COVID-19 information for strata housing
Strata corporations need to keep functioning during the pandemic. By following orders from the Provincial Health Officer, listening to experts, and relying on good judgement and communicating, strata communities will get through this challenging time. On November 19, 2020, the Provincial Health Officer mandated new mask requirements.
Last updated: November 27, 2020
On this page:
- Mask requirements
- Strata council and owner responsibilities
- Strata property managers
- Communicating, community and privacy
- Physical distancing and support
- Meetings and decision making
- Finances and strata fees
- Warranty claims and home inspections
- The Civil Resolution Tribunal and the Courts
- Purpose and disclaimer
As outlined in the November 24, 2020 mask mandate order, masks are required for everyone in many public indoor settings. A face shield is not a substitute for a mask as it has an opening below the mouth.
There are exemptions for:
- People with health conditions or with physical, cognitive or mental impairments who cannot wear one
- People who cannot remove a mask on their own
- Children under the age of 12
Masks in shared living areas
Working with public health officials, Emergency Management BC anticipates issuing further orders to enforce requirements for masks in common areas of apartment buildings, strata housing (residential strata properties) and workplaces.
It is strongly recommended that masks be worn in the following areas:
- Common areas and shared facilities in apartment buildings and strata housing (residential strata properties), including:
- Laundry rooms
- Exercise areas (when not working out)
Strata corporations have important responsibilities during COVID-19. Strata councils and strata residents need to be aware of and follow COVID-19 related orders and guidelines from the federal, provincial and municipal governments and health authorities.
It is important for strata councils and strata owners to comply with the latest Provincial Health Officer orders and take steps to lower the risks from COVID-19 for residents and staff:
- Some strata corporation activities may need to stop. For example, closing non-essential facilities such as gyms and pools
- Some strata corporation activities may need to change. For example, holding strata council meetings electronically or by phone instead of in-person
- Some activities need to be increased from previous levels. For example, cleaning common areas and physical distancing
- Some activities need to continue. For example, paying strata fees and strata corporation bills; and performing necessary maintenance
- Strata residents, strata council members, staff and others must follow the direction of the Provincial Health Officer regarding masks. The BC Centre for Disease Control has information on non-medical masks.
Many strata corporations have strata property managers to assist the strata council in the operation of the strata corporation. Strata property management companies are also being affected by COVID-19 and may have sick staff or staff in self-isolation. They may have more requests than usual from strata corporations for cleaning and other services.
Strata managers are required to follow WorkSafeBC direction and protocols around COVID-19. The Real Estate Council of British Columbia is providing advice to strata property managers, real estate professionals and consumers about delivering services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is important for strata councils to regularly communicate with strata residents about COVID-19. This includes providing information on actions the strata council has (or has not) taken to address COVID-19 and steps to reduce the risk from COVID-19 to the strata community.
Strata councils can reinforce public health messaging, and there are various resources available for this purpose. Information can be shared with strata residents through posters, notices, emails, social media, strata council minutes or newsletters, etc.
Many public health agencies have produced printable health notices including the BC Ministry of Health with the posters below related to COVID-19 infection control and prevention:
- The Dos and Don’ts of self-isolation
- The differences between self-isolating due to travel, illness, or other reasons
As strata councils, property managers and building residents become aware of COVID-19, there may be pressure to identify people who are ill. However, the privacy of ill individuals (if they are known) must be protected as per the Province’s Public Health Act. LandlordBC has a helpful webpage on respecting privacy in multi-family buildings.
Local public health will manage the care and assessment of infected individuals and will inform strata councils and property managers of additional measures only if it becomes necessary to do so.
To help prevent COVID-19 transmission, it is important to clean high touch surfaces more frequently including door handles, elevator buttons, mail boxes and laundry rooms.
When informing residents about additional cleaning measures, strata councils are cautioned against indicating that the additional cleaning is eliminating or even significantly reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission at the property.
The National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health (NCCEH) is a knowledge translation unit funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada and hosted within the BC Centre for Disease Control. NCCEH has developed a COVID-19 guide on cleaning and other precautions in multi-unit housing that includes information on cleaning products and personal protective equipment for cleaners.
The NCCEH COVID-19 guide on cleaning and other precautions in multi-unit housing has information about using and cleaning laundry rooms.
NCCEH has also created a poster for shared laundries with simple precautions to reduce the risk of transmission.
Many strata corporations closed non-essential amenities during the initial outbreak including: guest suites, gyms, pools, saunas, steam rooms, outdoor playgrounds, playrooms and recreation rooms.
It remains important to comply with public health requirements for wearing masks, increased cleaning and maintaining appropriate physical distance in shared facilities. As well, pools in strata corporations with four or more units are deemed to be public pools and subject to the Province’s Pool Regulations.
Given requirements for wearing masks, for increased cleaning and physical distancing, many strata corporations have decided that non-essential amenities will continue to remain closed.
For more information on this topic:
- The law firm of Clark Wilson has an informative July 8, 2020 bulletin, Re-Opening Strata Corporation Amenities: Guidelines and Considerations
- CHOA (the Condominium Home Owners Association) has a June 2, 2020 (53 minutes) webinar posted on Youtube on managing shared amenities during the COVID-19 pandemic
While elevators and laundry rooms in common areas are essential amenities, common washrooms may not be necessary. If common washrooms remain open, enhanced cleaning with appropriate disinfectants is needed. Washrooms should be kept well stocked with soap and paper towels, and users need to flush the toilet with the lid down, where possible.
Physical distancing means keeping a 2-metre (6 foot) bubble between people.
There are also limits on how many people can gather. As of November 27, 2020 the Provincial Health Officer has ordered that social gatherings are limited to people within the household.
Physical distancing is also necessary in shared spaces like laundry rooms and elevators.
Strata councils should establish a roster (times assigned by unit) for laundry room use if physical distancing is an issue.
Strata corporations should place posters inside and outside elevators to limit the number of passengers and meet physical distancing requirements.
- The City of Toronto has a sample poster on limiting elevator passengers. VISOA (the Vancouver Island Strata Owners Association) has also created a poster for elevators and asks people to stand back from entering while waiting for elevator doors to open
- To reduce exposure to possible COVID-19 transmission, it is helpful if residents can also limit their use of the elevator (and stairs too). For example, combining trips and using the elevator (or stairs) once a day instead of taking multiple trips
Advice for using common areas
The Province has created a useful poster for residents in multi-unit housing, including advice on using common areas. It has guidance for:
- People who are self-isolating because they have COVID-19 or have symptoms of COVID-19
- Residents who are self-isolating because they had recent travel or potential exposure
- People who are self-isolating because they have increased vulnerability to COVID-19 or are self-isolating as a precaution
Strata corporations should allow the delivery of goods to residents so they can avoid non-essential or prohibited trips to stores.
If possible, units for sale or rent should be shown virtually (i.e., through photos or videos on the internet).
Residents must comply with physical distancing requirements and orders from the Provincial Health Officer that place restrictions on social gatherings at private residences.
Physical distancing does not mean emotional distancing. Everyone is encouraged to establish regular check-ins by email, text, phone or virtual meetings and get-togethers (e.g., Zooming or Facetiming) with family, friends, neighbours or social agencies.
It is important to note that people who aren’t showing symptoms of COVID-19, including children, may be able to spread the virus inadvertently, even though they appear to be healthy. Encouraging residents to limit visitors helps everyone, especially older residents and residents with underlying health conditions including diabetes and high blood pressure who are at greater risk from COVID-19.
Physical distancing must also take into consideration the needs of vulnerable residents who may be depending on outside assistance. For example, people who are ill or those who are self-isolating to remain healthy will be relying on friends, family members, or delivery personnel to obtain necessary goods and avoid non-essential trips. Strata corporations should allow the delivery of goods in buildings to residents to support these physical distancing measures.
Some strata communities are also self-organizing to support seniors and other vulnerable residents by getting groceries and other supplies for them.
Mental health resources and support
Physical distancing and other aspects of the COVID-19 can be stressful. This is a very normal reaction and there is help.
Please check out the suggestions and resources at this Province of BC page with suggestions on coping with COVID-19 stress.
Extra time to hold general meetings in a state of emergency
Effective May 29, 2020 (via Order-in-Council 270-2020) strata corporations have an additional two months to hold an annual general meeting or special general meeting if the strata is located in an area where a local or provincial state of emergency is in effect at any time during the month before the statutory deadline for holding the meeting.
For example, if a strata corporation must hold a special general meeting by August 7 to comply with the Strata Property Act, and a state of emergency ends on July 15, the date when the strata must hold a meeting is extended to October 7. (Section 25.3 of the Interpretation Act helps clarify when the two-month extension ends.)
This change helps to respond to the current COVID-19 pandemic as well as future states of emergency. This change provides flexibility to strata corporations during other disruptive incidents, such as floods or forest fires, when a provincial or local state of emergency is declared.
Electronic meetings enabled
Effective April 17, 2020 all strata corporations can now hold electronic meetings and hearings during the pandemic.
The Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General issued an order on April 15, 2020 under the Emergency Program Act enabling all strata corporations to conduct electronic meetings, including Annual General Meetings, Special General Meetings, strata council meetings and hearings during the provincial state of emergency. (Note: prior to the pandemic, many strata corporations had bylaws, including the Standard Bylaws, which enabled strata councils to hold strata council meetings electronically).
This order applies to all strata corporations whether or not they have a bylaw allowing general meetings to be held electronically.
The ability to hold meetings or hearings using telephone conference calls or an online application, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, helps strata corporations comply with the orders and recommendations of B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer.
Effective June 22, 2020 a 90-Day transition period: Bill 19, the COVID-19 Related Measures Act, extends the ability of strata corporations to hold electronic meetings for 90 days after the date on which the last extension of the declaration of a state of emergency expires or is cancelled. This legislative amendment provides a 90 day transition period, after the state of emergency ends, for strata corporations to continue holding electronic meetings. Otherwise, strata corporations need bylaws to permit electronic meetings.
General meeting requirements
Some strata councils and owners are concerned about holding upcoming annual or special general meetings given restrictions on gatherings. Annual general and special general meetings must meet certain timelines, notice periods and procedures as set out by the Strata Property Act. Important business is also conducted at general meetings, such as approving annual budgets.
The strata council may choose the best means of holding an electronic meeting for their strata corporation, as long as it allows everybody to communicate with each other during the meeting.
For owners or residents without a computer, smart phone or tablet, the strata corporation could allow some people to attend in person (physical distancing must be maintained) or participating by telephone, or, if the owners choose, they could participate by proxy or restricted proxy.
Restricted proxy and proxy voting
Updated June 19, 2020: Owners may choose to participate in a general meeting by using a proxy or restricted proxy if they are not able to meet in person or meet electronically. However, this option is at the discretion of the owner.
Resources for holding electronic meetings
CHOA (the Condominium Home Owners Association) has COVID-related information including resources on managing strata meetings during the pandemic:
- COVID-19 Bulletins & Information for Managing Meetings During This Crisis
- Managing Coronavirus Risks & Strata Corporation General Meetings
- April 17, 2020 information bulletin on holding electronic meetings (PDF)
VISOA (the Vancouver Island Strata Owners Association) has also posted the following documents, prepared by a strata lawyer on meetings:
VISOA has also posted other COVID-19 resources for strata corporations.
Other options for general meetings
In addition to holding electronic general meetings, strata councils have several other options for general meetings including: delaying, relocating, or waiving an annual general meeting.
An AGM can be waived if all eligible voters waive, in writing, the requirement to hold an AGM and if they pass resolutions in writing to:
- Approve next year’s budget
- Elect the strata council by acclamation and
- Deal with any other business
A special general meeting called by the strata corporation can be rescheduled. A special general meeting demanded by at least 20 percent of the owners can be waived if all the eligible voters, in writing, waive the need to hold the meeting and consent to the resolution(s) being considered.
The Provincial Health Officer is recommending virtual meetings be held wherever possible.
Strata councils may wish to get legal advice with respect to options for holding strata corporation general meetings. Whatever the method, decisions and quorum should be documented (for e.g. strata council minutes and AGM minutes), and any proxies retained.
Even without a general meeting of strata owners, strata councils can quickly create rules to govern the use, safety and condition of the common property and common assets. The strata corporation must inform owners and tenants of any new rules as soon as feasible.
Strata council meetings
The Strata Property Act is less prescriptive about strata council meetings than it is about the conduct of annual or special general meetings of the whole strata corporation. The Standard Bylaws (which can be amended) address how to call and conduct council meetings. They allow council meetings to be held by electronic means as long as all council members, and other participants, can communicate with each other. Please note, while the Emergency Program Act order (April 15, 2020) is in effect, strata councils do not have to hold hearings in person, despite Strata Property Regulation 4.01.
With the overall impact of COVID-19 on the economy, some strata owners are wondering if they need to continue paying strata fees: owners must continue paying strata fees.
Strata fees pay for the operating expenses of the strata corporation including utility bills and services. Most strata corporations have already scrutinized expenses in order to keep strata fees low and don’t have the financial flexibility to defer strata fees for individual owners for any length of time.
While no government assistance is currently targeted at helping owners with their strata fees, other general income supports and tax relief have been announced. These programs, as well as mortgage relief from banks and rental assistance, will help strata owners and investor-owners to continue to pay their strata fees. There is a March 26, 2020 column from CHOA (the Condominium Home Owners Association) that discusses how stratas can support owners in paying strata fees.
Budgets, AGMS and unanticipated expenditures
The Strata Property Act provides for what happens if it is not possible to approve a new budget at an Annual General Meeting. Some strata corporations have expressed concern about their ability to pay for significant increases in insurance premiums without passing a new budget, raising strata fees, and/or approving a special levy or expenditure from the contingency reserve fund.
For unanticipated expenditures, which could include insurance or COVID-19 expenses, that were not able to be put forward for approval in the budget or at a general meeting before being paid, spending from the operating fund or contingency reserve fund may be possible without a vote of the strata corporation.
- This is permissible if there are reasonable grounds to believe an immediate expenditure is necessary to ensure safety or prevent significant loss or damage ([Strata Property Act sec. 98(3)].)
- This requires a decision by the strata council, and they may wish to consult with a strata lawyer to decide what “reasonable grounds” are. Note: insurance is not only a statutory requirement but is also intended by definition to prevent the strata corporation from suffering a significant loss
Higher than expected insurance costs
Strata Property regulation changes effective May 29, 2020 (via OIC 270-2020) clarify that strata corporations can pay for rising insurance costs from their contingency reserve fund, without approval from owners, if payment is required before there is time to convene a general meeting.
Note: since contingency reserve funds are primarily saved for future infrastructure repair and replacement, it is important to replenish the funds used for an urgent unapproved expenditure as soon as possible. This can be accomplished through a special levy and/or an increase in contributions to the contingency reserve fund from strata fees.
Rental restriction bylaws
If a strata has a rental restriction bylaw, owners of residential strata lots who wish to rent their strata lot, can consider applying for a hardship exemption. In considering a hardship exemption request, the strata council may request documentation or verification of a hardship, but must not unreasonably refuse to grant an exemption.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, those strata communities that are under 10 years old or whose building envelope repair warranty has not yet expired are still required to file any warranty claims with their warranty provider as set out in the warranty contract.
Individual suite inspections and common area inspections may not be possible for all areas; however, concerns should be photographed and documented and forwarded to the warranty provider to preserve the claim.
Home inspections at this time may only be permitted with the consent and agreement of the home owner and the home inspector, if possible.
For more information: Lesperance Mendes Lawyers have provided an information bulletin relating to warranty claims and limitation periods during COVID-19.
The Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) has a COVID-19 response plan in place. The CRT is primarily a remote workplace and it is continuing to operate normally.
Limitation periods to commence court proceedings in British Columbia have been suspended. The Province has issued a Ministerial Order which suspends limitation periods for bringing actions in the court. This does not apply to the CRT. However, the tribunal has some discretion to waive, suspend or extend mandatory time periods.
Provincial court operations have been affected by COVID-19.
COVID-19 information continues to evolve as the status of the pandemic evolves and as Canadians learn more about the disease and best practices. To support strata residents, staff from the Ministry of Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing, the Ministry of Finance, the Real Estate Council of BC, strata homeowner associations and strata property managers are meeting regularly to identify and address emerging issues and share resources.
Strata associations, regulators and professionals have produced some useful advice for strata councils, strata residents and strata managers. This web page aims to help you navigate that advice and to supplement it where necessary. As information can change, please look for when the date on this page (and others) was last updated to determine how current it is.
The information above is provided as a resource for strata councils and residents, but it is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice. Please refer to the full disclaimer for more information.
Find It Fast: A site map for the Province's strata housing website.