What is your definition of “family”?
That was the crux of a petty legal battle in which a strata council in Victoria went to court to stop a woman from living with her boyfriend after fining her repeatedly.
According to a decision by the B.C. Civil Resolution Tribunal, it all came down to the wording of the strata’s bylaws over who could stay with an owner.
The strata said the boyfriend didn’t meet its definition of “family” and that this person stayed more than 31 days with the owner – violating its bylaws.
The owner then countersued, saying the bylaw “discriminates against her on the basis of family status because it only permits owners with a ‘family’ comprised of a narrow class of blood relations to have someone else reside in the strata lot … She also says the strata’s application of bylaw 4(4) is significantly unfair because she reasonably expected her ability to have others reside (in her home) would not be so narrowly restricted.”
I must say I was totally puzzled by how restrictive the strata’s bylaw was as far as who else could live in a unit. The bylaw says that up to four people could live in the suite.
Here’s what the bylaw says: “Owners shall use their strata lot as a single-family residence only. For the purposes of these bylaws, ‘single-family’ or ‘family’ shall be defined as including persons who are a spouse of the owner, a grandparent, parent, child, or grandchild of the owner, or a grandparent, parent, child or grandchild of the spouse of the owner, to a maximum of FOUR (4) persons residing within the strata lot. Persons visiting an owner of a strata lot shall be entitled to occupy the strata lot for a period not exceeding 31 days in the aggregate in any calendar year.”
So you can live together if you are married, but you can’t be shacked up out of wedlock.
The owner let the strata know that the two were now living together and so they started fining her $200 a week, eventually hitting $2,400.
The owner refused to pay and I’m all here for that.
“The owner says bylaw 4(4) withholds from her the benefits of companionship and emotional support available to other owners who live with family,” reads the CRT ruling.
These kinds of cases have come up before.
The CRT ruling referred to a Victoria-related case, Bowes v. the City of Victoria, in which the court considered the requirement that certain residential premises could only be occupied by a family under the city’s Zoning Regulations Bylaw.
“The court found the City had not discriminated against the plaintiff on the basis of ‘family status’ because it had broadened the definition of ‘family’ in its bylaw to make compliance dependent on how the premises could be used and not on the premises’ users. The Court said the City’s definition of ‘family’ ensured that use was not restricted to people married or related by blood, but included arrangements where people normally lived together as a family, with at least some permanence and commitment to each other.”
So clearly a big difference from what this strata was doing.
The CRT ruling said the owner had “proven her claim of discrimination” and that the strata was not exempt from the Human Rights Code.
The CRT ordered the strata to stop enforcing its bylaw against this owner, but dismissed the owner’s claim the strata pay her legal fees – listed at more than $20,000. The CRT didn’t think the case was extraordinary enough to require that much legal help.
So she won the battle, but perhaps lost the war – at least financially.
Love shouldn’t come at this high of a cost.
Chris Campbell is an editor with Black Press Media at the Victoria hub of newspapers. You can follow him on Twitter @shinebox44.
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