A B.C. neighbourhood’s decision to ban kids from playing street hockey, writing on the sidewalk with chalk and other outdoor activities in its roadways has stirred controversy about how far communities can go with their bylaws.
The ban is contained in a bylaw for Artisan Gardens, a strata community in Chemainus on Vancouver Island.
The bylaw states that roadways can’t be used for several outdoor activities: play, hockey, baseball, basketball, skateboarding, chalk, biking and more.
The strata council, an executive body that makes rules on behalf of homeowners, supported the bylaw in a vote of 15 to four.
The bylaw was first introduced over safety concerns about children who were playing on the road.
But several neighbourhood residents have since spoken out against it.
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Christa Howard, a mother who lives in Artisan Garden, is among those raising red flags about the rule.
“I am extremely upset as when we purchased our home two years ago, this was a family-oriented neighbourhood,” she told Global News.
“I have a four-year-old who is learning to ride a bike and draws chalk on the road all the time. I even feel kind of attacked.”
Howard said members of the community and the strata council are trying to come up with a compromise.
But strata councils have the right to make rules like this under provincial legislation — no matter how strange they may appear to the outside world.
What are strata communities?
The best way to understand a strata is to look at it as distinct from private property where the owner is solely responsible for its upkeep.
In stratas, homeowners have individual living spaces, but self-governed strata councils exist to set bylaws and make spending decisions on insurance, cleaning and landscaping, among other expenses.
Stratas are a “popular housing choice” because of convenience, security and added amenities they can offer, the B.C. government explained on its website.
More than 1.5 million people live in such communities in B.C.; they can include condos, townhouses, duplexes and single-family homes.
Those who own homes or rent within the strata have to comply with the rules and bylaws set down by the strata council.
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Those rules can include banning kids from playing in the street — but they can also include quiet hours, smoking bans or specifying which window coverings are permitted within the strata.
While stratas are self-governed, they must comply with provincial legislation called the Strata Property Act.
They can settle disputes through numerous avenues such as consulting with the community, civil resolution tribunals, court or arbitration.
Similar to condominium structures
Sam Presvelos, a Toronto lawyer who works in property disputes, said such bylaws aren’t limited to B.C. stratas.
The stratas actually operate similarly to condominium boards, which are found in Ontario and other parts of Canada.
“Under Ontario’s Condominium Act, boards of directors have the right to make bylaws that restrict the use and enjoyment of other people in the condominium, and how they make use of the common elements,” he explained.
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Legal considerations behind such decisions
Presvelos said strata councils don’t have as much power as it may seem at first glance.
“It’s not like one person can pass bylaws. There is a whole procedure,” he said.
Presvelos added that strata councils don’t just make rules that everyone else has to follow; they most likely live in the same neighbourhood and have to abide by the rules themselves.
“They also don’t want to create a poisonous environment,” he said.
“It’s kind of a political decision as much as it is a legal decision. You may have the legal authority to institute a bylaw, but at the same time [consider] what are the actual qualitative effects?”
That doesn’t mean all conflicts are avoided.
Earlier this year, for example, a condo owner took his strata to a civil resolution tribunal in order so that he could keep his dog, which was bigger than what was allowed under strata bylaws.
In August 2017, strata residents in Surrey, B.C. spoke out over what they saw as exorbitant fines — they said they were issued $40,000 in fines in a single month.
And in one of the more high-profile strata cases in B.C., homeowners in the Wellington Court housing complex in Richmond have filed a human rights complaint against a strata council after they alleged that meetings were being held and correspondence issued in Mandarin, and not English.
That case will have a hearing on Oct. 15.