaw which restricts rentals. It determines whether strata lot owners can rent their lots despite rental restriction bylaws. Owners should pay close attention to this form if they are buying new construction.
EXPERT TIP: Many buildings have different rental situations so its important that you determine whether any rental conditions imposed by the owner developer are appropriate or effect you.
This is a legal document submitted by the builder outlining all the planned dimensions of each strata lot, common areas within a strata and how the parking is allocated etc. This document will also indicate if the parking/storage is common property or limited common property which is important for you to know. It’s also important to review this document to confirm exactly what you are purchasing and double check the square footage in MLS (if not professionally measured) to make sure it matches the Strata Plan. If there are large discrepancies between the Strata Plan square footage and the floorplan, you will want to better understand where that difference is coming from. We generally say if it’s more than 5% difference then its best to do some more digging!
EXPERT TIP: In some older buildings its important that your read the Strata Plan legend as the parking space square footage is sometimes included in the overall square footage of the strata lot!
A Depreciation Reports identifies what common property and assets the strata has and what are the projected maintenance, repair and replacement costs over a 30 year time span. This report also contains information on any major building repairs or projects that have already been completed which can be helpful information to understand how much work and how proactive the strata has been in the past. Every new building has a 2-5-10 year warranty and after each milestone, strata councils hire an engineering company to do a report on the building. If you want more information on Depreciation Reports check out our “Expert Depreciation Report” blog post here: https://residentexperts.ca/news-and-views/expert-advice/expert-guide-to-depreciation-reports/
EXPERT TIP: The report doesn’t include anything that an individual owner is responsible for. It is crucial that you read the bylaws to know what is strata’s responsibility and what is the responsibility of the individual owner. For example, if windows are maintained by the individual owner (according to the bylaws) then they will not be included in the Depreciation Report but an owner (or prospective buyer) should be aware of the potential expenses related to maintaining and replacing their windows.
Typically when offering on a strata property you will be given 2 years worth of strata meetings which include SGM’s (special general meetings), and AGM’s (annual general meetings). Meeting minutes are written record of anything discussed during the meetings and provide a channel of communication with the owners. By reading these minutes you will be able to get a sense for how the council deals with the issues and gauge how pro-active they are. Do you commonly see a strata lot being brought up in the minutes with noise complaints, and is this strata right next to you? Have there been any pest issues in the building or continual security issues?
EXPERT TIP: Start from the most recent year and recent meeting minutes and work backwards. You will notice there is a lot of correspondence and overlap within the minutes, so it’s best to start with the most updated information.
There you have it! We hope this helps ease your mind, as sometimes you will be going through strata documents for multiple buildings. When in doubt, always ask for clarification and if needed, seek professional advice. Our job as realtors is to help guide and advise our clients, but we are in no way strata document experts! Each building and each strata lot is unique so there can be many different scenarios that come up.
Don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our Resident Experts to help guide you with your next strata purchase.