British Columbia

COVID-19 and insurance woes create 'perfect tsunami' for condo managers

The coronavirus crisis is complicating condo life, just as a second wave of soaring insurance premium hikes is about to kick in.

‘It’s a huge, immediate financial problem for the strata corporation. This at a time, people are strapped '

A message urging people to stay home is seen on a condo balcony as people cycle past in Vancouver, on Sunday, March 29, 2020. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The coronavirus crisis is complicating condo life, just as a second wave of soaring insurance premium hikes is about to kick in.

For condominium residents, the COVID-19 crisis has led to elevator restrictions, party bans and quiet hallways as people try to keep two metres apart.

For condo property managers, it's a frantic time.

"Some stratas are more prone to drama that others," said property manager Allen Regan, who is busy keeping up with changing disinfecting and physical distancing rules, while juggling the personalities and logistics involved in upcoming annual general meetings.

The cost of catastrophes, claims and expensive repairs have sent insurance costs soaring — in some cases doubling them — and many were hit with new costs at the end of 2019. 

The other half were bracing for cost increases starting April 30.

Then came COVID-19.

"It is sort of a perfect tsunami of problems all coming at once," said Regan, managing broker with Bayside Properties and Services Ltd., which helps manage strata corporations in the Lower Mainland.

Condo managers are struggling to handle the logistics of important spring annual general meetings while keeping people two metres apart. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The coronavirus crisis is forcing some of B.C.'s condominium stratas onto shaky legal ground as they try to balance achieving a quorum of council members to pass budgets with physical distancing rules.

Building managers are also trying to balance the privacy rights of potentially infected residents in isolation with the safety concerns of other condo dwellers as the virus spreads worldwide.

Some of them are vulnerable because of their age or underlying health issues. People are being urged to inform management if they are self-isolating, so it can take safety and cleaning precautions.

"You need to look out for them and accommodate them at the same time," said Tony Gioventu, president of the Condominium Home Owners Association of B.C. 

Condo community enforces social distancing

Gioventu says the condo community is also good at catching rule-breakers, like the group that returned from Arizona to Vancouver Island last week and headed out shopping in the community but were reported to health authorities by neighbours.

Gioventu also urges condo dwellers to call police if they hear house parties — as gatherings like this are against provincial health rules and punishable with fines.

A man in a condo tower watches the sunset in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia on Friday, March 20, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

As cleaning regimes are ramped up, strata corporations also must pass budget increases to handle rising insurance costs. Regan says this must happen fast as strata corporations are non-profits, so they do not have financial cushions to draw on if owners refuse to approve budget increases or pay strata fees or special levies.

If that happens, then "it's a huge, immediate financial problem for the strata corporation. This at a time when people are strapped financially," said Regan.

'Rabble rousers' may challenge video AGMs

He is not sure if anybody will challenge the video-conferenced AGMs as invalid under the Strata Property Act.

To hold an AGM, there needs to be a quorum present. That quorum is often one-third of the strata corporation's eligible voters, but it varies by strata.

However, getting quorum in one room right now is a challenge with social distancing rules that require people to stay two metres apart. Regan said that stratas can pass a bylaw to allow an alternative form of meeting but not many stratas have that in place.

So they are moving ahead anyway, as budgets need approval and corridors need cleaning.

"We have a few rabble rousers that have threatened to go to the CRT — which is the civil resolution tribunal — if meetings aren't held 'properly.' I think most councils are saying fine. Let the chips fall where they may," said Regan.

About the Author

Yvette Brend is a CBC Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@CBC.ca @ybrend

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