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A rare housing choice: Living in a rowhouse without having to be in a strata

April 19th, 2017 · 5 Comments

For almost as long as I’ve covered the urban-issues beat in Vancouver, people have talked about how great it would be if we had fee-simple townhouses — that is, townhouses where the owners don’t have to belong to a strata. They just own their particular row/townhouse individually, with some agreement about how to handle common walls — just as many Ontario and Quebec owners do.

I thought the dream was still unrealized when Michael Geller tweeted out a picture of some fee-simple townhouses in Coquitlam. There was an ensuing Twitter discussion, with me expressing surprise. Then Surrey’s city manager, Jean Lamontagne, contacted me by email to tell me that such rare things were starting to appear in Surrey.

Hence, my story in the Globe, which took a look at the little shoots of experimentation happening in various places, including Nanaimo, on this issue. (Thanks to whomever tweeted about Nanaimo, which also prompted me to call there.)

So why care about this form of housing? As more than one person has told me over the years, a lot of older couples don’t want to move to condos because they don’t want to have to have their lives governed by a committee. As a result, they stay parked in their four-bedroom homes all over the city, which is an inefficient use of housing. If this could catch on, it might encourage more of those people to pass on their homes to people who actually need four bedrooms.

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  • Kirk

    As more than one person has told me over the years, a lot of older couples don’t want to move to condos because they don’t want to have to have their lives governed by a committee.

    Young people don’t want it either, but they don’t have that sense of entitlement.

    If this could catch on, it might encourage more of those people to pass on their homes to people who actually need four bedrooms.

    I would imagine that any SFH that is freed up will either become a triplex of tiny units or torn down completely as part of a “land assembly” of 1 bdrm condos.

  • penguinstorm

    Saying that living in a condo leads to a life “governed by committee” is a little rich really.
    Why just last night I made a salmon curry without even consulting my neighbour. Go figure.

  • My husband and I will soon become empty-nesters. In a better city, we would be prepared to downsize to a condo. But we will never do that after the experience we had selling my late mother’s condo. When we had our first offer, the chair of the strata board required the building “inspector” to check in with her. We thought this was a little weird, given that the building had a live-in caretaker but we had the agent phone her. The first question out of her mouth? Was the buyer Caucasian? Really! (This was in 2007, not the 1950s!) The buyer, who was Asian, smartly withdrew her offer and we had to hire an expensive downtown lawyer to try to scare the chair into submission. Selling the condo was a nightmare. Living there was no picnic either. The residents delayed necessary maintenance (roof, plumbing upgrades etc.) so that the renovations came in one fell swoop with a big bill attached.

  • francesbula

    Wow, that’s an amazing story. I know when I sold my mother’s condo, I had to gather up the strata council minutes. When I read over them, it sounded like there were crazy people on the council. Scary. Yours is way beyond that, though. I should do something more on this.

  • pdub

    It seems everyone knows someone with a “crazy strata story,” but I’d be interested to hear if there are any “crazy fee simple row home stories” out there. How have people dealt with a noisy neighbour on the other side of the wall (with no strata to issue fines)? How have people cooperated with each other when a shared roof needs replacing? Non-strata row homes definitely offer benefits and expand the range of housing choices, but there may also be some trade-offs. Despite their various shortcomings, stratas do help address some practical issues in multi-family buildings.