Alas Disgruntled Strata Owners! The Civil Resolution Tribunal Debuts in British Columbia
In the midst of a strata dispute with your council or neighbour? Or, are you owed money where the amount in issue is relatively small such that it does not make financial sense to hire a lawyer?
The Civil Resolution Tribunal (the Tribunal for short) may be your ideal venue. Billing itself as the first of its kind, the Tribunal is Canada’s first online dispute resolution model for resolving strata and certain small claims matters normally reserved for Provincial Court.
The intent of the Tribunal is to promote access to justice while being highly flexible to the needs of the parties involved in the process. Designed to be primarily online based, the Tribunal fosters a collaborative approach to resolving disputes, offering a host of services including negotiation, facilitation and ultimately adjudication if the parties are unable to resolve the issues amongst themselves.
Perhaps the most important quality of the Tribunal is its attempt to deal with disputes in a highly efficient and expedient manner. Unlike matters that may get bogged down for years in the Supreme Court the Tribunal has a mandate to ensure that all disputes are to be settled within 100 days.
Utilizing technology, including a purposefully designed computer program titled Solution Explorer, the Tribunal encourages parties to submit evidence, written accounts, documents and any other information online into the Solution Explorer program. Negotiations or hearings (as the case may be) will be held online, via videoconferencing or teleconferencing, depending on the needs of the parties and whatever the facilitator deems appropriate in the circumstances.
Certainly the appeal of the Tribunal is the ability for citizens to have access to justice when it is convenient for them. Having to take time off work or being held to firm deadlines in the normal court processes are common concerns of litigants. Furthermore, the Tribunal is designed to obviate the need for lawyers, unless parties prefer representation or the complexity of the issues requires counsel oversight. In all respects, the Tribunal hopes to alleviate some of the legal and financial burden of low value claims.
Is the Tribunal the right forum to deal with my strata dispute?
While the Tribunal is not afforded unlimited authority to deal with all types of strata disputes (as certain matters remain within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of British Columbia) the Tribunal is designed to deal with typical disputes involving:
- Non-payment of strata fees or fines;
- Actions, threatened actions or decisions of a strata council;
- Arbitrary bylaw enforcement;
- Common property;
- Matters of governance including voting irregularities, failing to hold meetings or the absence of recorded minutes; and
- Interpretation of bylaws, legislation and regulations.
The program is not without legal teeth. A judgment of the Tribunal is binding on all parties and may be filed in Provincial or Supreme Court and it will have the same force and effect as if it were a judgment of a British Columbia court.
One concern that may be raised is how participants in the Tribunal can assure themselves that the opposing party is adhering to the process in a fair and transparent manner, particularly as it relates to online evidence and therefore cannot be tested before a judge? The Tribunal appears to have considered this issue directly and is authorised to impose fines of up to $10,000 as well 6 months imprisonment for blatant acts (for example. purposefully misleading the Tribunal) committed by participants that a court would view as contemptible.
Currently the Tribunal has limited the program to accepting online applications for strata disputes only. It is anticipated that the Tribunal will begin accepting application for certain low value civil claims, traditionally dealt with in the Provincial Court system, later this fall.
A link to the program can be found here.