Strata Corporations and Bare Land Strata Corporations – What’s the Difference?
In British Columbia, a conventional strata corporation subdivides a building into separate units, commonly known as strata lots. This allows for individual ownership of a strata lot as defined by a strata plan, with the strata lot usually ending at the center of walls, floors, and ceilings. Any part of the building that, according to the strata plan, is not part of the strata lot is referred to as the common property. These typically include hallways, elevators, recreational amenities, and building exteriors. Together, all the strata lot owners own the common property as a strata corporation and share the fees and responsibilities associated with maintaining it.
Stratas that divide a larger piece of land into several strata lots are called Bare Land Stratas (or Bare Land Condominiums in Alberta and Common Elements Condominium Corporations in Ontario). As the name suggests, the purchase of a Bare Land Strata lot means exactly that: a bare lot, with no buildings on the strata lot. The key difference between a Bare Land Strata and a conventional strata corporation is that any building constructed on each bare land lot becomes the responsibility of each strata lot owner for maintenance costs and insurance. The strata corporation has no interest in each strata lot owner’s buildings unless these are referenced to in the strata plan or the bylaws.
However, beyond the individual strata lots, there is still common property that the Bare Land Strata Corporation continues to be responsible for. This can include amenity buildings, roadways, walkways, grass, shrubs, trees, septic fields, sewage treatment plans, underground systems services, and more. In most cases of bare land developments you will find single-family dwellings, but this ownership structure can also be utilized for mobile parks, recreational sites, and other property types.
Insuring Bare Land Strata Corporations
At the end of the day, a Bare Land Strata is still a strata corporation, and compliance with the Strata Property Act is expected. The Strata Property Act requires all strata corporations—including Bare Land Corporations—to obtain and maintain property insurance for common property, assets, and buildings shown on the strata plan. Property insurance must be current and cover full replacement cost in the case of a total loss. An annual insurance appraisal determines an appropriate insurable cost for the common assets.
In our over 20 years of experience, we frequently encounter instances of Bare Land Corporations not carrying sufficient coverage for a total loss. A common omission are the underground site services, such as plumbing and electrical. Other common assets such as retaining walls and fencing are often missed. Determining which elements are common property and which are the responsibility of the homeowners is a complicated process and requires extensive research on the part of the insurance appraiser. It involves reviewing all pertinent documents, then taking a careful inventory of the assets to be included and conducting research to determine specific replacement costs. Following this, a consolidated total is then created for the Total Insurable Value.
Given the high–level of detail required in both the analysis and reporting for these appraisals, it is not unusual for a bare land appraisal to take longer than a standard appraisal. This is due to the fact that the appraiser must analyze and estimate costs individually for certain components that would have been otherwise included as part of the building or site improvements.
Ignorance is (Not) Bliss
When it comes to bare land developments, it is vital that no common element is missed. In this reported case, a bare land gated complex in the Fraser Valley found themselves ill-prepared for a number of water and sewer-system failures that occurred following a heavy winter season. The strata owners were oblivious, believing that the single-family homes they lived in within a Bare Land Strata were no different than owning a single-family home on a standard city lot. The assumption was made that the city would be responsible for maintaining these services. In the end, the corporation found themselves underinsured and owed $250,000 – around $5,000 per home.
Looks can be deceiving. Avoid the guesswork and review the filed strata plan in the Land Title Registry. Strata plans for Bare Land Strata Corporations should be clearly labelled as a “Bare Land” and will not usually show the outlines of houses located on individual strata lots.
For your own peace of mind, continue to educate yourselves and leave the insurance appraising to the experts.