By Laura Track, Human Rights Clinic Lawyer, January 2023
Recently, the provincial government made changes to BC’s Strata Property Act. The amendments remove stratas’ ability to prevent or limit rentals (section 141). They also limit stratas’ ability to set age restrictions (sections 123.1 and 123.2). Stratas will still be allowed to designate themselves as seniors’ residences restricted to those aged 55 and over. However, they will no longer be allowed to designate themselves as “adult only” buildings restricted to those aged 19 and over.
These changes will have a positive impact for families. Many families in BC struggle to find suitable housing, and for some, those struggles have been aggravated by rules that have limited the buildings they can move into. Adult-only rules have also created difficulties for people who welcomed a new baby into their family, only to find themselves suddenly in breach of their strata’s bylaws. Families have faced significant fines and pressure to move out of their homes after the birth of a child. The changes will prevent these kinds of scenarios from recurring and increase the housing available to families with children.
The Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination in the purchase of property. Section 9 of the Code says that no one can be denied the right to purchase a commercial unit, dwelling unit, or land on the basis of their Indigenous identity, race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression. However, the grounds of age and family status are not protected by section 9. Because of this, parents who’ve been prevented from purchasing units in adult-only buildings or faced fines after the birth of a child have had no recourse in human rights law.
Seniors-only strata buildings that restrict residency to those aged 55 and over remain permissible. Media have reported that some stratas are eager to continue restricting children and young families from their buildings and have begun taking steps to become seniors-only buildings since the amendments were passed. While seniors-only housing has its place, it would be concerning if many stratas decided to adopt this approach. There are many documented benefits to young and older people spending time in one another’s company. In addition, some realtors say that a change to 55+ could reduce the value of units in those buildings. It’s also important to note that any bylaw changes to make a strata into seniors housing cannot impact younger people who are currently legally living there (section 123.2(a) of the Strata Property Act).
Housing is a human right and an essential human need. Too many people in BC lack access to suitable housing that meets their needs and the needs of their families. Housing should be for everyone. Unfortunately, the changes to the Strata Property Act will do little to address the needs of low-income people and families who are unlikely to be purchasing or renting in a strata building. Nevertheless, these steps to prevent rental restrictions and discrimination based on age and family status in stratas are welcome and overdue legal developments.