As any strata owner knows, an obstreperous unit owner can make everyone else’s life hell. Keith Fraser, in a recent article in The Province reported on a B.C. Supreme Court ruling ordering problem strata owners to sell their unit as a result of their outrageous conduct. The decision is interesting for two reasons. First, it encourages strata councils to seek redress from the courts sooner. Second, it confirms the court’s authority to order the sale of a troublesome strata member’s unit.
The court described the Jordisons’ “several years” of poor conduct as “excessive noise, abusive language, uttering threats and harassment.” For over four years, the strata council tried to moderate the Jordisons’ behavior. The strata council wrote letters, which went unanswered, and imposed fines, which went unpaid. Ultimately, the strata members resolved unanimously to seek the assistance of the court.
Describing the order to sell the Jordisons’ unit as draconian but necessary, the Court relied on the provision of the Strata Property Act, R.S.B.C 1998, c. 43. This statute provides strata councils with the responsibility for “managing and maintaining the common property and common assets for the benefit of the owners”. The strata council must do so through its bylaws and rules which, among other things, govern the conduct of residents and visitors. Strata bylaws generally provide that no one is entitled to cause a nuisance, unreasonable noise or unreasonable interference with the rights of others. As the Court noted, “the bylaws and rules are created to establish acceptable standards of behavior which are applicable to all members of the Strata, thereby enabling the members to line in peaceful accord with their respective neighbours absent harassment and abuse”.
Relying on this framework and the evidence before it, the Court concluded “that the Jordisons’ conduct, including their obscene language and gestures, their interference with the activities of others, their spitting at other residents, the unacceptable loud and unnecessary noise they in their unit created, have unreasonably interfered with the rights of others who are entitled to enjoy in peace the common property, the common assets and their own strata lots. . . . The Jordisons’ actions amount to an assault upon those residents of the Strata who have been for some years subjected to the Jordisons’ misbehaviour in all its varied forms.”
The interesting aspect of this decision is not that the order to sell was made, but that the implicit criticism of the strata council for not seeking relief from the courts sooner. The Court commented that the strata council’s imposition of fines, which were not paid, did not amount to the effective enforcement of its bylaws. Instead, the strata council should have sought injunctive relief which, if granted, “would have put a court order into effect with the expectation that its presence would have curbed the breaches of the bylaws by the Jordisons. If the Jordisons, either jointly or separately, failed or refused to comply with the terms of such an injunction, the Strata could apply for a finding that one or both of the Jordisons were in contempt or, alternatively, the Strata could then have brought an application for an order that Ms. Jordison sell her unit.”
Had this been done, the Court would have been able oversee the Jordisons’ conduct for a period of time before being asked to order the sale of their unit. Ultimately, the Court concluded that the Jordisons were unable to “accept the seriousness of their actions and the deleterious impact their actions have had on the lives of others around them.” This justified the order to sell. However, it is clear the Court would have preferred a more graduated approach to the exercise of its jurisdiction. Asking for an order to sell a troublesome owners’ unit is the nuclear option and will not be as easily granted as an injunction designed to seek conformance with the bylaws and rules.
The lesson for strata councils is two-fold. First, seek the assistance of the courts sooner when faced with objectionable conduct. Remember to document well the conduct and the strata’s efforts to address the problem. Second, if a strata seeks the assistance of the court, the court is more likely to exercise its jurisdiction to force the sale of a troublesome owners’ unit in the face of continuing problems.
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