Living in a British Columbia strata corporation means living with others. And in a time when "social distancing" is key to managing the spread of COVID-19 across our province, many Strata Councils have been left wondering what can be done to keep the distance, while at the same time keeping the peace. For those Councils struggling with balancing the new healthcare directions with daily strata living, Council need only follow what the doctor ordered: stay H.O.M.E.
Have a community plan. The Strata Council is the managing body of a Strata Corporation, and residents will invariably look to their Council for guidance on how their strata community will conduct business during this extraordinary time. Will the next General Meeting be modified or altogether postponed given the present government directions prohibiting gatherings of 50+ persons? Will cleaning of the common areas be increased? Will social rooms and recreational facilities be closed? What notices (if any) will be posted or circulated to remind residents of self-care and social distancing protocols? As a first order of business, a Strata Council should consider calling a planning meeting. Council should make a list of the immediate action items for the community, and assess what needs to be accomplished in the short-term, and what can be deferred to the long-term. Remember that most strata corporation bylaws enable Councils to call Council meetings on short notice provided that the members agree or the meeting is required to deal with an emergency situation. Most bylaws will also enable Council to host these meetings electronically provided that everyone can communicate with each other. The quicker a Council can come together, the better the chances that Council can put some much needed distance between its residents.
Open the lines of communication. Deploying a social distancing plan does not mean closing off the lines of communication. Indeed, Councils will likely be faced with more questions from residents over the next while and it is prudent to remain responsive and sensitive to these communications. To combat an overflowing mailbox, the Council may wish to circulate scheduled community updates or information sheets advising residents of decisions that are being made to close the door on COVID-19. The Council needn't pen all of these updates either. For example, the BC Centre for Disease Control has helpfully published posters on proper handwashing procedures (available here) as well as a specific information sheet on COVID-19 (available here) which educate communities on best practices during the pandemic. The Condominium Home Owners Association has also released a helpful information sheet for strata corporations (available here). Putting a regular but manageable communication schedule into place can also give Council some much needed breathing room to make decisions for the community and issue responses in a more structured and consistent fashion, whether that is achieved through Council Meeting Minutes, Council correspondence, or common area notifications.
Manage common areas, minimize contact. Our Court's longstanding rule of thumb for the Strata Property Act is that within a strata corporation, “you are all in it together” (Owners, Strata Plan LMS 1537 v. Alvarez, 2003 BCSC 1085). This sentiment applies to curtailing the spread of COVID-19 in a strata community, and taking steps to manage and maintain the common areas in a manner that complies with directions from our healthcare professionals. It is noteworthy that a strata corporation's standard of care is not perfection, but reasonableness. Councils can select a variety of measures to meet their common area obligations, including: installing hand sanitizing stations at building entrances; posting educational material from the BC Centre for Disease Control in high traffic areas and elevators; increasing the frequency of building cleaning and sanitizing common areas; passing a rule to temporarily restrict or completely close recreational facilities; conducting electronic meetings; and limiting in-person meetings and hearings to areas that can facilitate minimum social distancing requirements. While strata communities are indeed all "in it together", sometimes staying apart is what's best for the community as a whole.
Engage the professionals. It is important to keep in mind that a Strata Council is a collection of volunteers and often made up of lay persons performing those volunteer roles. Councils are not perfect. Councils needn't be perfect. Both our Courts and the Civil Resolution Tribunal have given Councils some latitude to make missteps when the path taken by Council was a reasonable attempt to act in the best interest of the strata corporation. Recognizing these limitations, Council need not shoulder the burden of social distancing alone. When in doubt about a strata corporation's obligations, Council can seek help from legal and health care professionals. The help is there, Council, so give yourself a proverbial hand.
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