Use detailed contracts when hiring property management firms

Many strata corporations hire property-management companies to run their strata complexes.

It's an understandable move, says Sandy Wagner, president of the Vancouver Island Strata Owners' Association.

"Just look at the demographics of strata dwellers," Wagner says. "We either have seniors who are tired of working or young people who have no time to be involved because they have two jobs." Sometimes, hiring a property-management company is the only way things get done. Condo owners pay a proportional share of common expenses. The monthly fees typically pay for taxes, insurance, janitorial services, landscape maintenance and bank and legal fees. Some of the assessment goes toward a reserve fund for short-and long-term replacement items, such as carpeting and roofs.

If the work doesn't deter hardy individuals, dealing with the legal complexities that come with running a strata might. With 58 pages of regulations and 126 pages of fine print, the B.C. Strata Property Act is not a light bedside read.

But hiring a management company is not without pitfalls.

While there are 1,176 individuals in B.C. who are licensed in strata management, there is no rating system to weed out the bad ones.

The Real Estate Council of B.C. regulates the licensing of strata managers in this province. The licensing requirement has been in effect since 2006. The educational component of the course is via correspondence through the University of B.C. Sauder School of Business and takes about a year to complete.

Having a licence doesn't guarantee that someone is a good man-ager, however, says Heidi Mar-shall, communications manager of the Vancouver Island branch of the Condominium Home Owners Association of B.C. She says stratas need to ensure whoever they hire is the best one for them.

The contract should spell out what is expected by all parties. Depending on the tasks they are asked to perform, professional strata management companies charge $25 to $40 per unit per month. While the fee adds up for mid-size to large complexes, many companies turn down requests to manage strata of 10 to 12 units.

Most experts agree it would be prudent to a consult a lawyer before signing any management contract. Licensing with the Real Estate Council of B.C. means managers have insurance for errors and omissions, as well as an avenue for strata councils to lodge complaints.

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