Earlier this week, a friend called me to ask about her rights and responsibilities as a duplex owner. She has been having a minor dispute with her neighbor who owns the other side of the duplex where my friend lives. With the market the way it has been these past couple of years, we are seeing more duplexes being built and more people choosing it as an affordable option to have at least half of a detached home in Vancouver and surrounding areas. Duplexes are a great option for many people. But it is important you enter into duplex living fully aware of the implications. If both owners care about maintaining the property's appearance and value, in most cases the relationship between owners will run smoothly. If the owners disagree about what needs to be done, how it should be done or how much should be spent to do it, that's when you can run into problems.
So, if you disagree with your duplex neightbour, how does a decision get made? Duplexes are what we call non-conforming stratas. This means that the property is stratified so that one half of it can be sold independently from the other half. It also means that the property is subject to the strata property act standard by-laws, unless the owners have created their own by-laws (which is rarely the case). So, if there is a disagreement about the care and maintenace of the common property, such as painting the exterior walls, the standard by-laws state that the strata corporation will determine what will be done. In any strata, the owners make up the strata corporation. Are you following me here? If there are two owners, the owners make up the strata corporation and the strata corporation has the final say on what is to be done or not. You can see how this will be problematic if the 2 parties disagree. Essentially what this means is that nothing can be done if the two owners of the duplex disagree.
Now, what about if one owner went ahead and acted on the common property (gardens, fences, exterior walls and roof) wihtout the prior authorization of the strata corportation (both owners)? Well, the party who acted without authorization of the strata corporation (in other words the other owner), would be in violation of the strata property standard by-laws. I am not writing this post to scare you off purchasing a duplex. As with all my dealings with clients and the public, I just want to make sure you have information you need to make a sound decision.
What can do to make sure you have good neighbours when you buy a duplex (or any other property for that matter)? Be a good neighbour! I have found that the majority of people make for good neighbours. We have all heard horror stories of neighbors from hell, you may have even experienced one, but most people want their home to be a peaceful place and so they make for good neighbours. But there are some steps you can take to find out who your neighbours will be. Don't be afraid to ask questions about the neighbours and if they are willing, take the time to meet your potential neighbours before you make an offer.
A final word on purchasing a duplex. Make sure you get a copy of the strata plan (all pages not just the first page) before you make an offer to be sure you are clear on the designated use of the limited common property. Your Realtor can make sure you have all pages and can interpret the details of the document for you. (Reading a strata plan is not rocket science, but it can be confusing if you have never seen one before, or if you have not been taught how to read it).
Click here to access the Strata Property Act Standard By Laws. If you need assistance interpreting them, feel free to contact me.