Need For Bylaws And Rules
Every strata corporation must have bylaws. Rules are optional.
Bylaws serve as a strata corporation’s constitution. They also reflect each strata community’s values. A strata owner is always subject to the community interests expressed in the bylaws.
The bylaws govern how an owner or tenant may use a strata lot, the common property and common assets. The bylaws also govern the administration of the strata corporation. 1
Bylaws can have a significant influence on the operation of a strata corporation. They are also intrusive when they affect how an owner or a tenant may use a strata lot. For example, although we like to think that our home is our castle, in a residential strata complex the bylaws may, among other things, prohibit rentals, restrict the number of adults who may occupy a strata lot, or restrict pets.
When a strata corporation is created by the deposit of a strata plan, the corporation acquires the default bylaws contained in the statute in force at the time the strata plan was filed. The technical term for default bylaws is standard bylaws. Since the default bylaws are found in a statute, we can refer to them as the statutory bylaws.
A strata corporation may change virtually everything in its statutory bylaws, subject to some legal restrictions. A strata corporation alters its statutory bylaws by passing a custom-made bylaw to add to, or subtract from, the statutory bylaws, or by creating a new bylaw or entirely deleting a statutory bylaw. To the extent that a custom-made bylaw deals with a particular subject in a way that differs from the statutory bylaws, the custom-made bylaw overrides the statutory bylaws.
The technical term for passing a custom-made bylaw is amending the bylaws. Similarly, a custom-made bylaw is called an amended bylaw. To be legally enforceable, an amended bylaw must be filed with the strata plan at the Land Title Office.
A strata corporation can tailor its bylaws to reflect the concerns of its members. Many strata corporations, for example, have amended their bylaws to address issues such as rental and pet restrictions. Sometimes, a strata corporation amends its bylaws to address a recurring problem within the strata community. For example, a large strata corporation that has difficulties with the manner in which general meetings are conducted may wish to incorporate into its bylaws certain rules of order that relate to meeting procedures.
The courts tend to interpret bylaws liberally, placing more emphasis on their purpose than technicalities. Strata Plan VIS 4663 v. Little, 2 is a good illustration.
The court described the strata development as a very attractive village of permanently located recreational vehicles with significant improvements to most of them, including railed decks.
The bylaws established the maximum length and width for a recreational vehicle on a strata lot. The bylaws also said, in part,
Awnings may be installed on permitted recreation vehicles PROVIDED ALWAYS that in no case shall awnings be enclosed with the exception of partial enclosures by transparent material. . . .
The owner made certain improvements to her strata lot, including construction of a deck adjacent to the exterior of her recreational vehicle. There was a small gap between the vehicle and the deck. The owner also built a roof over the entire deck and enclosed half the deck with siding, glass and a screen.
The strata corporation complained that the owner’s new deck extended the width of her recreational vehicle beyond the maximum permitted by the bylaws. The owner apparently argued that the deck was not actually an extension because the small space separated the vehicle from the deck.
The strata corporation was prepared to characterize the new roof as an awning, but complained that the area enclosed with siding, glass and a screen breached the bylaws. The owner argued that the materials enclosing the deck were permissible because they were “transparent materials” within the meaning of the bylaws.
The British Columbia Court of Appeal enforced the bylaws and upheld an earlier order requiring the owner to remove her improvements.
The Court of Appeal found that the deck extended the size of the recreational vehicle beyond the maximum permissible width, despite the gap separating the vehicle from the deck. The court also refused to characterize the materials used to enclose the deck as “transparent.” The court described its reasoning, in part, as follows: 3
Respect for collected governance of a community requires that bylaws be interpreted purposively, so that they accomplish the community’s goals.
In my view, the small gap is not enough reason to find that the improvement could not reasonably be regarded as an extension of the R.V. such that it now exceeds the permitted size. Moreover, the improvement the (owner) built can reasonably be regarded as not coming within the definition of an “awning.” It is difficult to find that a combination of sliding door, glass and screen windows, and siding comparable to that on the R.V. constitutes a “partial enclosure of transparent material.” To suggest otherwise would be to put the strata council in the straitjacket of a highly technical, literal interpretation of bylaws designed to be applied pragmatically and fairly for the good of the community.
Rules are less formal than bylaws. In general, they regulate only the use of common property and common assets. Rules are optional; a strata corporation does not have to have them. A strata council may make rules without first consulting the owners, although the eligible voters must later ratify each new rule. Rules are not filed at the Land Title Office, but they form part of a strata corporation’s records.
In some cases, the Strata Property Act permits a section to create bylaws respecting matters that relate solely to the section. The strata corporation’s bylaws apply to a section unless, in certain matters, the section has passed its own bylaw governing the matter. A section may only create a bylaw in respect of a matter that relates solely to the section. 4
The Strata Property Act restricts the ability of a residential section to create bylaws before the strata corporation holds its first annual general meeting (the “first AGM”). Pending the first AGM in a residential section, a unanimous vote by the eligible voters at a special general meeting of the strata corporation is necessary before the section may create a bylaw. This prerequisite does not apply if the section is non-residential. 5
In addition, the executive of a section may make rules governing the use, safety and condition of land owned by the section, or limited common property (“LCP”) designated for the exclusive use of all the strata lots in the section. The provisions of the Strata Property Act that govern a strata corporation’s rules also apply to a section’s rules. 6
Generally speaking, everything concerning the bylaws and rules of a strata corporation applies equally to a section’s bylaws and rules, subject to the legislation and to any necessary modifications inherent in dealing with a section, as opposed to a strata corporation.
A strata corporation must provide access to its bylaws and rules to every owner and tenant, and to a person authorized in writing by an owner or tenant. The strata corporation must also provide access to its bylaws and rules to a former owner, or in some cases to a former tenant, or to a person authorized in writing by the former owner or tenant. If someone with access rights asks to inspect the strata corporation’s bylaws or rules, the strata corporation must comply with the request within eight days. While the Strata Property Act 7 says the strata corporation must comply “within one week”, under the Interpretation Act 8 we must calculate this one-week period by excluding the first day and including the last day. This translates into eight days.
If someone with access rights wants copies of the relevant documents, the strata corporation may charge a fee for each copy and may refuse to provide copies until it receives payment. The fee for copies must not exceed the maximum fee set out in the regulations. At the time of this writing, the maximum permissible fee is 25 cents per page. 9
For more information about access to a strata corporation’s records, including bylaws and rules, see Chapter 13, Record Keeping.
- Strata Property Act, s. 119(2). ↩
- Strata Plan VIS 4663 v. Little. ↩
- Strata Plan VIS 4663 v. Little at paras 21-22. ↩
- Strata Property Act, ss. 194(2) and 197. For more information about sections, see Chapter 10, Sections. ↩
- Strata Property Act, ss. 11, 127(4) and 197. ↩
- Strata Property Act, ss. 197 and 125. ↩
- Strata Property Act, s. 36(3). ↩
- Interpretation Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 238, s. 25(5). ↩
- Strata Property Act, s. 36(4) and Strata Property Regulation, s. 4.2. ↩