What to Know About Strata Properties
With the average home price in Nanaimo on the rise month over month, it’s important to know all your options when looking for your next home. Strata properties are typically valued lower than properties without a strata because there are different limitations and rules surrounding strata properties. A lot of people immediately think of high-rise condos when they hear the word strata, but there are many different types of properties that can use strata, and some of those may surprise you! Did you know that quite a few homes in Benson Meadows, one of Nanaimo’s most sought after subdivisions, are strata properties with 5 acres of land? This is due to a bylaw that allowed for a large piece of land to be subdivided into 5-acre parcels if the new lots were stratified. This goes to show that any property type can be a strata property and it’s important to always perform a title search when looking for a new property, so you know exactly what kind of ownership interest you have in your property. In this post we will go over the different types of stratas and what these mean, as well as important considerations you should be thinking of when deciding between strata and non-strata properties.
You can’t always tell if a property is part of a strata just by looking at it because stratas are not based on the size or type of a building or piece of land. A strata corporation is formed when a developer files a strata plan with the Land Title Office. A strata development can be building or land, divided into separate units that are called strata lots, which is what you own in a strata property. There is also common property attached to your strata lot which is accessible to anyone in the strata such as sidewalks, or building lobbies, as an example. Each strata lot owner inside of a strata development owns the common area of a strata together. This means that your individual property is your own, but the common property is available to everyone. This makes it important to know what spaces are common property so that you know what you have access to, and others do not. By law, a strata corporation is considered an artificial person and can purchase goods and services.
Types of Strata
Not all stratas are formed the same, and the type of strata determines what you are, or aren’t responsible for. We have established that stratas can be formed on condos, townhomes, duplexes and even single-family homes, and because there are many different property types, there must be different strata types. This is because things that are taken into considerations under a condo strata such as shared roofs, don’t apply to a single family detached home.
A freehold strata is the most common strata type that you will see in Nanaimo and the rest of the Vancouver Island real estate market. Owning a freehold strata means that you acquire a fee simple title. Just like with a property that doesn’t have a strata, you own the property until you decide to sell it.
This is where the developer who built the strata property has leased the land from the government. This is a minimum 50-year lease and at the end of the term, the government buys the land back. What you are buying in a leasehold strata is the right to live in the property until the lease expires. Due to the nature of leasehold stratas, these properties will have a diminishing value because there is a finite amount of time that the property can be enjoyed by an owner. As a result, leasehold properties are less desirable, and therefore we do not see as many of them in our market.
On top of these different types of stratas, there are also differences with what some stratas cover and consider as common property.
The traditional strata that most people think of. In this type of strata all the lots share land, walls, and common property. This means that typically anything outside of the 4 walls of your strata lot are covered under the strata and each owner in the strata corporation pays their share for maintenance and renovations. This would include items such as new roofs and exterior paint, as well as landscaping and snow removal. This means that anything inside of your four walls is up to you to maintain, which allows you to control your own finishing in your home. Keep in mind that you may need to check your strata bylaws as there may be some rules specific to your property. As an example, we have seen some stratas with bylaws that all flooring must be hard wood so it’s important to know what you are able to change inside of your unit.
Bare Land Strata
Bare land stratas are used for single detached family homes, some townhomes, and duplexes. Bare land strata corporations don’t hold an interest in a strata owner’s building and are used to divide the land only. This means that any home repairs are your sole responsibility, and the common property could include items such as driveways, streets, and above and underground services.
No matter the type of strata that you purchase, you will have a responsibility for a certain amount of the common property. This doesn’t mean a specified area, but rather an allocated percentage of the expenditures, based on the size of your strata lot relative to the other strata owners. This is called your unit entitlement. As an example, if you lived in an 800 square foot condo unit, you wouldn’t have the same strata fees as the owner of the 1,600 square foot penthouse in the same strata. This allocation applies across all aspects of the strata so it's important to know what your percentage is.
Common property are the things that you have access to as being an owner within the strata corporation. This would include roadways, parking lots, and any amenities that may be offered in your strata. Each strata is different in what they consider as common property, so it’s important to know these things before making your purchase. There is also something called limited common property which is property of the strata that is exclusive to one or more strata lots. An example of limited common property would be your designated parking space in the parking lot that is shared by all the strata owners. While this is your specific parking spot, it is maintained by the strata.
One of the considerations when looking at strata properties must be the strata fees. This is important because this also factors into your financing as it is a part of your monthly housing expenses, and the fees widely vary depending on what the strata is including. Typically, bare land stratas have a lower monthly fee because there is a smaller area of common property that needs to be maintained. Living in buildings that have more amenities such as a pool or gym will have higher strata fees due to the extra maintenance that is required. It’s important to review how much the monthly strata fees are and what these fees provide for you. Another consideration with your strata fees is that they include the strata’s insurance for common property, so if there is an earthquake, the building can be repaired and reduces the bill for strata owners. It’s important to understand what kind of coverage your strata has and what kind of deductibles are charged if there is a claim made as this will be charged by your unit entitlement and can potentially be in addition to your monthly strata fees.
When you pay your monthly strata fees the money is divided into the operating fund and a contingency reserve. The operating fund is for maintenance and expenses that occur at least once a year such as insurance, utilities for common property, landscaping, etc. The contingency fund is for more exceptional expenses and reduces the amount that you may need to pay if one of these expenses come up. These expenses are called a special levy.
Special levies are expenses that a strata corporation incurs that go above and beyond the operating fund, such as renovations or new roofs. Special levies are required when there isn’t enough money in the operating fund and contingency fund. In the case of a new roof for example, the strata corporation would receive a few quotes for having the roof replaced and bring these quotes to a meeting with the strata owners. They would look at the contingency fund to determine how much extra money would be required to do the necessary work, and this amount would be divided amongst the unit entitlement of the strata owners. Once the special levy cost is determined, it is put to a vote amongst the strata owners and must receive a ¾ vote to be approved. Special levies could be as little as $100 or can be significantly higher (we’ve seen special levies upwards of $100,000) depending on what needs to be done and the state of the contingency fund. Therefore, it’s important to know if there are any special levies coming up before purchasing a strata property, or if there have been special levies passed, it’s important to know if they will be your responsibility after you make your purchase, or if the seller will be paying the special levy before you take possession.
Bylaws and Rules
Aside from the financial aspects of living in a strata property, there are also rules and bylaws that may determine how you use your property. These can vary depending on the strata corporation so if there are some things that are important to you, such as pet restrictions, it’s important that you consider these.
- Section 120 of the Strata Property Act states:
- "The bylaws of the strata corporation are the Standard Bylaws except to the extent that different bylaws are filed in the land title office"
- Section 120 of the Strata Property Act states:
- There are 2 ways that these bylaws may differ:
- Different bylaws can be filed by the owner developer with the Land Title Office.
- The strata corporation, or section, may amend (change, create or delete) bylaws through a 3/4 vote of the owners and file the amendments in the Land Title Office
- Rules are different from bylaws. Rules can be created to govern the use, safety and condition of the common property and common assets. Rules may not govern the use of strata lots, only bylaws can govern the use of strata lots.
- If rules conflict with a bylaw, the bylaw prevails
All these topics are important to consider when looking at strata properties, but our experience in the Nanaimo market allows you to feel confident that you will know exactly what to expect and ensure that you aren’t being limited by your next property – even if it is a strata!