COVID-19 (Coronavirus) – Update #16

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Dear Strata Councils,

We are half-way through August and into the home stretch of summer. While there is thankfully less day-to-day urgent information to pass along as the industry gets acclimatized to the challenges being faced by Strata Corporations, we remain involved with various working groups tackling the issues as they come up and more guidance is gathered.

Our firm, as an industry leader, is taking part in regular calls led by BC Housing Policy Branch to assist with strata-COVID-19 related policy and potential legislation changes, as well as how to address the current insurance crisis. With that in mind, we’d like to offer the follow important update on the latest developments around COVID-19 and how they impact your Strata Corporation.

 

Draft Policy Documents (Sample Mask Protocol/Pool Policy/Outbreak Checklist)

The Condominium Homeowners Association (CHOA)  has been kind enough to provide updated versions of a number of draft documents to be posted/circulated at the direction of strata councils that wish to have these sorts of policies to be implemented. These include a Sample Mask protocol, a Draft Pool Policy and ‘What to do if we have a COVID-19 Outbreak’.  While Stratawest has clients who have already developed similar protocols, the CHOA versions and other updates can be found here: https://www.choa.bc.ca/whats-happening/

Currently, it is up to each Strata Council to consider implementing a Rule requiring mask usage while on the Common Property.  At this time, such measures have not been mandated by any health authorities in BC (however, such policies are in place in other jurisdictions around Canada). Anecdotally, CHOA has noted that some large downtown core and Coal Harbour strata corporations have put a mandatory mask policy in place for common areas and there has been near total buy-in with the residents. Of course, enforcement of such Rules presents a significant challenge and it is no secret that the subject of masks has become a very sensitive subject for many.  More information on the wearing of masks to prevent spread of the virus can be found here http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/covid-19/prevention-risks/masks

It is worth noting that the various committees and industry groups we are involved with have yielded much information over the past month on what strata corporations are doing with respect to deciding whether or not to open fitness facilities and other amenities. In short, while many in the Lower Mainland have re-opened there have also been a number of cases of reversing this decision due to the costs, frustrations in dealing with residents not complying with the required rules, and the potential liability concerns.  In some properties, legitimate outbreak concerns have led to gym closures.  Again, while we appreciate that many residents are asking for amenities to reopen this is completely a decision to be made by your strata council with the best interests of all residents in mind.  We encourage you to take a cautious and thoughtful approach considering the elevated risk associated with reopening shared common spaces and the number of positive COVID-19 cases on the rise, particularly here in the Lower Mainland.

 

Insurance Crisis and Bill 14

Many of you have already been impacted by significant increases in your insurance premiums at your most recent policy renewal.  This topic has been covered in great detail in previous blog posts from our firm. In an attempt to address some of the concerns and perceived underlying factors impacting insurance costs, the Provincial government has passed Bill 14 amending various Sections of the Strata Property Act which has received royal assent. The first and immediate provision will be the requirement to advise your ownership of any material change in coverage, cost, deductible, etc. as soon as feasibly. The Bill will also see amendments and new Regulations prohibiting referral fees and improve disclosure on changes in the insurance policy wordings. As previously stated, Stratawest has never received insurance commissions of any type in all of our years of placing insurance for clients and we are very hopeful these changes (apparently to be enforceable later in the fall) will actually perform as intended to end this practice carried out by a relatively small number of brokerages in our industry.

With regard to the actual effect these changes contemplated in Bill 14 may have, we’d caution not to expect them to significantly impact or influence the cost of strata insurance. This is a starting point and the Provincial government trying to do something (or be seen as doing something) to improve the position of consumers dealing with a complicated supply/demand situation in a private industry over which they have relatively little influence.  There is a balance being struck between trying to make positive change and not ‘scaring off’ those underwriters currently involved in the BC market and discouraging them from even offering coverage for subscription policies in the first place.

On a related matter, we are pleased to note that members of the Board of Directors for Strata Property Agents of BC (SPABC) have been invited by the BC Financial Services Authority (BCFSA) to take part in stakeholder engagement sessions about the sustainability of the strata property insurance market in British Columbia. It is great to have the opportunity to advocate for our clients and be included as experts in our area of the industry to discuss topics such as how to bring the insurance market back to a healthy state, ways to better educate consumers on strata insurance, efforts to improve information disclosure at unit point of sale, and Home warranty coverage. We will report on this information becomes available and is allowed to be shared.

 

Electronic Annual General Meetings

As everyone is aware, the current State of Emergency in place has eased a number of restrictions and allowed for strata corporations to hold General Meetings electronically. While many strata corporations continue to handle these meetings by discouraging in-person attendance and allowing Owners to submit a “restricted proxy” form for another individual to vote on their behalf, the option of meeting electronically will be in place for at least 90 days following the end of the State of Emergency. Furthermore, there is the strong potential for this to be extended by way of a Regulation on the recommendation of the Policy and Legislation Branch until June 2021.

We have had great success with clients holding Annual and Special General Meetings by allowing owners to vote via “restricted proxy” (often with a Town Hall style meeting held in advance to allow owner’s to discuss contentious issues and ask questions) and we are here to assist those clients choosing to hold their General Meeting entirely electronically. However, as we and other brokerages have noted this poses some challenges since the tools have not yet evolved to a point where they can approximate the experience of an in-person AGM. While Stratawest can assist with the administration of these electronic meetings, and we are doing our best to stay on top of the latest technology, our Property Managers are not experts in this area and the strata council will need to be involved should this be the route you choose to take.

Thank you for all that you are doing for your fellow owners during this extraordinary time, enjoy the rest of your summer, we will be in touch again soon.