By Tony Gioventu
We are in an 86-unit townhouse development that was built around 1985. Our buildings and clubhouse are almost 30 years old, and we are preparing to do a number of upgrades to our property.
We finished a complete roofing project in 2008, and the decking membranes in 2010. Overall, our property is in great shape, but we have one matter that is causing us great trouble.
The copper piping has been showing signs of leaks in almost every unit since 2006, and owners were advised to upgrade their plumbing systems. So far, about half the owners have replaced their water lines.
The problem is those owners who have not, or refuse to upgrade their water lines. As a result, we have had four major leaks in these units, causing serious damages, and now our insurance deductible on renewals has climbed to $50,000. The vigilant owners are now paying the price for the neglectful owners. How can we force these people to upgrade their water lines before we lose our insurance?
There are substantial differences in the obligations for maintenance and repair of building components and strata lots between mid/highrise buildings, townhouses and bare land strata corporations.
Before a strata corporation can identify who is responsible for maintaining or repairing part of a strata lot or common property, it needs to first identify where the boundaries lie, and what parts of the strata lots are common property.
Start with the registered strata plan, the definitions of common property in the Strata Property Act and the bylaws of the strata corporation. The strata plan shows where the boundaries are located and the difference between common property, limited common property and the strata lot.
The next step is to identify the component, such as the water lines. Then look at the corporation bylaws and the act to establish responsibility.
Definitions vary greatly from strata to strata, so don't rely on someone else's experience.
Here is an example: Step 1: The strata plan is reviewed and we identify they are townhouses, and where the boundaries of the strata lots are located.
Step 2: The water lines are identified. We identify they are exclusive to each townhouse, and not in connection with or capable of being used with another strata lot, so they are part of the strata lot and not the common property; therefore, the strata lot owner's obligation begins at the property boundary. This is likely where the pressure valve and shut off are located, where the line comes into the strata lot.
Step 3: We review the bylaws, which do not indicate any other obligations of the strata corporation for maintenance and repair to the strata lot. From this, we can summarize that the townhouse owner is responsible for their own plumbing/water line upgrades within the strata lot.
But take a step back and ask, "What is in the best interest of all the owners?"
The optimum solution is that qualified contractors renew all the water lines for the best price. Some strata townhouses and bare land corporations - as permitted by Section 72 of the act - have adopted a bylaw where the strata has taken responsibility for the maintenance of specified portions of a strata lot.
Replacing the piping in 86 units at once under a single contract will be substantially cheaper than all 86 owners contracting separately. The strata corporation can plan a contingency expense or have a special levy that ensures the work is completed.
Another option for townhouse owners is to enforce the bylaws with respect to an owner's duty to maintain and repair their strata lot, but if the strata corporation does not control the piping replacement, it has no control over the quality of construction or the competency of the contractor. Everyone will pay for the increased risks and costs, especially when inexperienced owners replace their own plumbing or refuse to complete the work.
If your townhouse complex is in this situation, it would be valuable to get some legal advice on a bylaw that solves the problem and protects the investment of the owners.
Even if your owners do not agree on a bylaw, agreeing on a single contractor for the community will result in better construction standards, costs and accessibility for all owners to complete their repairs.