Can strata townhouses be converted to rowhouses?
Question: I live in a 6 unit strata townhouse project in Victoria. I would be interested in learning more about the rules respecting townhouses that are not strata and whether we could convert our strata to a non strata (freehold?) row of townhouses. – Elizabeth
Answer: This question came in after the feature story I wrote about the possible arrival of freehold rowhouses in Vancouver, as a result of an amendment to provincial legislation that makes it easier to set up party-wall agreements for the life of the building.
I checked with Michael Geller, the development consultant who headed up the City of Vancouver’s roundtable on building forms, part of its task force on housing affordability. He echoed what I had heard from other developers when I researched my story on rowhouses, which is that there are more complications to creating freehold rowhouses than just the provincial regulations.
Michael said that, in theory, yes you could convert a strata to freehold rowhouses, provided the municipality would agree to subdivide the lot and provided each one of the current townhouses faces a city street. (Many strata townhouse developments currently being built don’t. They run the townhouses perpendicular to the street in order to create a small inner courtyard and also to maximize the density on the lot.)
In practice, however, he said there’s a lot more than that. He specifically mentioned (and I heard this one from many others) that the municipality would like insist on an individual water and sewer hook-up for each rowhouse. Stratas typically only have one hook-up. One article I read recently on laneway houses said a sewer/water hook-up costs $13,000 in Vancouver. Other munis would charge different prices, but I doubt the fees would be nominal for that.
As well, the townhouses in a strata might not meet the building code for fire separation that a freehold, or fee-simple, rowhouse would require.
Michael said if the whole complex burned down, you could probably rebuild it as fee-simple rowhouses with fewer complications. But assuming that’s not what anyone is planning for … a lot of hoops to jump through.