Why a pandemic isn't a good enough reason for B.C. strata councils to make quick changes | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Why a pandemic isn't a good enough reason for B.C. strata councils to make quick changes

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January 22, 2021 - 7:00 AM

A Victoria seniors condo building has been reprimanded after it refused to let its housekeeper clean a condo because the owner had attended a funeral where no social distancing took place.

In a Jan. 20 Civil Resolution Tribunal decision, the strata council at Rosebank Gardens argued the situation happened in the very early days of the pandemic and it was just trying to protect its staff and elderly residents, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s.

However, the Tribunal ruled it had no right to suspend its usual weekly housekeeping service without going through the official procedures and having strata members vote in favour of the move.

The case highlights what strata councils can and can't do, even when in the midst of a global pandemic.

According to the decision, on Mar. 16, 2020, one day before B.C. declared a public health emergency, the strata council at the 55-plus independent living condo building had a meeting with its residents about the pandemic.

The decision says the residents discussed safety protocols and the risks associated with being “out in the larger community.” The residents then came to the conclusion that it was best to stay home, and the strata council asked the residents not to take risks that could lead to the spread of the coronavirus.

However, several residents took a taxi to a funeral the following day.

The strata council then wrote to the residents who attended the funeral saying it was concerned about them choosing to attend an event where they were not spaced six feet apart.

The strata said it was cancelling the housekeeping service for two weeks for the residents who attended the funeral – the same length of time as COVID-19 quarantine. The strata then refunded the condo owners the cost of the cleaning.

However, resident Caryl Oja filed a claim with the Tribunal saying the strata had overstepped its authority.

In the decision, Oja says the strata "acted on a whim" by cancelling her housekeeping for two weeks and made "rules that restricted her rights."

The Tribunal agreed, saying no evidence had been submitted showing that the strata had followed formal voting rules to suspend the service.

Rosebank Gardens strata council president Penny Trelford told iNFOnews.ca that at the time the strata had an "emergency meeting" because they were very worried about the pandemic.

"We were doing what we thought was best in a pandemic where none of us had any previous experience," Trelford said.

The 81-year-old said the housekeeping was cancelled because the strata have a responsibility to keep its housekeeping staff safe.

According to the decision, strata councils may implement rules without approval from the owners if there is "reasonable grounds" that immediate change is necessary to "ensure safety or prevent significant loss or damage."

However, the Tribunal ruled this doesn't apply to this situation because there was no public health or WorkSafe B.C. order for cleaning services to be suspended at condos.

"I accept that the strata’s decision was motivated by a desire to keep everyone safe and find that the strata did not act in bad faith when suspending Ms. Oja’s housekeeping services," reads the decision. "However, I find that the evidence before me does not establish that there were rules against attending gatherings... or that residents had been warned of possible consequences associated with these activities."

The decision goes on to say that suspending the housekeeping service without warning was "significantly unfair."

Ultimately, the Tribunal ruled the strata must refrain from suspending support services unless such a suspension is specifically authorized by a rule or necessary to comply with orders from public health authorities or WorkSafeBC.

Condominium Home Owners of B.C. executive director Tony Gioventu told iNFOnews.ca said he wasn't surprised by the Tribunal's ruling and that strata councils need to remember that all decisions need to be passed by a majority vote.

Gioventu said while most strata councils are following the rules, some have tried to cut services while collecting full strata fees using COVID as an excuse.

As Rosebank Gardens refunded the cost of housekeeping to Oja, there is no ruling for costs against the strata and no mention that Oja sought any financial compensation. The Strata council will however have to pay the Tribunal fee of $225.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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