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A sign of healthy condo projects — cleared sidewalks

January 3rd, 2009 · 9 Comments

My last post elicited a few comments, including this interesting one from Michael Geller about the condo projects that haven’t properly cleared their sidewalks et al. (See below my intro comments.) Since the snow is now coming down even more heavily (I can’t believe it, actually), I thought I’d just continue with the snow postings.

Michael’s been talking to me for a while about this problem of condo projects without adequate money in their reserves to do proper maintenance and, in alert journalistic style, he’s raising the issue again pegged to current events. It’s a really worthwhile topic, given how much of our population lives in multi-family developers and is therefore subject to the financial/maintenance decisions of collectives.

FROM MICHAEL GELLER

One of my related concerns is the number of condominium projects around the city where the owners/manager/property manager have not bothered to shovel the snow in front of the building. (eg one of my own developments on Oak Street between 42 and 43.) My concern is not just the icy sidewalk; it’s the poor attitude being exhibited towards property maintenance and management.

I suspect that many of the projects where the snow has not been shoveled are also projects where the flashings are not being maintained; the drains are not being cleaned out; and other important repairs are not being properly carried out.

As if there isn’t enough misery in the city, I am saddened to report that there is a looming crisis in our city that could ultimately rival the leaky condo problems…. it is the significant number of aging condominium projects that need essential repairs, and yet the governing strata corporations do not have adequate replacement reserve funds to carry them out.

I hate to think of the full ramifications of this situation. So, if you are thinking of buying a condominium in the coming months, check out whether the owners/managers cared enough to shovel the sidewalks. If they didn’t, DON’T BUY THERE!

And if you live in a condominium, make it a new year’s resolution to find out if you are putting sufficient money away each year to pay for essential repairs over time. Unlike Ontario and some other provinces, there is no legal requirement in BC to maintain an adequate reserve. You may want to start this year, when you approve your new operating budget. And yes, you may also want to budget for next year’s snow clearing. Just in case!

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  • T W

    The question I ask (it is now 25 years since I lived in a condo):

    do our elected representatives in Victoria not have regularly updated guidelines for prudent governance of condominiums ? There are frequent updates of corporate governance guidelines for directors of public companies and some fairly severe consequences for a failure in duty of care in public companies. Should the same not apply to strata directors ? If not, why not.

  • Wagamuffin

    While cost may be an issue, I also hear stories that it is difficult to find really great building caretakers.

    My building has been owned by the same family for 44 years and they have set very high standards for maintenance and other property issues. Long may they reign.

    My caretakers (a husband and wife team) are fabulous. Everything is kept beyond clean, painting and floor refinishing and repairs are done in a timely fashion. Ted was is out every hour on the hour to keep the sidewalk cleared, which is appreciated by the older residents that live here.

    Of course, he is from O-N-T-A-R-I-O. And used to walk 15 miles to school each way in drifts that were 30 feet high.

    To him, we are but children…

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  • Wayne

    Michael Geller raises excellent points in regard to condo maintenance.

    This is the unwritten chapter in Vancouver’s condo saga. There is a natural reluctance from many condo owners, who don’t live in the buildings, to want to forgo maintenance. In buildings where non-resident owners are in the majority I predict severe problems somewhere down the road.
    Our by-laws require sidewalk snow removal in the downtown core but I’m doubtful that it is enforced. As for the rest of the city, a lack of basic consideration for others is in evidence everywhere we look.

  • […] journalist Frances Bula shares her readers’ comments about people failing to shovel their sidewalks.

    Among the commentators is a Vancouver city council candidate who focuses on the large number of downtown condominiums that have not cleared their sidewalks. He suggests that snow-clogged sidewalks in front of condominiums may just be the tip of the iceberg in terms of poor maintenance and repair practices at those buildings and could be a danger sign.[…]

  • LP

    Although I’d classify myself as a Geller supporter, I have to say I take issue with the uninformed position he takes in his email to you Francis.

    To suggest a building that doesn’t shovel their walks may have hidden problems, so therefore don’t buy there, seems to be made out of frustration rather than thoughtful consideration.

    First off he is correct in stating that the province does not require a minimum reserve fund to be in place. They do however require 10% of the strata’s yearly operating budget be deposited into a contingency fund. As a side note, under the previous NDP government, this was 5% and changed under the first elected Liberal government. That’s not a pro-Campbell statement, just a point that it has been increased.

    Anyone who is shopping to buy a condo should complete their due diligence by at a minimum a) reading at least 2 years of minutes, b) examining operating budgets from previous years, as well as the current year for any anomalies, specifically ledger items that are either over spent or unused, as well as what the operating budget contains by item, c) careful consideration of the contingency fund with age of the building, upcoming potential repairs based on age of the building etc…, and d) hire a building/home inspector that does more than come in and check the faucets and outlets throughout the property.

    In the case of a contingency, it is true that some of this could be used for snow removal, however a more fiscally responsible council would opt to pay for snow removal through their annual operating budget, and if at the end of their fiscal year, had the building ran a deficit, which is required by law to be paid and not carried over, the ownership at their AGM would have the option of paying the overage through a levy, or taking the money from their contingency fund.

    For a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars, considering this amount is split among owners, a levy is usually what is decided as prudent.

    Immediate snow removal and contingency reserve funds have no direct correlation, just as snow removal and the quality of the building’s maintenance do not.

    As an example, the condo I live in (I was President and/or Treasurer for 6 years), hires a firm to evaluate the entire building every year. This evaluation is then used to complete repairs to the buildings exterior. Both the report and subsequent yearly repairs are done religiously. The building is in amazing shape and is known as a great place to purchase based on council’s diligence.

    Also of note is a 50 year maintenance plan that includes every aspect of the building that we had our property manager prepare for owners and council to know when both repairs and levies would be required to carry out the work. Future owners can see what year work (such as boiler replacement for example) should be carried out and if something is missed can then raise their concern.

    This past year, the present council, which I am not part of, decided to cancel the snow removal contract we’ve had in place for about 10 years now. Why? Because when doing a service versus cost comparison it made no sense to continue, so they opted to go with an on-call basis for snow removal.

    When the snow started to fall and it was obvious that more was coming than in past years they tried to secure this on-call service through our property management company. Unfortunately all of their contacts were swamped with work, and none were available.

    So about 5 people went out on their own accord and shoveled as they deemed necessary. The areas shoveled were common areas, and areas of most use. What was not shoveled was the front sidewalk as most of us don’t use it. From the street view, we would have been a derelict building in Mr. Geller’s eyes.

    After the fact, the council was made aware of the city bylaw with regards to snow removal of multiple family dwellings. They are now adjusting their policy and actions to ensure the snow is better addressed in the future.

    Further, for anyone with issues surrounding strata developments in the lower mainland, they can call CHOA, the Condominium Home Owners Association for information, advice, and/or membership.

    For Mr. Geller to spout off as he did without more information was completely off-base. Our building may be overly diligent when compared to others, however to link snow removal with a lack of other maintenance, and subsequently to whether to buy or not to buy is just plain old wrong.

  • LP

    Wayne,

    You claim that: “There is a natural reluctance from many condo owners, who don’t live in the buildings, to want to forgo maintenance. In buildings where non-resident owners are in the majority I predict severe problems somewhere down the road.”

    As someone who lives in a strata building who has also served on council, I’d have to say that generally it’s hard enough to get quorum for an AGM meeting, let alone when the majority of owners are absentee ones.

    From my years of experience, there is also generally a small group of people in each building that lend up being regulars on council year after year, and those people are generally the ones rolling up their sleeves and doing most if not all of the work.

    Those people are never the absentee owners you claim are the problem here.

    Your statement is believed by most, but my first hand experience tells me that it’s also an urban myth.

    The problem with leaky condos, past, present or future, is from plain old apathy from owners whether they are residents or off-site investors period! See (both)!!

    Read my other post and what we do in our building. There’s huge difference between a good council and a bad one.

    A good council that needs to get work done will also get proxies to win votes if necessary. Those that hide behind the investor/absentee owners in their building are just looking for an excuse and government bailout money.

  • Denis

    Our strata has faults like other places. But we have no absentee owners as we no longer have rentals.I read of people who own four or five units so they arn’t too keen to have large contingency funds and seem to dumb to undertand “special levies” Folks have a problem understanding that renters are subject to different legislation. If it snows a very few owner get out the shovels, do the walkways and out front on the city sidewalks. Some members due to age cannot assist. However it’s sort of sad to see some young fit members doing their best to now see the ones who are shovelling. Aaa couple of regual shovelers were in their seventies. Some don’t seem to understand it’s their homes, they arn’t renters and big mom doesn’t do the thinking for them. Same ones tend not to show up at meetings but are very quick to conplain if the assesments go up . They can’t have it both ways. Either contribute or pay for small jobs that can easily be done by members volunteering their lanour now and again. If they had their own house seperate from others, who would shovel for them? Probrably nobody

  • Joseph Jones

    Sitting at the heart of Vancouver’s first attempt to implement a “neighbourhood centre” is King Edward Village, a massive NEW condo at King Edward and Kingsway. Maybe that “concrete” example of someone’s dream of what Vancouver’s future should look like should set a better example of getting the sidewalks shoveled?