So, as prospective residents and investors about to live together in a community of individuals – I put it to you that you probably want a series of rules and regulations that govern what is permissible vs what is not. You might be calling me a killjoy, but unless you like chaos and mayhem, I have found buildings that are “well managed” to be a far better place to live in and invest into.
Check our article on why bylaws matter from a Board perspective. Again, you might wonder why it’s good to give this seemingly faceless body so many “powers” over you but think about the nightmare situation where some drug dealing aspiring rock drummer moves in next door. It’s the Board that’s legally required to deal with this situation, so it’s best to give that handyman as many wrenches as he needs.
Below are a few recommendations for things to look for when you the buyer are reviewing a set of bylaws for a condo you may be interested in buying into.
This is the number one matter I ask prospective buyers about – do you have pets? Quite often, bylaws will have sections on what types of pets are permitted, if at all. Bylaws may also have restrictions around breed of pet (i.e. pitbull), number of pets, and weight of the animal.
Take special note of the word pet – common sense would dictate that this is aimed more at dogs and cats, but if the restriction is broadly worded as “pets” then technically things like snakes, fish tanks, and rodents may come into play. While a simple 1 gallon fish bowl is probably not even mentioning, this seemingly stupid restriction is mean to address the rare but possible situation where a small pet has the ability to drastically affect other units. For example, the situation where someone gets a 500 gallon fish tank, which if the glass would break would mean a flood that damages several floors below (Deuce Bigalow anyone?). Or the collector of rare and poisonous spiders that likes to breed them – bad news if they escape.
Restrictions on pets aren’t limited to the section on “Pets” in bylaws. Note that the “noise restrictions” sections of bylaws will often address barking dogs and treat infractions no differently. Bylaws will often state that any “accidents” by the pet are the responsibility of the owner to clean up – so if Fido has an accident in the elevator – it’s up to you to clean it. Don’t do it and you could be fined. Finally, look for restrictions on where Fido is allowed to relieve himself – often you may find a restriction on Fido being able to use the nice green lawn that the Board maintains, meaning you may have to go to the alley. (though such restrictions may be indicated via a sign, not something in the bylaws)
Date of Act in Compliance With
Close to the beginning of the document you should see the date of the Provincial Act that the bylaws are in compliance with. For instance, in British Columbia, you would see something like the “Strata Property Act as of Dec 31 2012”. Provincial Acts are periodically revised, sometimes with major revisions so it’s important to note the date of the Act the bylaws are in compliance with. For example – Reserve Funds made mandatory in Alberta in the year 2000. If a set of bylaws reflected the Act as of say, 1981 it may suggest that no reserve fund exists, or that elements of the reserve fund are not in compliance with requirements under the Act. Updating bylaws is typically something Boards fall behind in so keep an eye on this in particular.
As a prospective buyer you would want to see that an effective and modern set of bylaws that take into account recent technological and societal developments into consideration exist. My personal favorite set of bylaws I looked at dates back to the 60’s and have left the Board / Owners powerless to resolve disputes simply because things like satellite dishes and crack cocaine just didn’t seem to be as big an issue back then….
Use of Unit Restrictions
Bylaws will often place restrictions on what you can do with your unit, typically around the type of business that may be permitted to operate out of it. Typically these restrictions are meant to prevent:
-Any type of manufacturing or industrial activities (no starting up that auto parts stamping facility in your 2nd bedroom)
-Unnecessary foot traffic through the hallways that may lead to extra noise and security concerns (ie a massage clinic or psychologist’s office)
-Noise: ie a dayhome / daycare
-And so on…. Think about all the things you wouldn’t want to happen in a condo and I’m sure you can think of a business that does that.
This is a section that all prospective owners should read and understand before buying anywhere. We all have our hobbies and interests, and it’s important to know whether these will be in conflict with what is allowed in a unit. For example:
- Musicians should see how the bylaws will affect them. Pretty much all instruments are going to make enough noise to trigger complaints. Most bylaws will have time restrictions as to when noise is permitted (sorry dear reader – those sweet tunes of yours are considered noise…)
- Home Theatre and Surround Sound aficionados should be aware of hour restrictions. Just like music instruments, even if you’re within the right hours, if the noise levels are too high, you’ll still be in violation.
It’s worth noting the penalties involved as well too. Typically these will be a part of the “Enforcing bylaws” section of the bylaws.
Even if you have no intent to make any noise at all, as an owner it’s worth reading up on these to know what is permitted in the building or not, least you stumble into the rare musician / stereo friendly building in the city when all you want is peace and quiet…
Though increasingly rare due to CMHC and Human Rights challenges, several buildings with older bylaws may have age restrictions around the permitted age of residents. Typically it’s a no children or kids under 21 affair so if you’ve got young’uns or are expecting to reproduce anytime soon you’ll definitely want to see if there are any in place.
Balcony / Deck restrictions
It’s worth noting if there are any restrictions on what can stored on your balcony, particularly if you have glass walls for the balcony since it’ll be in full view. I’m commonly asked why Boards get so uppity about things like Bikes being stored on balconies, or a stack of Rubbermaid bins, but the intent is to keep the exterior of the building from becoming an unsightly mess. Hence why places with glass balcony walls typically are more strict on this. High winds often blow items over balcony walls too, posing risks to people and property below as well. You'd be surprised at how the wind can pick up a glass topped patio table...
Note that the type of BBQ permitted is often restricted under bylaws. In particular propane tanks may be explicitly banned by some bylaws. Some condos ban BBQ’s altogethe (clearly they don’t like the sizzle of a good steak…)
Garage / Parkade Stall Restrictions
Similar to balconies, bylaws may restrict what you can do or store in your parkade stall. For starters, any flammable liquids will likely be banned, so no storing your camp stove fuel here. Even what you can store in your stall may be restricted – so if you want to store your snow tires at the front of your stall you may not be permitted it.
Activities permitted may also be restricted – sorry mechanics – restrictions may be in place to prevent you from doing car repairs, including changing oil. The latter gets banned due to the messes and spills that may happen, as well as insurance reasons. Car washing may also be banned. All of this is slightly ironic as recent security studies have shown that it’s preferable to have residents in the parkade doing things as it helps prevent crime..
Satellite Dishes / New Technology
Technology like Netflix is slowly rendering these obsolete, but those 12” satellite dishes from Bell / Shaw caused a lot of problems in the early 2000’s for boards. Owners clamping these to railings (or worse, bolting them into exterior walls) suddenly made the exterior of the building look like it had broken out into a gray acne… Look for restrictions on these if you insist on using these still.
These dishes are a reminder that technology is ever changing and that it’s a constant race to update bylaws for new and emerging technologies… I fully anticipate a section on launching drones from your balcony soon…
Smoking in Unit
If you’re the type to smoke inside your unit, you’ll want to see if there are any restrictions in doing so. While it’s certainly not illegal to smoke, there may be restrictions due to fire or ventilation concerns. At a minimum, it’ll likely say no smoking in common areas of the property (you’d be amazed at how many people will smoke in the stairwells when it’s cold. And set off the full building fire alarm…..)
Common Area Requirements
As shared areas, common areas may have expanded rules around noise and activities permitted in these areas. As mentioned above, smoking is usually a no-no. Party rooms and fitness centers / pool will usually have any rules around usage or cleaning up after usage spelled out here,
Penalties for Bylaw Infractions
Typically under the bylaw enforcement section the penalties involved for violating any of the bylaws of a building are stipulated (including noise and pets). Note that while it will call for “monetary penalties” exact amounts may not be specified to give the Board some flexibility in dealing with infractions.
“Screw you Board!” is what you might say if you are fined by the Board. Just keep in mind that a Board will charge interest on your unpaid fines, and if you rack up enough fines, may place a lien on your unit or other nasty legal means to recover the money you owe them.
Commercial Use Restrictions
Many condos include retail or commercial elements to them. You can look at this in two ways. As a residential buyer, you will want to see what types of restrictions are in place regarding the commercial units, and whether they are sufficient or not. Hours of operation, type of businesses, foot traffic, parking concerns should all be aspects you consider. For instance, restaurants with a bar/lounge element will likely be open later and have loud music playing vs a quiet little café / coffee shop. Sky’s the limit for types of businesses that may move it, so be sure if you have any concerns they are addressed. Different condos will have different means of incorporating the commercial element into their bylaws so be sure to review this section carefully with your lawyer if it has a commercial element to it.
As a potential commercial landlord, you will want to review the inverse of the above, looking for maximum flexibility and rentability for potential tenants. Carefully consult your commercial real estate broker and lawyer for feedback before closing any deals.