It's at least partly my fault for being an ignorant Ontarian who'd never heard of the entity known as a "strata." Also for not questioning my real estate agent further when she handed over a stack of strata meeting minutes filled with arcane legalese for the three-bedroom condo I was about to purchase; I'd tossed them in a drawer with other paperwork I had neither time nor inclination to read, the way you keep unread instruction manuals, ownership and insurance in the glove compartment of your car. Not that plowing through them would have brought any enlightenment. Having been a serial owner of single-family dwellings since age 23 in a province where developers of townhomes or apartments were responsible in perpetuity for certain upkeep and repair, I had no concept of this middle ground of mixed responsibilities. I was a dumbass drunk on the giddiness of having marshaled everything I had-and then some-to purchase a place in the Promised Land.
The first inkling of trouble came a month later during a thaw/rainstorm in January 2000, when I noticed water "ingressing" through the floor-to-ceiling windows of my bedroom, leaking down into the ceiling of the living room, its similar window assemblies and on to the basement. I called Whistler Resort Management, the strata's agent, to be told: "We can send someone to determine if it's a strata issue, but if it isn't we'll have to charge you $70 for the call." WTF? I was completely stretched and in no position to cough up any more money. How could water pouring in not be a building envelope issue, a strata's only true responsibility? Scared silent, I rolled up a towel and placed it on the sill where most of the water pooled, wringing it out if it got too wet.
Leaking over the next couple winters was periodic depending on the direction of wind or ice-dams on the roof. I managed-unhappily-as did other owners, whom I discovered all had pernicious leaks. Seals on the late-'80s era double-glaze windows had long since failed and most folks' gorgeous views were obstructed by a permanent moisture haze between the panes. Some owners-mostly wealthy non-residents-replaced windows at their own expense rather than deal with the strata. One woman, the only permanent resident next to myself, fearlessly badgered the strata, agitating at meetings and providing documents that showed oversight by the strata, WRM or RMOW with regard to structural issues. She would eventually be driven crazy by the prevailing attitudes, sell her place and move on, but not before a soggy saga played out.
I soon learned what a "special levy" was. Out of the blue I received a $3K bill for a concrete wall in the parking lot of an adjacent apartment complex that, apparently, was also part of my strata. That said wall should by law/code/whatever have been installed by the developer had been "overlooked" by RMOW. The developer no longer existed (of course) so there was no one to go after. We were on the hook.
Eventually our strata became more proactive and WRM a much improved company with diligent and helpful agents. Just in time to replace the roof to the tune of $7K each, and, when that didn't stop leaks, the windows themselves, which would cost us 15 K each. And then $20K. Maybe $30K. By waiting so long, however, costs had skyrocketed, and with Whistler gouging in full effect it was $50K each before we had new windows. On it went with walkways and other issues. There were times when, in addition to special levies, out monthly strata bill was in excess of $800, on top of annoying Tourism Whistler fees. Last summer a foundation problem caused the fire department to say it wouldn't enter certain units, prompting insurance withdrawal and a letter of near condemnation from RMOW. Turns out that in order to make room for a through road for the apartments back in the day, strata backfilled a moat in front of the townhomes, which only had wooden retaining walls, and now the fill was pushing on those inadequate walls. I've been told this was never approved by the muni in the first place, which allegedly sent a building inspector who, finding no one there, merely left. That's now ancient history, and since the strata can't sue itself for the costs of fixing its own mess, we've each coughed up $40K to fix it (so far).
This brings the total of special levies I've paid over the decade to over $100K, a permanent state of entrapment and debt in which every cent I make or will make for years goes toward covering for past inaction or bad calls. And the new roof and windows? Leaking, of course.
At least now I know what strata means.