When you are looking to purchase a townhome, apartment or condo, more than likely you will be buying into a stratified building. Strata is an entity that would manage your building’s common areas such as elevators, hallways, exterior and what’s in the walls. When purchasing into a stratified building, there are things you should know before you buy.
When it comes to owning your own home, you probably don’t think you would run into any crazy bylaws, but guess again! Depending on your building’s rules, they could have regulations against having a dog above knee height, noise restrictions, age restrictions, or even restrictions on your ability to rent out your own home if you decide to. Each stratified property is unique in the way they all have separate rules that are created and enforced by the building’s strata council and/or strata management company. The strata has the ability to fine owners who do not follow the bylaws.
This could very well be one of the most important factors when buying into a stratified complex or building. All owners are to pay a monthly fee which is called the strata payment. This payment goes into a contingency fund which is used to manage the building’s utilities and can include garbage removal, water, building insurance, emergency repairs and snow removal. It not only covers some utilities, but the fund is also meant to be used for replacement of common areas as the building ages and depreciates. The idea of how it should work is that there are enough funds saved on a monthly basis that the big expenses such as replacing the roof can happen without affecting any homeowners’ wallets.
If your strata management company or council has been poorly managing the funds, this can easily spell a costly disaster for you as a homeowner. If there are no funds in the contingency to cover the overall repairs, the strata will then issue what’s called a special levy to all owners within the stratified property. A special levy is a when the strata issues a debt you will need to pay to replenish the contingency fund to a positive balance, so it can in turn keep operating the bills of the complex or building. If you do not make the payment, the strata council can place a lien on your home, which will have to be paid if you refinance or sell your home. If your special levy cannot be paid with readily available funds, you also have ability to refinance your home and withdraw funds to pay the levy – if you have enough equity to do so. Alternatively, the least favourable option would be to sell the home.
Although having minor setbacks if there is a lower contingency, there are some buildings that are managed exceptionally well and have lots of perks! Some of the perks you can encounter in a stratified complex could be a door man to greet and accept packages delivered on your behalf, a functional gym with enough equipment for all your needs, and even a swimming pool to cool off in on a hot day.
When you are looking at purchasing into a stratified complex, always ensure you ask your realtor for the previous two years’ strata meeting minutes, budget, Form B or details on the contingency fund and what any restrictions or bylaws could affect your overall happiness and enjoyment of owning a home.