COVID-19 (Coronavirus) – Update #19

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Dear Strata Councils,

As we post our 19th Covid-19 update there are many reasons for wider optimism regarding the pandemic and we are all thrilled for some better news coming in. That said, there are obviously still reasons to be concerned about the next few months and beyond.  Delays with vaccine delivery, variants and more suggest that we will need to continue to remain vigilant and cautious as we move through 2021. Business as usual, it seems, is still not yet close to reality.

With that in mind, we’d like to update you and provide some suggestions on the following items relating to COVID-19 and it’s impact on our operations and your Strata Corporation:

Impact of Emergency Orders – The Province’s state of emergency is still in effect, as are the relevant orders.  For us at Stratawest there are many important implications- in addition to the various safety measures within our office, we continue to run at less than 100% physical capacity as we take turns working in the office and at home.  We are learning, like many businesses, that despite implementing new technological systems at significant expense, “work from home” is simply less efficient than working from the office. While we do require and appreciate your patience as we continue to prioritize all the many duties we undertake, the good news is that our team have settled into a solid rhythm when it comes to this prioritization and we believe our services are being performed quite well and we thank you tremendously for the positive comments received to that effect.  An undeniable and hugely positive metric of these efforts being a success is the fact that we have recently submitted our annual Trust Account Examination (a third-party audit required annually) to the RECBC in January 2021 and it was our 7th year in a row with zero exceptions noted. The further good news is that we expect restrictions to ease in the coming months allowing us to get back up closer to our normal horsepower.  Most notably, site-inspections and non-urgent in-person meetings have been greatly curtailed during the pandemic- but we can expect those to resume in a limited capacity as the situation becomes safer for us all;

Vacation Time – As a business, we are keenly evaluating the vacation time our staff have taken during the pandemic.  Time away from work is essential to recharge and maintain good mental health, and we all must ensure that our staff do not suffer from burnout or worse. We encourage you to consider the same for your site staff (caretakers, building managers, concierges and more) as many essential service workers have foregone vacation since March 2020 and that should not be a permanent deferral. It is in no one’s best interests to postpone time off which is intended to serve as a mental and physical break from work.  If you have staff who have been hunkering down and getting work done for the better part of a year without a break, we strongly recommend pushing them to take some time away from their responsibilities;

Amenities – As we get closer to “reopening”, more and more attention will be focused on amenity spaces.  We do not have any meaningful updates since our last few posts about amenities- the majority within our portfolio (large and small) and those of our industry colleagues remain closed and largely the concerns remain the same.  Some gyms have reopened on a very limited basis, most with costly additional cleaning and supervision protocols in place.  As scientists learn more about COVID, less emphasis is being placed on fomite/surface transmission and more on aerosol/airborne transmission which cannot be cleaned/scrubbed but can be partially addressed with ventilation, social distancing and high-quality masks in particular.  It is no surprise that the Public Health Agency of Canada has weighed in on this and recommend improving ventilation wherever possible in order to better address these COVID-19 concerns. This all adds an additional level of complexity to deliberations about how to safely reopen.  While we are happy to take your instructions and provide resources primarily through WorksafeBC and other governmental bodies, we simply cannot be the ones to tell you if it is appropriate to reopen your amenities or how to do so;

Electronic General Meetings – As we’ve written about on several occasions already, our firm has been exploring electronic solutions to conduct general meetings.  There are certainly some advantages to running your meetings online, most notably that residents can participate safely from wherever they are during the pandemic.  Smaller Strata Corporations are able to run these meetings fairly efficiently using the Zoom software platform, especially if the agenda isn’t terribly controversial.  However, along with the majority of strata management companies in the Lower Mainland we continue to encourage most of our clients to hold a traditional General Meeting (i.e. called as normal to be ‘in person’, but without everyone actually attending, ideally with only 1-2 volunteers attending and holding proxies on behalf of their fellow Owners) for a variety of reasons. The significant downsides to electronic meetings are too hard to ignore.  As we have explored further we’ve only found more obstacles that make a 100% online General Meeting impractical.  Our recent experience with a < 40 unit building holding their AGM electronically should prove illustrative- secret ballots were not possible despite controversial resolutions being placed on the agenda (no one that we’re aware of has been able to 100% electronically approximate the experience of placing a box on a table and giving residents ballots to slip into that box anonymously), at least 3 individuals were required to run the meeting (this is an additional cost to the strata as usually the PM can do so on their own), an election had to be held by roll call with 10 nominees for 7 positions and no shortage of Residents choosing to interject their (sometimes hurtful) thoughts while announcing how they intend to vote and more.

Pairing a traditional in-person meeting as suggested above with very few attendees along with an electronic Town Hall held some time beforehand (whether live or by question/answer) to ensure everyone has their voice heard has proven to be a very workable solution for most of our clients.  We are hopeful that the Province will allow for mail-in voting (as allowed under the Societies Act and extremely workable for other industries). As we have seen in other elements of our democracy during the pandemic, this is an extremely important tool to ensure respective votes are represented.

In short, while we look forward to a reality where a single Property Manager can adequately replicate the experience of an in-person General Meeting we are simply not there yet.  Your PM will work with you on the right solution for your upcoming General Meeting.

Parties – The subject of large parties and gatherings has been gaining more and more attention in the media recently, and rightfully so.  As we manage almost 12,000 Strata Lots in and around Vancouver, suffice it to say we are aware of a lot of these events occurring which is certainly disappointing to those that are doing the tough things and following the rules.  Councils continue to be frustrated by the lack of cooperation some Residents exhibit to the current social restrictions.  We are not a police force and neither are you. We encourage you to do your best to manage these problems and, when necessary, to contact the relevant authorities and/or engage legal counsel to assist.

As always, we thank you for reading this update and we look forward to the better days ahead.