By Carlos MacDonald, Director of Land Titles
As published in the summer edition of REIBC’s Input Magazine
Strata property is an increasingly common form of land ownership in BC, as higher-density housing and commercial developments are introduced to create more housing and economic opportunities for British Columbians. First established as a form of property ownership just over 50 years ago, today there are approximately 700,000 strata ownership units in the province, including townhouses, condominiums, and some single-family residence developments structured as strata corporations.
The process to create a new strata—from conception to reality—is a significant and complex project. It comprises myriad tasks ranging from site selection and development application to construction and sales. Embedded in the process is the requirement to establish new strata lots in the land title register.
The land title and survey systems of BC are administered by the Land Title and Survey Authority of BC (LTSA). As director of Land Titles at LTSA, I work together with the registrar of Land Titles to maintain the integrity, reliability, and security of BC’s land title register as the official legal record of private property ownership in the province. Governed by the Land Title Act and other legislation, LTSA registers a range of land title applications and is the trusted and definitive source of all land title records, such as registered land title documents and survey plans.
Registering A Strata Property
For strata developments and corporations, the Strata Property Act works in tandem with the Land Title Act to establish key concepts and requirements that apply towards registration of strata property. Stratas take a number of different forms depending on the situation. In fact, some stratas may even be based on air space parcels rather than a traditional land-based arrangement.
- Building strata plan: This can include a new building or a previously occupied building, where common property comprises the lands and buildings that are not part of a strata lot. Generally, the boundaries of the lots are defined by the centreline of the floor, walls, and ceiling.
- Bare land strata plan: In the case of bare land strata, common property comprises the lands that aren’t part of a strata lot (such as roads or playgrounds), and the boundaries of strata lots are defined by survey markers set by a registered BC Land Surveyor.
- Leasehold strata plan: Purchasers acquire a lease of the strata lot as opposed to a fee simple interest, allowing a leasehold “landlord” to retain fee simple ownership of the lands. The “landlord” is limited to a form of government entity defined in the Strata Property Act.
- Phased strata plan: A phased plan provides developers with the ability to develop the land in phases and provides some flexibility while still following the specifics registered in the Phased Strata Plan Declaration.
To begin the process to establish a new strata in the land title register, developers will work with a registered BC Land Surveyor to create a strata plan to be submitted electronically to LTSA. The strata plan defines a significant amount of information about the strata as required by the Strata Property Act, such as boundaries of the parent parcel, location of the buildings if applicable, and the boundaries of the strata lots. The strata plan must be submitted to LTSA with certain accompanying documentation, including a Schedule of Unit Entitlement (Form V) with information such as the habitable area of residential strata lots that forms the basis of the unit entitlement, the mailing address of the strata corporation, and a schedule of Voting Rights, if applicable. Other documentation prepared with a lawyer, such as a Section 219 covenant or an easement, may also accompany the strata plan.
Prior to registration, the strata plan application needs to be reviewed and signed off by a number of stakeholders, depending on the specifics of the application. Generally this includes the owners of the parent parcel of land along with holders of registered charges, such as a mortgage. The land surveyor will certify the correctness of the plan and, unless it is a building strata plan certified as not having been previously occupied, it will be endorsed by an approving officer from the appropriate jurisdiction.
Once received at LTSA and reviewed by land title examination staff, the registrar of Land Titles will register a title to each strata lot. Each title includes a reference to “the unit entitlement of the strata lot as shown on Form V.” The registrar will also create a “general index” for endorsements (such as the Form V, bylaw amendments, and other documentation) and a common property record to record a charge or other interest that is specific to the common property.
Future filings by the strata corporation, such as granting an interest over common property, must be accompanied by a Certificate of Strata Corporation (Form E), which confirms that the relevant resolution has been passed by the strata owners. Eventually, in the life cycle of a strata corporation, future filings can include applications to amend or amalgamate strata plans, or to cancel and wind up a strata corporation.
Mistakes To Avoid
The work to prepare a strata plan application for submission to the land title office is extensive, and this work occurs in parallel with other processes to bring the development from concept to bricks and mortar. Inevitably, errors may occur in the land title application process and there are mistakes that can be avoided when completing the information required to register or amend a strata plan.
For example, in the case of phased strata plans, the Phased Strata Plan Declaration (Form P) submitted with the initial phase establishes key information about the scheme of development for each phase in the strata. In some cases, submissions of the subsequent phases conflict with the details of the development itemized in the Form P submitted with the initial phase. While phased strata plans provide some flexibility, developers should take care when submitting a subsequent phase to ensure it does not conflict with the provisions of the Form P submitted with the initial phase.
For parcels of land in a phased development, it is beneficial for reciprocal easement applications to include a provision that provides for the easement to be extinguished when the final phase is registered. Such a provision in the Part 2 Terms of the reciprocal easement allows the applicant to request the “merger” of the easement with the application for the final phase, which results in the removal of redundant easements.
It is also important to ensure that some form of common property is appropriately depicted on the strata plan. For example, building strata plans that do not depict any form of common property are an issue. Strata plans that only show the boundaries of strata lots, with no depictions of common property, are not acceptable to the registrar under section 68(3) of the Strata Property Act. Another issue arises under section 74 of the Strata Property Act regarding the designation of limited common property that provides strata owners with the exclusive use of the limited common property. Specifically, sketch plans that are not prepared by a registered BC Land Surveyor may contain an insufficient definition of the limited common property designation. The registered land title plans and documents are relied on as the definitive source of property ownership, and therefore must be unambiguous and accurate.
Amendments to strata plans are another source of errors in land title applications. Strata plan amendments are set out in Part 15 of the Strata Property Act and include direction for subdividing or consolidating strata lots, changes to common property and parking allocation, and other amendments. Paying careful attention to the statutory requirements in Part 15, together with the sometimes unique submission requirements set out in the Land Title Practice Manual, can help ensure that the associated land title applications are registered without issue.
While strata developers and owners work with lawyers, land surveyors, and other professionals to navigate the land title submission process, a number of resources exist to help all parties understand the associated requirements and legislation. The Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia has two publications specific to strata property practice: The Land Title Practice Manual provides an overview of the Strata Property Act, related regulations, submission guidance, practice notes, and selected case law, and the British Columbia Strata Property Practice Manual addresses legislative requirements and practical concerns in the operation of a strata corporation, including its creation, governance, bylaws and rules, and finances. British Columbia Law Institute’s Strata Property Law – Phase Two is another valuable source of information. Other useful sources of information are British Columbia’s strata housing resources on its website, along with those published by Condominium Home Owners Association of BC and Vancouver Island Strata Owners Association.
At LTSA, we are proud of the work we do to administer the land title and survey systems of British Columbia, which provide the foundation for all real property business and ownership in the province and are essential to BC’s economic and social prosperity. Working together with our customers, we can ensure that the land title and survey system remains a trusted and accurate source of property information for generations to come.