If you are considering buying a condo, be it an apartment, a townhouse or a bare land condo, it is important to understand that each condo complex in Alberta comes with its own set of rules. These rules are set out in the bylaws of the condominium corporation.
Some bylaws affect one buyer more than another. Therefore, it is important to know what is in them. A few important items in the condo bylaws are:
- Pet allowance. Some condo corporations allow pets, while some don’t. Sometimes, pets can only be a certain weight or size. Sometimes fish tanks are not allowed, etc.
- Age restriction. In some condo complexes an age restriction is in place. Most common age restrictions are 18+, 21+ or 40+. Note that the laws around age restrictions in condo buildings can change. As per 2033, the only age restriction allowed is 55+. (link)
- Renovations. Some condo buildings have strict rules about renovations. Obviously, an owner cannot just remove walls, change the electrical or the plumbing. These types of changes can affect the building’s structure and need approval from the board. Sometimes, the bylaws are strict about the use of certain types of flooring and subflooring, etc. This is to keep the noise level reduced for the neighbors living below.
- The use of common property. What are the rules for use of the gym, the party room, the green space, the garbage areas, the bike storage and the parkade? Most rules focus on keeping these areas tidy and clean, etc. Furthermore, bylaws can include the (non) allowance of satellite dishes, barbecues, bikes and birdfeeders on balconies, installation of an A/C unit etc. As well, the bylaws indicate if one is permitted to rent out a unit for short term, otherwise indicated as AirB&B.
- General duties of the owners. This could be an array of duties. A few examples are allowing entrance within 24 hours to repair items in the unit. Or, the duty to wash the (reachable) windows and to maintain appliances to avoid potential damage. Another example of general duty is not to make changes to gardens around the complex. Many duties are common sense; however, only when mentioned in the bylaws, are they enforceable.
- Duties of the condominium corporation. The bylaws clearly set out any duties of the condo complex management. After all, there is a responsibility for repairs and maintenance in and on the building and around the complex such as the parking area and yard. The insurance of the building is another important duty of the corporation. The bylaws also clearly explain how the finances are clarified to the owners, how the board is elected, what the voting procedures are and how meetings take place, etc. The bylaws also define any procedures for special assessments.
Again, the above are just a few examples of what the bylaws pertain to. Bylaws easily contain 50 pages or more, so there is lots of information to acquire!
How are condo bylaws enforced?
A condo corporation has permission to enforce any bylaw and is allowed to issue fines
If an owner fails to pay a fine, the board is allowed to place a caveat on the owner’s title. However, the board must get a court order first.
Fines cannot exceed the amounts that are laid out by the Condominium Property Regulations.
How do you know if a bylaw is enforceable?
Condo bylaws must be filed at Land Titles Office. If the bylaws are not filed correctly, they are not enforceable. Every condo corporation has a CAD sheet, the Condominium Additional Plan Sheet. Every change to the bylaw must get registered on the CAD sheet. If a change wasn’t properly registered on the CAD sheet, the update on the bylaw is not enforceable.
Where can you find the bylaws and the CAD sheet of a complex in Alberta?
Every owner should have a copy of the bylaws. A buyer who doesn’t receive an up-to-date set of the bylaws from the seller can request a copy from the management company. Also, bylaws are always retrievable at the Land Titles Office. The Land Titles Office charges $10 for a copy of the bylaws. To confirm the bylaws are up-to-date, the CAD sheet can be purchased for an additional $10.
The differences in bylaws between apartments, townhouses and bare land condos
Different types of condos require different types of bylaws. Apartment complexes often have different amenities than townhouse complexes. For example, the bylaws about pets tend to be more lenient in a townhouse complex than an apartment complex. In some town house complexes, the replacement of doors and windows is the responsibility of the owner of a townhouse. In an apartment complex, this responsibility is for the corporation. Also, every complex has different amenities which include different rules.
An entirely different type of condo is the bare land condo. This type of condo contains of a piece of land, often with a house on it. Here, the bylaws may have different rules about landscaping, maintenance, or architectural controls. Some bare land condos have a club house. The bylaws will contain the rules and regulations for the club house.
Bylaws must follow the Act
A condo corporation creates the bylaws. However, all corporations must follow the Condominium Property Act. Basically, it is the government (of Alberta) who created the guidelines. This Act applies to all types of condo corporations. If a condo corporation does not register the bylaws with the Land Titles Office, a default set of bylaws from the ACT are applicable.
Can you change the bylaws of a condo corporation?
An owner can propose a change in the bylaws. For example, a change may be made to allow dogs or to allow (or prohibit) owners to rent out a unit for a short term, such as an Air B&B. Changing the bylaws must go by a Special Resolution, which means that 75% of unit factors must approve. Approval requires 75% of the owners who represent at least 75% of the unit factors. Once the special resolution takes place, the new or updated bylaws must be filed with the Land Title Office to validate them.
Making a change to the bylaws may not always be easy, although, of course, that depends on the impact of the change to the bylaws.
Renting out a condo is always allowed
No condo corporation can prohibit an owner from renting out a condo or a townhouse
Buying a condo without available condo documents
Sometimes condo documents are not available to a buyer for review. For example, most foreclosures don’t offer any condominium documents. This comes with a risk. A buyer always has the option to purchase the condo documents directly from the management company. Or, a realtor can ask other realtors, who sold in the complex, if they still have documents available. Another example are those complexes without a management company, the self-managed complexes. Although, by law, a seller in a self-managed complex still has a duty to provide certain documents, they are sometimes less organized. For example, many decisions are discussed via emails, etc.
Condominium Document Review Specialists
Most condo buyers hire a Condominium Document Review Specialist to analyze the condominium documents. Those documents are usually provided by the seller as is stated in the purchase contract. Basically, these condo documents come in two parts: one part contains the bylaws, minutes, etc. The second part contains the financials of the condo corporation.
Every buyer should take some time to read the bylaws for themselves
For most buyers, the financials are a little more difficult to understand. One of the main questions is if the reserve fund holds enough funds for any future repairs or improvements. Roofs, windows, siding, elevators; all have a certain life span and need replacement at some point. If there are not enough funds in the reserve fund to replace one of these big-ticket items, the owners are responsible for the shortfall. Special assessments vary in sums, from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.
The condo document review specialist has a deeper understanding of the financials and the implications of a future shortage in funds. The fee for a condominium document reviewer varies in Calgary between $300 and $500. This fee could be a small amount if a buyer is warned about a special assessment or other issues that may arise in a condo complex.
Bylaws are an integral part of a condo complex
Clearly, the bylaws are an extremely important part of every condo corporation. Ultimately, living in a condo complex must be made pleasant for everyone. Without some guidelines and bylaws in place, living in a condo complex can take away that enjoyable living environment. For example, nobody likes it when their upper neighbour decides to clean a carpet rug with a carpet rug beater on the balcony. And to be fair, many rules are just common sense. Besides, without some ‘law & order’, the value of a property can decrease, which doesn’t help anyone either.
AGM, Minutes, special assessments, unit factors, reserve fund study explained.
The above is general information and not considered legal advice. We do our best to write informative articles about real estate in Calgary, Alberta. If you have questions or concerns about our comments, please feel free to contact us.