In Focus: A day in the life of a strata executive

Today’s article looks at some of the issues of being a member of an Executive Committee for your strata, whether it be a residential condominium complex or a commercial development.

Some of these issues have come to the forefront in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan. For those of us who are members of an EXCO, I am sure you have been tested to the maximum in practicing the art of patience with your fellow neighbours and apartment owners where tempers have frayed and frustrations have been aired.

Dealing with the repairs to our homes is for all of us an emotive issue especially given the large sums of money involved and also the fact that for a lot of us it is our single largest asset.

On board

Being a member of an EXCO can sometimes be a thankless task (and for those of you who are on the board, you should give yourselves a pat on the back) and comes with a number of responsibilities which should not be taken on lightly by those who have voluntarily or involuntarily been elected on to the board. The responsibilities of EXCO are akin to those of a board of directors of a company. These responsibilities are fiduciary in nature meaning that members of an EXCO should at all times act in the best interests of all of the homeowners in the strata – in other words the EXCO runs the strata corporation on behalf of the homeowners.

The Cayman Islands Strata Titles Registration Law (1996 Revision) provides the mandatory framework for the operation of all strata corporations. A strata corporation comes into existence automatically on the registration of the strata plan usually by the developer. The strata corporation does not own any property itself and common property is owned by the members of the strata corporation as owners in common, proportionate to the unit entitlement of their respective strata lot.

By-laws

The day-to-day management and administration or house keeping rules of the Strata Corporation are set out in the By-laws which follow a standard format. They typically deal with issues such as election of committee members, powers and responsibilities of the EXCO, holding and voting at meetings, home owner’s obligations and insurance obligations.

The mandatory duties imposed on the corporation under the Strata Titles Registration Law (1996 Revision) include duties such as ‘to insure and keep insured the building to the replacement value thereof against fire, hurricanes, earthquakes and such other risks as may be prescribed, unless the proprietors by unanimous resolution otherwise determine’. When the EXCO of the corporation is putting insurance in place they should shop around for competitive quotes obviously but should also look at the quality and strength of the insurers by reviewing its ratings. The AM Best rating is perceived as the most authoritative.

One should also assess the quality and strength of the re-insurers being used by the insurance company. It should also be determined what type of policy is being put in to place i.e. whether it is an indemnity policy or a new for old policy.

EXCO should also consider issues such as what is the amount of public liability required for potential claims from accidents which could arise. For example from injuries caused by paving stones or injuries connected with the misuse of swimming pools.

Special assessments

In special situations such as those after Hurricane Ivan, the corporation has the power to impose special assessments in order to cover any shortfalls that were not budgeted for and where no reserve is in existence. We note from our experience that the majority of Strata’s have not built up a ‘rainy day’ reserve to cover unforeseen events, which has meant higher one off assessments. We would encourage EXCOs to set strata fees at a sufficient level to facilitate the build up of such a reserve fund.

The corporation should in our opinion commission a reinstatement valuation by a Chartered Surveyor every three years at least. On renewal each year in between valuations an increase in the sum insured should be incorporated by an appropriate percentage increase to cover any increases in building costs.

The Strata Titles Registration Law also provides that EXCO ‘may employ for and on behalf of the corporation such agents and servants as it thinks fit in connection with the control, management and administration of the common property and the exercise and performance of the powers and duties of the corporation’. This includes items such as accounting/book keeping, issuing of strata billing on a regular basis, strata arrears chasing and paying bills. Coordinating the year end accounts and budget setting are also key responsibilities. The preparation of a realistic budget is an essential prerequisite for the setting of appropriate strata fee levels.

Outsourcing of the administration of the above items is common. By hiring a professional company of Chartered Surveyors, the EXCO can be relieved of numerous administrative headaches.

Communication

Following the experienced from Hurricane Ivan we believe all EXCOs have learned that it is important in order to achieve unanimity and to illustrate progress is being made on the resolution of a particular problem that communication with all the home owners is a key factor. At the end of the day EXCO members are not property professionals but are individual homeowners doing their best for the development that you live in. Travelling through the maze of dealing with issues of insurance, contractors, and the day to day management can be somewhat challenging so go easy on them.

Mina Dixit is a Chartered Surveyor at Deloitte Property Consulting Services. She is a member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors with 11 years of experience in private general practice gained in both the UK and with a number of prominent surveying practices and the Cayman Islands.

Deloitte Property Consulting Services provide a comprehensive range of services including project and construction management, contract and financial monitoring of projects, valuations and appraisals, quantity surveying, property management and insurance claim adjusting services.

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