Explosive strata disputes escape court quagmire with new B.C. tribunal
'These disputes were orphans of the justice system - now have a home,' said justice minister
Dust-up over dog doo? Fracas over parking spots?
Condo owners in fights were stuck with onerous, expensive courts to get justice — until now.
B.C. has started up the world's only online Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) that allows condo owners in heated disputes to file claims over their smart phones avoiding the onerous cost and process of court.
"It can be something as simple and small as somebody feeding squirrels off their balcony, but it can be a very large issue in a strata," said Tony Gioventu executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association of B.C. who lauded the initiative for easing access to justice.
The CRT is aimed at educating people in disputes, using plain language and encouraging condo owners to resolve issues, even enabling initial access from an iPhone.
"It's the only online tribunal, not just in Canada, but in the world that's integrated with the justice system," said CRT chair Shannon Salter, who said it's getting attention in other jurisdictions from Australia to the U.K.
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"Somebody can go through the process from the comfort of their own home and at the end of that get an enforceable court order," she said.
Strata properties are a popular housing choice created in 1965 in B.C. allowing people to share common property. More than 1.5-million people live within 31,000 stratas in the province, governed by the Strata Property Act.
Disputes 'trouble and tear' at small communities
Small claims disputes are also being streamlined in B.C., and will be accepted online by the spring of 2017 by the CRT.
"The CRT also has a very wide jurisdiction over the kinds of everyday strata disputes that tear at these small communities all over British Columbia," said Salter.
"Early intake" of strata claims began July 13, but the system will be tweaked and phased in over the next year. [It will deal with] the kind of bread and butter, low level problems that can cause tension and conflict," she said.
The CRT can make calls on issues around:
- Bylaw fees.
- Unfair actions.
- The enforcement and interpretation of bylaws.
- Voting and annual general meeting issues.
The CRT does not have jurisdiction over:
- Interest in land.
- Any order to liquidate a strata.
- Forcing residents to sell.
For those issues, strata members must still go to the B.C. Supreme Court which has stricter time limits, higher costs (an average of $20-$35,000) and a more complex process that can take on average seven to 11 months to get the first court date.
"These disputes … you might call them orphans of the justice system, now have a home," said B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton.